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Greater Manchester Spatial Framework – is green belt release the answer?


Considerations about whether development in Manchester should necessitate green belt release should be deferred until the full extent of the public estate and its potential is understood, argues Nicola Rigby.

The inaugural Greater Manchester Spatial Framework (GMSF) continues to be a hot topic of conversation in the market. The deadline extension for representations into the New Year has only increased its draw. 

But views on the GMSF appear to be focused on concerns with identified housing requirements and their phasing, and the resulting assumed need for green belt release. The industry’s position is that the framework doesn’t go far enough, while the general community takes the opposing view.

I am neither for nor against green belt release to meet housing and job needs. I am for a proportionate and sustainable forward planning approach relative to need and opportunity. 

I believe that this represents a real chance for Greater Manchester to get green belt release right, to fully reflect its growth potential. I don’t believe that all green belt is sacrosanct, nor that in its entirety it should continue to be protected out of principle, without regard to its function or quality. I am though, firmly for the full use of brownfield land first. 

It is this last point that I’m most concerned about in the context of the framework. The GMSF is progressing, at pace, as one of the requirements of the devolution deal signed by the government last year. But what of the commitment to establish a Greater Manchester Land Commission? 

Why so relevant? Public sector assets have huge potential to realise both housing delivery and financial return – both of which are critical considerations for our local authorities. This is the consideration of assets in their own right, but also when considered in terms of their marriage value potential (i.e. collectively and alongside each other).

"Public sector assets have huge potential to realise both housing delivery and financial return - critical considerations for local authorities"

Nevertheless, we do not yet fully understand the potential across our public sector estates – something that the Land Commission should be responsible for. We do not know fully what the public sector owns, and how much is surplus to requirement. We don’t know how much of this estate has the potential to yield development, when it may be available and whether it is brownfield, greenfield, and/or green belt. 

The concern is twofold. First, that the framework is missing a trick by not reflecting the full potential of our public estate and maximising this to strengthen the case for green belt release. Second, that surplus public land is not being promoted appropriately through a critical process that will influence the pattern of development across Greater Manchester for the next 15 years.

Nicola Rigby is director of planning, development and regeneration for GVA in Manchester

Photo | Shutterstock


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