I beg to move,
That this House has considered the Greater Manchester spatial framework.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Howarth, and it is also a pleasure to be joined by colleagues from both sides of the House for this debate. The cross-party interest in this matter demonstrates the real concerns about the spatial framework that exist among residents right across Greater Manchester. I wish to highlight some of those concerns and draw them to the Minister’s attention today.
The Greater Manchester spatial framework is the product of the Greater Manchester combined authority. It represents the authority’s plans for the management of land for housing, commercial and industrial use for the next 20 years. The framework is currently in draft form and subject to a consultation; I gently remind colleagues and all interested parties that the consultation is open until 23 December.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way so early in his speech. I wonder whether he has had the same concerns expressed to him that I have had expressed to me about the fact that the consultation period has been so short and that the consultation has had so little publicity.
I have picked up on that concern and doubtless other right hon. and hon. Members will have heard similar concerns, so I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention.
I want to make it clear from the outset that I am not against building and development per se, nor am I against the concept of the framework itself; on the contrary.
If the hon. Gentleman waits with bated breath, he will have the answer, later in my speech.
As I say, I am not against development per se and I think that a cross-regional approach for strategic housing allocation across Greater Manchester is to be welcomed. Of course we need to provide new developments to fill the housing shortage, but it must be done in a way that is sensitive to both the local environment and the wishes of local communities. Also, it should be provided only where there is a genuine need and where the infrastructure exists to support such developments.
I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman, but is he concerned, as I am, that there does not appear to be any joined-up thinking between different parts of the combined authority? We are currently in a consultation on the spatial framework, which is identifying whole tracts of land for future development, yet we have just finished a consultation on the Greater Manchester transport strategy 2040, under the guise of Transport for Greater Manchester, which bears no relationship to the spatial framework?
The hon. Gentleman makes a very important point about the need for greater “joined-up thinking”, a phrase that is perhaps over-used but rarely put into practice.
It is in this spirit—of building where there is genuine need—that I wish to raise some specific concerns about the methodology behind the framework. The draft framework proposes that 227,200 net additional dwellings will be needed by 2035 to home a projected population increase of almost 300,000 people. It also apportions this house-building target across the 10 Greater Manchester councils, and in the case of Stockport, the allotted target is 19,300 new homes.
I have concerns about how these figures have been arrived at. To estimate the population growth, the spatial framework considered information from the Office for National Statistics, the Department for Communities and Local Government, an economic forecasting model, the Experian credit-referencing agency and independent business consultants. In 2014, the combined authority produced a 165-page document, outlining and consulting on its methodology for calculating future housing needs. Dozens of tables and graphs later, we arrive at the magic prediction of 294,800 extra people by 2035, which translates into that figure of 227,200 new dwellings that I gave before.
Forecasting is a very difficult and complex task, and it is always subject to a degree of uncertainty. However, taking just the most recent three forecasts from the ONS—from 2008, 2010 and 2012—there is a variance of almost 200,000 people between the highest and lowest estimates for the population of Greater Manchester by 2032. This means that the framework’s magic number is two thirds within the margin of error of the three most recent ONS forecasts, and that is without even cross-examining the four other sources.
It is also curious to observe that 10 large housing developers all claimed that the authority’s objectively assessed need figure was too low, whereas the Campaign to Protect Rural England claimed it was “excessively high”. Faced with such wild variance in the estimates of population growth, it is difficult to have faith in the combined authority’s arithmetic. One wonders whether the projected need goes beyond the true need.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing this debate. My constituents are also concerned that an absolute number is meaningless if it does not take account of the mix of housing need, which must be matched to the population. They have particularly expressed concern about the need for family homes and affordable homes. Does he agree?
I agree with the hon. Lady, who raises an important point.
My second major area of concern about the draft framework is the proposal to release green-belt land for housing development. It proposes to build on 4,900 hectares of Greater Manchester’s green belt, representing a net loss of just over 8%. Locally, Stockport is set to lose some 9% of its green belt. Some 8,000 homes will be built on green belt in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Cheadle (Mary Robinson), whereas in my constituency permission will be given to build a further 4,000 homes on fields around the village of High Lane, essentially doubling the village’s size. Those housing developments have been proposed with little regard for the burden of increased traffic on the road network or the increased pressure on public services, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton West (Chris Green) said.
Is the hon. Gentleman concerned, as I am—he sounds like he is—about the release of green-belt land? We understand from national guidance that green-belt land should be released in only the most exceptional or very special circumstances. In fact, I had a quick look at the planning practice guidance, which says:
“Unmet housing need…is unlikely to outweigh the harm to the Green Belt and other harm to constitute the ‘very special circumstances’ justifying…development on…the Green Belt.”
Does he agree?
The hon. Gentleman is entirely correct. Again, he alludes to something that I will address in my remarks. He is spot on.
If the homes in Stockport are realised, they will account for only two thirds of Stockport’s overall target, so I fear this is likely to be the thin end of the wedge. Last night, my hon. Friends the Members for Cheadle and for Bury North (Mr Nuttall) presented petitions on behalf of thousands of our constituents who oppose the massive-scale development on the green belt and who want to prioritise building on brownfield land.
The voices not only from my constituency but from neighbouring constituencies, as evidenced by the attendance in Westminster Hall this afternoon, show a clear concern that the green belt should be protected. Green belt is easily the best loved and understood British planning policy, and it is hugely valued. It has been a long-standing commitment of Governments of all colours that redevelopment and reuse of land in urban areas—so-called brownfield sites—should take priority over greenfield sites, and rightly so for a number of reasons. First, it protects the countryside and provides the benefits of green spaces and access to nature and recreation.
On regeneration, we need to get people living in town centres again. Our cities are thriving, but medium and large towns are being neglected. Such depopulation leads to further decline and creates a vicious cycle, as I fear has been witnessed in Stockport. However, Manchester, to its credit, has made great strides. The green belt encourages the regeneration of our towns and the best use of our land.
The green belt also prevents urban sprawl. My constituents in the towns of Heywood and Middleton are extremely concerned about the erosion of the green belt, to the extent that they are worried that, eventually, the two towns will cease to exist, becoming something like Heyton or Midwood.
The hon. Lady possesses great powers of foresight, because my next paragraph is on green belt being a vital barrier to urban sprawl. In the case of Heywood and Middleton, the green belt is an important barrier between the two communities.
As a vital barrier to urban sprawl, the green belt encourages us to build upwards not outwards, to live nearer our places of work and not to commute or congest. Our local roads, infrastructure and transport capacity already struggle with existing demands. The proposals for massive developments in semi-rural areas will only make matters worse.
By contrast, developing vacant brownfield sites that have previously been used for other purposes is a more sensible approach to house building. Such sites are closer to urban centres, retain the countryside, boost regeneration and ease transport pressure yet, before many brownfield sites have been properly utilised, the framework seeks to release green-belt land that, once gone, can never be gotten back. Although building on greenfield sites is sometimes necessary, the release of green-belt land now, and on the scale proposed, is a huge disincentive to the proper use and regeneration of brownfield sites.
Most of our housing is now provided by volume house builders, which are essential to housing provision, but it is worth considering how they operate. Their business model favours large new greenfield developments. If we make sites on green belt available, the volume house builders will develop those sites first and will make the case that sites in our towns are unsuitable or, indeed, unprofitable. Once they have developed on the green-belt releases, they will come back for more before they even look at urban land. Therefore, the opportunity for real regeneration in Stockport and other Greater Manchester towns will be lost for a generation.
The hon. Gentleman is making an important point about the value of the green belt to people living in Stockport and Tameside. He will know that much of our green belt is also recreational space for those two boroughs. Is he concerned, as I am, that some of the sites that have been identified in the spatial framework are within the Tame valley? One site is at Hyde Hall farm in Denton, and there is also a large industrial proposal on the edge of Denton in his constituency. That is wrong, is it not?
It is wrong, and I know the hon. Gentleman had a battle on his hands with the threatened encroachment on Reddish Vale country park.
What will we do to ensure that brownfield developments are prioritised, that our towns are regenerated first and that green-belt land is released only when it is the last option? First, we need an accurate estimate of the amount of urban land available. According to the combined authority’s own figures, Greater Manchester has at least 1,000 hectares of undeveloped brownfield land that has not been earmarked for use. Taken together, the sites have enough space to build at least 55,000 homes—that is a very conservative estimate—which is almost a quarter of the entire Greater Manchester target, as set out in the framework. This is merely a pilot exercise, and I am confident that more sites can be found, as the hon. Member for Blackley and Broughton (Graham Stringer) mentioned. However, releasing green-belt land now would totally undermine the incentive for such developments.
Secondly, Greater Manchester combined authority needs to address the familiar issues that prevent development of urban land, such as split ownership, land banking, unrealistic expectations of land value, access, contamination and others.
Thirdly, to make housing in urban areas attractive to new owners and tenants, we need to make town centres places where people want to live, with pleasant, safe surroundings and the right facilities, amenities, public services, schools and healthcare. Those aims could perhaps be achieved by creating a development corporation or similar body with responsibility for regenerating Greater Manchester and with a remit to recycle land and to create fit places to live. That need not cost much, but it would create the proper planning that would stop Greater Manchester sprawling out unsustainably in all directions.
I have three questions for the Minister. Does he agree about the need to protect the green belt and to prioritise the redevelopment of brownfield land as an alternative? Does he agree that green-belt sites should be used only as a very last resort when all brownfield sites have been exhausted? Does he share my ideas for prioritising brownfield development, and what other steps are the Government taking to encourage it? Does he think that Greater Manchester combined authority is justified in its housing target and its desire to release green-belt land in the immediate future?
As I said at the outset, I and the thousands who signed local petitions are not against house building, but we believe in brownfield sites. Sites that have been developed previously should be prioritised for building homes, which not only protects the countryside but focuses development where regeneration is needed and where the necessary infrastructure already exists. The strength of local opinion is clear to see, and it is clear to see in the turnout of colleagues from Greater Manchester in Westminster Hall this afternoon. I thank all those who have supported the campaign.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Howarth. I thank the hon. Member for Hazel Grove (William Wragg) for securing this important debate. It is right that the Greater Manchester spatial framework be properly scrutinised, as any development will have a lasting effect on our conurbation. Likewise, it is perfectly understandable that many of us have been raising concerns about specific developments and potential developments in our constituencies.
We also have a duty to think about the prosperity of our region and the country as a whole. We need to take into account the views of businesses as well as residents. We need to think about not only those who voted us into office last year, but the young people in our constituencies who, in 10 to 15 years’ time, will be looking for a home in which to live. I therefore want to focus on the bigger picture of what the spatial framework means for the future of Greater Manchester. For me, it is about unleashing opportunities. Our city region is world-renowned for its cultural and sporting dynamism, entrepreneurial spirit and innovation in science and technology. We are a thriving city region, and to sustain that, we need to be able to grow, so that we can attract business, tourists, workers and students, and we need to ensure that Greater Manchester can provide enough homes for future generations to move into and start their own family. The Greater Manchester spatial framework aims to achieve exactly that. It also seeks to address some of the big challenges that this country faces.
We politicians constantly bang on about the housing crisis, and we all agree that to solve that problem, more houses must be built. The spatial framework will help build the houses we desperately need. We also constantly talk about the need to rebalance the economy and address the north-south divide. The spatial framework will go some way to tackling that inequality, so I for one welcome the plan. However, I am not giving it a blank cheque. New homes must be affordable for first-time buyers and people needing to rent at all levels of the market.
I recently had a quick look at the homes that are going up in my constituency on patches of land. The lowest price across the range of new homes was £225,000 in Little Hulton, and the highest was £550,000 in Boothstown. The difficulty is that the homes that go up are aspirational four and five-bedroom homes. They are not affordable.
I appreciate the hon. Lady’s intervention. I completely agree: there needs to be diversity and a mix of accommodation created. The plan has to take that into account, but the plan is designed specifically for new development and is only in draft form. As I pointed out, I do not give the plan a blank cheque; it has to match the needs of every section of our communities.
As the hon. Member for Hazel Grove made clear, infrastructure must be provided with new development. It cannot be an afterthought; that is a particularly important point. I am talking about infrastructure in the broadest sense of the word—about schools, not just roads. I understand other Members’ concerns about the green belt and the need to prevent urban sprawl. While I do not dispute that access to green open spaces is important to people’s quality of life, surely it is equally, if not more, important to people’s wellbeing to have a roof over their head and a job—things that this plan provides.
I will just make a little progress.
I am fortunate that Rochdale has many green and open spaces, the vast majority of which will not be affected by the proposals. In fact, the plan promises to create alternative green-belt land in Rochdale, which will go some way to compensating for what is lost. Additionally, many of the development sites in Rochdale will be brownfield sites, using up wasteland and former industrial areas, so it is not as though the proposal has set out to target green-belt land without considering other options first.
Finally, we need to consider the bigger picture. We need to welcome the opportunities provided in the spatial framework—the jobs, the homes and a real plan to tackle national challenges and boost productivity in the north-west. No scheme will be perfect. While we scrutinise and improve the draft proposals, we must also show a degree of pragmatism and, indeed, political leadership.
It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Howarth, and to see Members from right across Greater Manchester and on the Opposition and Government Benches here to debate this important issue. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Hazel Grove (William Wragg) for securing the debate.
I am conscious of time, so I will get straight to what the debate is about. I think we are in agreement that we need a good local plan for the area that provides the housing and infrastructure that we need, but this is not it. The plan lacks vision and has no real foresight or ambition for the future development of Cheadle. While I accept that there is a need for more housing across the country, that should never be achieved through the indiscriminate development of our green belt. Instead, as others have said, we should regenerate our brownfield sites—and there are brownfield sites to be regenerated in our areas.
I have campaigned to protect areas of Cheadle from inappropriate development, and last night I was pleased to join my hon. Friends the Members for Hazel Grove and for Bury North (Mr Nuttall) in presenting my petition against the plans to the House. It collected more than 2,600 signatures, which was quite an achievement. I was overwhelmed by the thousands of constituents who have been in touch with me on the issue. The strength of feeling shows that local people do not want their future development to look like the draft plans. People care about their local community and want to see urban areas regenerated. They love their open and rural spaces, and recognise their value for physical and mental health and wellbeing.
In my constituency, that strength of concern is most evident in the activities of local neighbourhood groups, such as Woodford Neighbourhood Forum, which was set up in October 2013. Since then, members and residents have raised funds and spent thousands of hours working on their local plan. Getting a local plan together is no mean feat. Over the past three years, they have put together more than 340 pages of material, and I am concerned to ensure that their voices are listened to.
There is an urgent need to identify all suitable brownfield sites, including ones in and around Stockport and in urban areas across the Greater Manchester city region, where communities would benefit from the additional investment generated by regeneration projects. The Campaign to Protect Rural England has identified that brownfield sites in the UK have the potential to deliver 1 million houses. As my hon. Friend the Member for Hazel Grove described, it has been assessed that it is necessary for Stockport to have 19,300 of those houses. It shocks me to say that it is expected, hoped or proposed that more than 8,000 will be built on the green belt in Cheadle. Should the plans go ahead, they will not only devastate the countryside, but place unprecedented pressure on our local infrastructure and undermine our communities. I am a member of the Select Committee on Communities and Local Government.
Actually, the situation is worse than the hon. Lady describes, because for perfectly good reasons, all 10 local councils want to use the plan as an opportunity to increase their council tax base. Therefore, it will predominantly be executive homes that are developed. Is the real risk not that we end up crashing the housing market in Greater Manchester because we have an over-supply of the wrong kind of homes?
I absolutely agree. The hon. Gentleman makes a fundamental point. Indeed, it is expressly in the plan that the area around Cheadle—particularly Woodford—will be allocated for high-end, low-volume housing, and the expectation is that funds will come to Stockport Council. That is exactly it. Of course, the hon. Member for Rochdale (Simon Danczuk) will not necessarily get the housing that he needs there if developers choose to build on our green belt.
Absolutely. I started my speech by saying that we must have a plan—we all acknowledge that—and that it has to be the right plan for our areas and for Greater Manchester. It is great that we all have that common theme in mind.
The Campaign for Better Transport has spoken about the necessity of commuter hubs and the challenges for housing allocations that are more than a 15-minute walk from rail and tram stations, yet the draft plan mentions no provision for new railway stations or transport infrastructure.
Do my hon. Friend’s constituents have the same fears as mine, who think that we will definitely get the houses in the housing proposals, but are less certain about getting the other infrastructure developments? Will we get health, school and transport infrastructure to go along with the houses? We will get the houses first, but the other things may or may not follow.
Absolutely. That uncertainty adds to our feeling about the plan. The framework notes that significantly improved public transport is a prerequisite for the site off the A34. However, the walking distance between Woodford and Bramhall and Poynton railway stations is certainly a lot more than 15 minutes, even for the most ardent trekker.
The hon. Lady makes an important point about transport links. Does she share my surprise that transport operators—both bus and train operators—told me that they have no knowledge of the details of the proposed spatial strategy and that they have no plans to adapt their forward planning to take account of what might be in the strategy?
That is an excellent point well made. That is lacking in the plan. When it comes to the northern powerhouse and what we want to do in Greater Manchester, it is essential that we get those transport links right. That needs to be considered.
Finally, I make a plea to the Minister to listen to local voices. It is important that people’s voices are heard in this consultation and through the other representations that they make. Local people have already formed themselves into groups, such as the Woodford Neighbourhood Forum, to plan and shape their neighbourhoods.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Howarth. I congratulate the hon. Member for Hazel Grove (William Wragg) on securing this debate on a subject that will affect all our constituents in Greater Manchester. I am sure that we all subscribe to the aspirations set out in the draft framework to enhance economic performance, improve the environment and provide additional homes and jobs for the future. However, linking the green-belt review to the plan has not facilitated plan development; it has simply led to a feeding frenzy among developers, who have identified the easy pickings: the green-belt sites.
Particularly for the outer boroughs, the plan needs to be considered in conjunction with other neighbouring authorities and their aspirations. It has not been demonstrated that the duty to co-operate has been met. Indeed, St Helens Council, which adjoins my constituency, has plans to remove the green belt for three large logistics parks, which would cause considerable problems for the road network, merge distinct townships—Ashton-in-Makerfield does not want to merge with St Helens, which is in a different borough—and cause complete urban sprawl. West Lancashire Borough Council is considering hubs, and Warrington has already got a large area covered in warehousing adjacent to the M62. Will the Minister ensure that the duty to co-operate is fully enforced and that the sustainability of these developments is considered holistically, not just through a single plan?
Is my hon. Friend concerned, as I am, about the impact that these houses could have on the gridlock on our roads? The recently completed north-west quadrant study, which the Minister can perhaps study, shows that the motorway and road network near my constituency has 15 of the 100 worst-performing motorway sections in the country for journeys completed on time. Our journey times are four and a half times longer than the mile a minute they are supposed to be, we have one of the poorest safety records in the country on our local roads and motorways, and almost all the motorways near my constituency are in the top 20% worst performing, in terms of casualties. The real killer, if I can put it that way, is air pollution and air quality problems, which are dreadful in Salford—much worse than the national average.
Order. Before the hon. Member for Makerfield (Yvonne Fovargue) continues, I have been very tolerant of lengthy interventions. Some Members have had the equivalent of a speech in interventions during this debate. Interventions need to be a bit more focused.
The hon. Lady makes an important point. Does she accept that there are those of us whose constituencies already have to accommodate considerable additional development adjacent to them? There are many new developments going on at Airport City, which is very close to my boundary. That is a continuing process.
I accept that. We need to look not just within but outside Greater Manchester. Many hon. Members have mentioned the removal of the green belt. In my constituency, green belt status has been removed around junctions 25 and 26 of the M6. As we have heard, removing green belt status requires exceptional circumstances. In 2013, the independent inspector deemed that the local authority’s request to remove half the area it is now proposing to remove around junction 25 was not exceptional, so it was refused, yet a mere three years later, the M6 South of Wigan Action Group, which did sterling work with me in opposing the plan, is in exactly the same position as it was. We are again opposing the plan together.
A week ago, my hon. Friend and I held a meeting in Kitt Green in my constituency, which borders hers. The sight of hundreds of people queuing on a dark, cold night to get into a church hall to make their views heard was deeply moving. Does my hon. Friend agree that the strength of feeling expressed in that hall simply cannot be ignored by local authorities and the Minister?
I agree. I am moving quickly on to junction 26. I ask the Minister: how can we be in the same positon three years on? What weight will be given to the inspector’s decisions throughout this process?
Let me move on to the infrastructure. Junction 25 is a one-way junction. In the plan for transport, there is an aspiration to have a two-way junction, but it is said that it could take 40 years. Until then, there will be thousands more HGV movements on already gridlocked roads in an area that, as my hon. Friend the Member for Worsley and Eccles South (Barbara Keeley) said, already fails air quality standards. That does not appear to meet any definition of sustainable development. It does not increase the attractiveness of the area, and it certainly does not improve the air quality. Equally, as my hon. Friend mentioned, the land at junction 26—the Bell—has infrastructure issues. It is accepted that development will be difficult unless there are major upgrades to the road system, including a new slip road. I think the phrase “cart before the horse” was used at the public meeting that we called, which attracted nearly 200 residents.
Let me move on to how those residents can make their voices heard by the leaders of their local authorities. Usually, it is via their councillors and in discussion at council meetings. However, there is some doubt about whether these plans need to be approved by local councils, whether they should be taken at cabinet level at each local authority, or whether it is solely the prerogative of the leader of each local authority to approve the plans at a meeting of the combined authorities. Can the Minister clarify that? How does a local councillor, elected by their constituents, stand up and represent their views if they are denied a forum in which to speak? Is there not a democratic deficit in that?
No one is against jobs and growth, but the plans have to demonstrate that the growth is sustainable. As for the warehousing development in my area, this is an area with a net loss of graduates and people who need high-quality jobs. We need the right jobs in the right place. We have to balance quality of life and the attractiveness of the environment.
I will bowlderise an Ogden Nash poem—I am going back to my youth—to express what I feel about this: I think that I will never see a warehouse attractive as a tree. The green belt gives us green fields, trees, relief from urban sprawl and better air quality. It is the green lung of our urban areas. It increases the attractiveness of an area, which encourages people to come to it. An ambitious plan for Greater Manchester, which will be seen as a trailblazer on this issue, should not take the easy option and reduce green-belt land. It should look for innovative and exciting ways of promoting the use of brownfield sites to improve the environment for those coming into the borough and for those who already live there.
It is a pleasure to have you taking charge of this debate, Mr Howarth. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hazel Grove (William Wragg) on securing the debate and for the very sensible and valid points he made in his opening speech. There can be no doubt that the spatial framework produced by the Greater Manchester combined authority has caused enormous consternation across my Bury North constituency. It is probably one of the biggest issues that I have come across in the last 10 or 12 years.
It clearly makes sense for any local authority or group of local authorities to have a plan, to review that plan and to determine how many houses might be needed for the next few years. I think we could all agree on that. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Hazel Grove, I have my doubts about how robust the figures used in the framework are, with immigration over the past few years—I am not making a political point; this is just a fact—running at more than 300,000 a year, which even the latest figures show.
The hon. Gentleman will be aware that he belongs to a party that has been in government for a considerable time and that said it would dramatically reduce the number of immigrants coming into the country. There has been a complete failure by his Government to do that.
I do not want to be diverted on to a debate about immigration when we are discussing housing, but the two things are connected. More can be done and I have argued that point many times in the Chamber. One thing has fundamentally changed since those figures were drawn up and that is the referendum we had in June. That will enable this country to have more control over its borders as far as immigration from the European Union is concerned. That is a fact. We can debate lots of other things, but that will happen, and I wonder to what extent that has been reflected in the numbers.
The biggest concern of most of the hundreds, if not thousands, of people who have contacted me about the plans is the erosion of the green belt. My view is that the green belt is there for a purpose. It was put there to protect the land from development.
Before I came to this place, I was involved in the legal profession. We acted for one or two house builders, so I know how they operate. I can tell the House this: given the choice between developing a nice, flat, green field and having to sort out a brownfield site, they are going to choose the greenfield site every single time. The plan is like manna from heaven for developers. They were asked to put in bids and to give expressions of interest. Obviously, they came round Greater Manchester and thought, “This is fantastic! We’ll have that site, we’ll have that one, we’ll have that one and I wouldn’t mind building a few houses there!” In my own patch, for example, Bury’s green belt is threatened around Elton reservoir, with nearly 3,500 new homes planned, and between Walshaw and Tottington, where another 1,250 homes are planned. Some 100 homes are planned in Holcombe Brook and they are nibbling at the green belt around Gin Hall for an industrial estate.
I appreciate that I do not have time to go into detail about all those sites, but I want to place on record a point about infrastructure, which has been mentioned by a number of hon. Members today. We do not have to speculate on what will happen; we just need to look at the history. My constituency has had house building galore over the past few years. We can see what happens. House building goes ahead without any of the necessary infrastructure in place, without the necessary road improvements and without schools. On the site at Walshaw, the spatial framework says:
“Elton High School is within easy reach of the site. The school is currently subject to a Government-funded rebuilding programme that will provide good quality opportunities for secondary education in the vicinity of the site”.
It is not “will”—it has already happened. It is open and the school is there. The point is that the school is full. There is no point saying that it is going to provide extra places for all the thousands of new homes that are going to be built. That is just one example of how the spatial framework does not take account of reality.
I agree that brownfield sites should be developed before greenfield sites, but I can be as sure as anything that if this plan sees the light of day, the developers will all want to put pressure straightaway on building on the greenfield sites and the brownfield sites will still be brownfield sites in 20 years’ time. They still will not have been developed.
Finally, perhaps—I do not know what time you want to start the wind-ups, Mr Howarth?
I am conscious of that. In my constituency, which has been very badly affected by flooding, the drainage and sewers are of significant importance and that may be the case in other constituencies as well. Everyone can agree that some of that is directly related to the house building that has gone on. I have spoken to representatives from United Utilities, who have said, “Look, all these houses were built here and we are just suddenly expected to have to try and provide extra drainage for them.” We know from history—we do not have to speculate—what will go on.
Wildlife habitats will be lost and I have had a lot of representations about that. The point about air quality was mentioned by the hon. Member for Makerfield (Yvonne Fovargue) as well as by other hon. Members. We already have gridlock virtually every night in Bury town centre. If there are thousands more cars on the streets arising from these housing developments, the air quality will only deteriorate further.
I hope that the brief discussion we have had here this afternoon will give pause for reflection. We accept that there has got to be new housing, but the powers that be in Greater Manchester should look again at the numbers and what they are doing to devastate the green belt and say, “We are not going to do any of that until we have built on these brownfield sites.” When we have done that, let us bring the plan back and have a proper consultation over a few months and let the public look at it. I would be grateful if the Minister in his summing up gave an undertaking that he will do what he can to ensure that the voices of our constituents are heard right across the Department for Communities and Local Government.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship again, Mr Howarth I congratulate the hon. Member for Hazel Grove (William Wragg) on securing the debate. Members in all parts of the Chamber have spoken passionately for their areas, and we have clearly been discussing a huge local issue.
The Opposition do not have a particular problem with the concept of a spatial framework. Setting out a plan to deliver new homes and jobs up to 2035 is important, in particular to identify new infrastructure that will underpin such development—providing that happens, of course. The framework is also useful to sit alongside local plans, but it is not clear to me how those are being collected. On the consultation, there seem to be some issues to do with the timeframe and local views being taken on board.
The idea of the spatial framework therefore is good, but I am not absolutely convinced that in its current mode it is fit for purpose. Four areas seem to have been identified this afternoon: the inadequate evidence base for the green-belt proposals, and too much reliance on the green belt in the framework plan; the lack of protection for green space in the plan; the democratic deficit, given that we are not sure who will make the decisions about the plan; and the lack of ambition and imagination in relation to the area’s needs. I will deal briefly with those four points.
The national planning policy framework makes it clear:
“Green Belt boundaries should only be altered in exceptional circumstances, through the preparation or review of the Local Plan.”
Interestingly, the consultation on the Greater Manchester spatial framework stated:
“It is concluded that we have to consider Green Belt release to meet this need and that exceptional circumstances exist to amend the existing Green Belt boundaries, as set out in the background evidence papers”,
but the study to which that refers actually makes no comment at all on whether green-belt land should be released. There therefore seems to be a complete lack of an evidence base to enable councils to build on the green belt. Furthermore, they have not demonstrated clearly that brownfield development will not be enough, and that needs to be done in some detail, because the Government now require a brownfield register to be put together. We simply have not seen that, and it has certainly not been subject to enough scrutiny.
On green space, it would be helpful for all Members present to talk to their communities about designating under the NPPF any sites of real value to the local community. A green space designation gives a degree of protection. That needs to happen.
The councils together also need to address the issue of the democratic deficit. It is wrong for people to think that planning is done to them and that their voices are not heard. We should have a spatial framework that starts with a neighbourhood plan, listens to what local communities want and relates that to the local plan and then to a spatial plan. I hope that once my right hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham) is elected Mayor, he will look at how to put together a better spatial framework that will enable local communities to plan for the future, because that is what they want. They want enough housing and jobs, and a good built and natural environment for people to live in.
I am afraid I cannot give way, because I am in my last minute. I am terribly sorry.
It is important for the Minister to talk to the combined authority about how it can put together a spatial framework that better reflects what local people want and so that a system is in place to enable all aspects of the planning system to connect. We can then get the homes, jobs and infrastructure that we need, so that the area can develop.
I begin with an apology. This is my second appearance in Westminster Hall this week, and on neither occasion have I come to respond on my own area of policy. I can only assume that that is because I am doing such a good job that no one has felt the need to hold me accountable for it yet. However, I apologise today on behalf of the Minister for Housing and Planning, who is in the main Chamber for the important debate on homelessness.
As we are about to prove, Mr Howarth.
I was also tempted simply to hand the debate over to the various candidates standing for the mayoralty, so that they could offer up their vision of the plan. Shortly, thanks to the devolution deal negotiated with the Manchester authorities, the spatial framework will land on the combined authority and the new Mayor’s desk, whoever he or she is.
I will not press the Minister too much on detail, but will he be clear that the Greater Manchester spatial framework is a matter for local determination and that the Government in no way seek to force on Greater Manchester certain figures for housing development or the removal of green belt?
Absolutely. The housing figures are generated by the local authorities. I cannot comment on their validity or the merits of the Greater Manchester numbers because of the obvious proprietary reasons, which I will say more about in a moment. The figures are locally determined and are not provided by central Government.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hazel Grove (William Wragg) on securing the debate and on representing his constituents today with skill and passion. I have listened carefully to the concerns about potential green-belt loss, brownfield development and the capacity of local roads and infrastructure generally to cope. I will respond to as many of the points made as possible in the time available.
I cannot comment on the Greater Manchester spatial framework in detail because of the proprietary reasons to which I just referred. It will be subject to examination by independent inspectors appointed by the Secretary of State. My quasi-judicial role in the planning system means that I may have to intervene at later points on matters relating to the plan. I am therefore unable to comment in any greater detail, other than to say that my hon. Friend the Member for Hazel Grove painted a familiar picture of the difficult choices that have to be made by local areas to secure economic growth and to tackle the historical under-delivery of homes, including affordable homes.
I will briefly clarify what it takes for a local authority to plan for growth. The context is important. The process begins with the local authority understanding the disparate needs and aspirations of local people and gathering a detailed evidence base—again, to respond to my hon. Friend’s point, this is bottom up, from local authority level—to determine the needs of its area. That has to be balanced, of course, with the views of residents, who, as many hon. Members rightly said, should be at the centre of the planning system, and with Government policy, MPs’ views, environmental constraints and external pressures from developers.
The plan then has to identify objectively what development is needed for employment, economic growth, housing and infrastructure, to come up with strategic options and, of course, to engage local people again in deciding where that development should go. I reiterate that this is a very democratic process, and rightly so. Local people need to be at the heart of it.
The dates for the current consultation have already been referred to, but there has been a series of public consultations on the spatial framework draft plan. The consultation document was published on 31 October, and the consultation will end on 23 December. A final draft of the plan is expected in 2017.
The picture that the Minister paints is very different from my experience and that of many of my colleagues and my constituents. Most of my constituents had never heard anything about the plan before I wrote to tell them about it. Even the name—Greater Manchester spatial framework—is deliberately off-putting to people. It is incredibly difficult for the public to get into these documents, understand what is proposed and make their voices heard. It would be very welcome if the Minister acknowledged those difficulties and put his support behind the public having a real say in the matter.
I served for 10 years as a local councillor, and I cannot pretend that agreeing our joint local plans or strategic planning policies necessarily excited the electorate or was the talk of the Dog and Duck on a weekend, but the public are certainly interested in the delivery of more homes, industrial development and all the rest of it. This process is managed locally, not by central Government, so the hon. Lady will need to speak to her local authorities about how they have advertised and consulted the public; it is not a matter for me to determine.
One of the problems that our constituents will have with this plan is about how the road network will cope, because it feels like it is already at saturation point. The north-west of England desperately needs significant investment in rail infrastructure. Does the Minister for the northern powerhouse agree that high-quality west-east rail across the north of England is a higher investment priority than Crossrail 2 in London?
I am not going to get into the divisive argument about whether what happens in London should happen elsewhere. This country should be capable of delivering proper rail networks for both London and the north of England.
All parties have a responsibility for the decades of under-investment in the north of England, particularly in east-west connectivity. We are putting £2.8 billion into the current franchises for improvements and £13 billion into transport improvements across the north over this Parliament. We have, of course, created Transport for the North, which will come forward next year with strategic rail investment proposals for the entire north. That is something we have never seen before, and it will have the basis and nature of what happens in London with Transport for London. The northern powerhouse rail and High Speed 3 proposals, which are being developed at the moment, are of course part of that. That work will be completed next year, and I hope that Transport for the North will come forward with strong proposals for rail investment, because infrastructure is really important.
I have only three or four minutes left, and I want to respond clearly to a couple of points that my hon. Friend the Member for Hazel Grove made about brownfield sites. We have been clear that we are seeking to prioritise brownfield sites for development. We have reaffirmed our commitment to 90% of suitable brownfield sites having planning permission for new homes by 2020. We have taken action such as widening permitted development rights to help give new life to thousands of under-used buildings. We are ensuring that the new homes bonus continues to reward councils when long-empty homes are brought back into use. We are accelerating the disposal of surplus public sector brownfield land for development, and we have put an additional £1.2 billion into enabling starter homes to be created on brownfield sites.
Importantly, we will create a brownfield register, which will provide up-to-date, publicly available information about brownfield land that is suitable for development, so the public will be able to see what land is designated as brownfield in an area and whether it has been developed. We have also introduced permission in principle, a new route to planning permission that will give up-front certainty that the fundamental principles are acceptable before developers need to get into costly technical matters.
My hon. Friend asked whether we should have a more rigid brownfield-first policy. We must be careful, because not all brownfield sites can be developed, due to environmental and pollution concerns and all the rest of it, but we are clear that brownfield sites should be prioritised. That is why the percentage of new residential addresses—that includes conversions, some of them under the rules changes I mentioned before—created on brownfield sites was 61% last year, up from 58% in 2014-15. We are quite rightly trying to prioritise brownfield sites.
My hon. Friend the Member for Cheadle (Mary Robinson) and the hon. Member for Makerfield (Yvonne Fovargue) raised infrastructure, and the hon. Member for Worsley and Eccles South (Barbara Keeley) mentioned road safety. Yesterday, we devolved some functions to Greater Manchester through statutory instrument, and one of those was road safety promotion. The combined authority and the Mayor will be able to exercise that new power.
We must match infrastructure to development—there is no doubt about that. That is why we announced in the autumn statement a £2.3 billion housing and infrastructure fund to do that. Over the last decade or so, we have all been victims of developments in our local areas that have not necessarily come with the most appropriate infrastructure, so we are absolutely clear about the issue.
In my final five or 10 seconds, I reiterate that the plan can go ahead only if it enjoys the unanimous support of every council that sits on the combined authority. It really is in the hands of local people.
Motion lapsed, and sitting adjourned without Question put (Standing Order No. 10(14)).