I beg to move,
That this House has considered the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Stringer. It is also a pleasure to be joined by hon. Members from across Greater Manchester. The cross-party interest demonstrates the real concerns about the spatial framework that exist among residents across our county. The Greater Manchester spatial framework will be the principal housing and planning document of the Greater Manchester Combined Authority. It represents the combined authority’s plans for the management of land for housing, commerce and industry in the next 20 years. It will have a permanent effect on the location and the shape and character of local communities.
I am acutely aware that hon. Members participating, and other people watching, may have a strong sense of déjà vu, because we have had this debate before. Just over two years ago, I introduced a debate with the same title in this same room to discuss the same spatial framework policy. Since the highly controversial first draft in 2016, however, much has changed in the GMSF, including the controversial plans that originally sought to build on more than 8% of Greater Manchester’s green belt. After attracting criticism from across the political spectrum and getting negative responses from thousands of residents, the authority was forced to go back to the drawing board and rethink.
After months of delay, the Greater Manchester Combined Authority published its revised draft of the GMSF in January, which is substantially different from the original in many details. It is also the subject of a second period of public consultation, so it is right that we take a second look at it. Although the details of the GMSF have changed, controversy surrounding it remains. Those contentious points have centred on three areas: the overall housing numbers, the proposals to build in places that are designated as green-belt land, and whether the accompanying infrastructure, particularly transport, will be sufficient.
To be clear, I am not against development per se, nor am I against the concept of the framework itself. On the contrary, a cross-county approach to strategically sharing housing allocation is to be welcomed, because we need to provide new developments to address the housing shortage and to provide jobs for generations to come. However, that should be done in a way that is sensitive to the local environment and the wishes of local communities. It should also happen only where there is genuine need and infrastructure to support development.
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
I happily give way to my Greater Manchester colleague.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing the debate and I apologise that I need to leave to return to my constituency before the end. He is right to draw attention to the importance of infrastructure development alongside the development of employment space and housing. That is particularly important in Partington and Carrington in my constituency. Does he agree that there will need to be sequencing, so that we do not get the infrastructure development after, but in advance of, or at least in conjunction with, the housing and employment space development?
The hon. Lady makes an important point. She is correct that, to get residents to buy in to that level of development, they will need assurance that it will not simply add to congestion on local roads, and that there will be adequate provision of hospitals, doctors and school places. That would be the same in all our constituencies.
Since being elected in 2015, I have campaigned alongside residents to protect the local green belt, particularly around the village of High Lane, from massive developments such as those proposed under the GMSF. I have attended public meetings, led debates in the House, submitted a petition from more than 4,000 constituents, worked with my constituency neighbours and lobbied three different Housing Ministers about the matter. I want to put on the record my thanks to all the local people who, with their letters, signing various petitions, organising demonstrations and making their voices heard, have supported the campaign so far, and I hope they continue to do so. I also want to thank my colleagues from across the region who have led similar campaigns in their constituencies, particularly my constituency neighbours in the Borough of Stockport, one of whom, the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Gwynne), we are delighted to see on the Front Bench and will speak for the Opposition today. At this time of apparently unsurmountable political divides, we have been able to work on a cross-party basis. If we can work in such a way, there is hope indeed. Despite my opposition to parts of the framework, I also want to thank the combined authority for listening to people and for taking note of their concerns and revising the plan.
What is the upshot of the policy changes, and is the revised GMSF any better? From my own constituency perspective, one major improvement is how the overall housing targets under the framework appear to have, in effect, been assessed at a county-wide level rather than a purely local authority one, which means that some of the house building targets from the first draft can be redistributed across the local authority boundaries to where local housing need is perhaps higher or land availability greater. The approach is sensible and was a change that I and others called for in response to the first draft.
I happily give way to the shadow Secretary of State.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing this debate. He and I are both Stockport Members of Parliament. He knows that some in Stockport, principally the Liberal Democrats, have talked about pulling Stockport out of the county-wide co-operation on planning. Does he agree that that would be absolute folly because the situation that he has just described, whereby some of Stockport’s housing growth can be shared across the county, would not be available to Stockport should it pull out of the GMSF?
The shadow Secretary of State is absolutely right. It is highly irresponsible for any political party to make such broad statements, which could increase the pressures on local green belts by some 5,000 for the Borough of Stockport. He is completely right to place that on the record this afternoon.
The updated proposals also mean changes at a local level in Stockport and will instead see the number of new houses earmarked for building on the green belt reduced from 12,000 to 3,700. In my constituency of Hazel Grove, the figure has been reduced from 4,000 to 1,250. Critically, plans to more than double the size of the village of High Lane with an extra 4,000 houses have been reduced to 500. However, to fit some of the new homes needed, new sites at the former Offerton High School, Gravel Bank Road and Unity Mill in Woodley and Hyde Bank Meadows in Romiley have been suggested under the revised plans. Those sites will be much smaller than the original High Lane proposals at about 250 homes each, and in some cases will partly use previously developed land.
The revised plans that greatly reduce the amount of green belt to be sacrificed show that when local people come together and we work on a cross-party basis we can get results. I have consistently urged that the overall number of houses needed to be reduced, and that where houses are to be built we should follow a robust “brownfield first” policy. I therefore welcome the fact that the revised GMSF plans do both of those things. The result of the changes is a step in the right direction, in many aspects, as regards the controversial elements of the framework. However, as ever, there is more work to be done.
Almost half of the UK population live in rural, semi-rural or suburban communities close to green-belt land. The green belt is a vital barrier to urban sprawl and is hugely valued by local people. Our road infrastructure and transport capacity already struggle with existing demands. The proposals for development will risk making matters worse. The green belt encourages regeneration of our towns and makes the best use of our land. It therefore protects the countryside and all the benefits that that brings.
To protect and enhance the countryside, which borders the homes of some 30 million people, we must press on with the “brownfield first” approach. The green belt should not be used for housing development on the scale currently proposed. The fact is that we need more housing, but it should be implemented following a vigorous “brownfield first” policy. Insisting that brownfield land, which has had development on it previously, should be prioritised for the building of homes would encourage the regeneration of our towns and would ensure that the best use is made of our land. Importantly, it would ensure that housing is located where there is already the necessary infrastructure, and where local services can be augmented and improved.
To minimise the pressure on the green belt, it is important that we identify as best as possible all brownfield land. We should look at areas that are vacant or derelict so that we can optimise their potential for development before considering green-belt sites. Credit is therefore due to the Government for the creation of the brownfield register, following the Housing and Planning Act 2017. It has enabled hundreds of additional brownfield sites to be identified, and so has removed a considerable amount of the pressure on the green belt. Some good progress has been made in that area.
Thanks to the brownfield register, we know that Greater Manchester has at least 1,000 hectares of brownfield land spread across 439 sites, which have not yet been fully developed for housing. That is enough to build at least 55,000 homes, and it is likely that more such land can be found. Stockport has a reasonable number of those sites, although not as many as other areas. Stockport’s brownfield register, which is administered by the local council, has made it possible to identify sites within the urban area suitable for the development of up to 7,200 housing units. That is a considerable amount more than when we began this process a couple of years ago.
The Campaign to Protect Rural England estimates that, across the country, there is enough brownfield land to build some 720,000 homes. That figure has been revised upwards from the 2017 estimate of 650,000. Those brownfield sites have the potential to contribute significantly to the construction of the homes that are needed.
Another significant development since the last debate came in September 2018, when the Office for National Statistics released its most up-to-date population figures and household forecasts. Its publication of the new household projections led to a reduction in the overall numbers generated by the standard method for assessing local housing need. They proved to be nearly 25% lower than previously thought. Consequently, they gave rise to a national need target of some 213,000 new homes per year.
In October 2018, the Government published a technical consultation on the update to national planning policy and guidance. I commend them for a masterpiece of obfuscation. The consultation paper set out proposals to update planning guidance on housing need assessment to be consistent to the Government’s ambition to increase housing supply. They propose that planning practice guidance should be amended to specify that the 2014 ONS projections provide the demographic baseline for local housing need, rather than the 2016 figures. They produced their consultation response just two days ago, so colleagues may be forgiven for not having read it yet.
Despite clear opposition to the proposals from organisations and individuals, the Government have signalled their intention to ignore the latest ONS figures and use the outdated but higher 2014 projections. That means that they will overlook the latest ONS forecast, and instead stick to the previous target of 300,000 new homes per year, which will, I am afraid, lead to increased pressure on green-belt land.
I have a number of questions for our excellent Minister. First, I want to make a rather technical but nevertheless important point. I reiterate the point that I made when I wrote to the Secretary of State in December in response to the Department’s consultation. I believe that the 2016 projection should be used to provide the demographic baseline for the standard method. I strongly disagreed with the Ministry’s proposals, and I still do. Failure to use the most up-to-date evidence in creating policies is, I think, directly contradictory to the rules of the national planning policy framework. Moreover, there were 498 responses to this question, and of those organisations that responded, more than half—55%—disagreed with the change; only one third agreed with the proposal. In fact, more than two thirds of local authorities opposed the plans. Individual respondents, of whom I was one, were overwhelmingly opposed; the figure was 86%.
I have concerns about the Government’s response to the ONS figures and the message that that may send. If the Ministry selectively considers evidence that justifies its housing need figures, that suggests that the direction of travel is only one way. It seems a departure, I contend, from evidence-based policy making. It is a case of cherry-picking facts to ensure that the means justify the ends. I therefore urge my hon. Friend the Minister to reconsider the approach of his Ministry in this area.
Secondly, there must be stronger consideration, at individual site level, of what is being lost in terms of green space or green belt, particularly with regard to wildlife corridors and recreational spaces. A local site of particular concern to me is the area at Hyde Bank meadows in Romiley in my constituency. It contains the well used community facilities of Tangshutt fields, including playing fields, three football pitches and a children’s play area, and is adjacent to Tangshutt meadow, which is a popular local green space, a nature reserve, a community orchard and allotments. The loss of that green space would damage the local environment, the community and the health and wellbeing of local people, and it is but one example from the GMSF second draft document.
Finally and importantly, as I mentioned at the beginning of my speech, more attention must be paid to how local infrastructure will support the new developments where and when they may be approved—that follows on from the excellent intervention by the hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green)—particularly in respect of roads, traffic and local amenities. Although it would obviously have fewer homes than the 4,000 previously proposed, even a relatively small site—250 homes—would mean at least 250 extra cars on the road; there would probably be two or indeed three cars per household.
Many of the site-specific proposals in the revised framework refer to road and rail upgrades, in the immediate vicinity of sites, to provide access to the developments and to manage traffic in and around the new estates. However, beyond that, the framework generally gives no further details of what that will entail in the surrounding areas. It makes only vague references to developing travel plans or travel corridors, or general improvements to highway infrastructure. Without any level of detail, it is very hard for local politicians or local people to know the true impact that there may be on their area.
Of course, the issue about capacity on local roads also applies to national highways and motorways and, in particular, the M60. The development of Carrington, which I warmly welcome for Trafford, is right by the junction to the M60. We need to have the co-operation of Highways England, as well as local roads authorities, in ensuring that we have adequate capacity to support the planned new developments.
The hon. Lady is spot on. There is a similar situation in my constituency with the M60 road and the junction at Bredbury, with one of the proposals being to expand Bredbury Parkway.
In summary—you will be relieved to hear that, Mr Stringer—the revised GMSF plans and the response hitherto show that when local people come together and when politicians work together on a cross-party basis, we can make our voice heard. Although I welcome the significant reduction in the amount of green-belt land released in Stockport, the policy of “brownfield first”, inclusion of appropriate infrastructure and further local public consultation remain top priorities for the Greater Manchester spatial framework.
I think that the Government are potentially entering difficult territory if they proceed as planned with updates to the national planning policy and guidance and continue to disregard the latest ONS household projections. This is an area where I would strongly urge the Minister to rethink, just as the combined authority has shown its ability to rethink with this draft.
We should now all look at the details of these revised proposals. With the combined authority’s consultation open until 18 March, there is still good time for residents to make their views heard. What is needed now is a robust system of local consultations, especially in my constituency around the newly proposed sites in Offerton, Woodley and Romiley. We should ensure the efficient use of brownfield land, and that any new housing developments are properly supported with additional transport infrastructure and local services.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Stringer.
I thank my Greater Manchester neighbour, the hon. Member for Hazel Grove (Mr Wragg), for securing this very important debate. It is a debate that has attracted a lot of attention and emotion, certainly within Oldham West and Royton, and I want to explore some of the issues involved. I also place on the record my thanks to the shadow Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Gwynne), for allowing me to speak from the Back Benches.
I absolutely support the development of a spatial framework for Greater Manchester. We are a growing city region, we are a thriving city region and we are—in my opinion—the best place in the UK to live, and it is important that we plan ahead and make sure that we are fit for purpose in providing employment land, housing land, recreation and quality of life; but how we do that is critical, and I shall point out a number of ways in which we have not quite got the balance right.
We need to start at the beginning, and the beginning is that the Government have imposed a housing target on Greater Manchester that does not hold up to scrutiny. Greater Manchester does not need the housing numbers that the Government are imposing on it when, as has been outlined already, the latest population estimates show that we need far fewer homes than have been proposed. Today the Government could commit to using the latest population data and save us a lot of aggravation, a lot of grief and a lot of really high emotion, where people are losing valuable green-belt land unnecessarily. Why is there such emotion? For that reason, but also because there is in many of our communities a range of brownfield sites—sites that are dirty; former industrial sites—that the community would love to see redeveloped.
However, all of us present in Westminster Hall know that those brownfield sites will not be the ones to be developed if the developers are holding the ring on this issue. The spatial framework does not provide for the sequencing of land development, to enable us to have a genuine “brownfield first” policy whereby sites that commanded community support were developed, obviating the need to use the green belt.
My hon. Friend makes a really important point, because this issue is about more than the sequencing of the disposal of sites for development; it is also about market economics, or supply and demand. If there is an oversupply of green-belt land that does not meet the real housing need of the conurbation, is it not the case that in 25 years’ time our successors might be debating in this place the next version of the Greater Manchester spatial framework, speaking with regret about the missed opportunity whereby we had lost green-belt land but those brownfield sites were still brownfield?
That is absolutely the point, and it will be echoed by thousands of people in Greater Manchester who are not happy with the current settlement.
In my constituency, we had a programme called housing market renewal. The idea was that areas of the housing market that were underperforming would be transformed through modernisation, demolition and rebuilding, to create urban environments where people were proud to live—not houses that were simply built to service the industrial revolution but houses that were fit for the future, too. In 2010, when the coalition Government came to power, that scheme was cancelled overnight. That left many streets in my constituency with their windows boarded up. Actually, many of those houses eventually had the boards taken off and are now in the hands of private landlords, who are making an unreasonable amount of money from housing benefit, so that people can live in what I still consider to be substandard accommodation.
The principle of a brownfield fund is really important. Not only is green-belt land more advantageous to build on, but green-belt sites are often the sites that are commercially viable to build on. The problem with many brownfield sites is that mediation—such as taking out any services that might have been there for a different road layout, removing contamination, and removing a lot of very expensive material to landfill—costs a lot of money. In areas such as Oldham, where some of the house prices are depressed—that is certainly the case in Oldham town—it is just not possible to reconcile the high development costs with the end-sale value of those properties. So there must be Government intervention to bridge that gap. None of that is proposed as part of this new settlement for the community, so, as has already been stated, we will have a situation where green-belt land is taken because it is developable and viable and it will make a profit for the developer but, for a range of reasons, brownfield sites will be left as eyesores.
Many sites in active use in my constituency are waste transfer sites—abattoirs or former haulage yards, for example. They are currently earmarked for employment use, because that is their current use, but they are in predominantly residential areas, so the road layout does not service large-vehicle movements. The community would love those sites to be re-categorised for residential development, but that is not allowed under this process, because there is a requirement that sites be practically deliverable within the life of the plan. Of course, if the current landowner has no immediate intention of developing that land, it cannot be included because it has no reasonable prospect of being delivered.
We all know that demand for sites for employment use is changing rapidly. Oldham used to have 300 mills. Those that remain are now self-storage. People always said, “We’re always going to need storage, so there’s always going to be a role for Oldham’s mills,” until, of course, we built high-bay warehousing out of town on the green belt because distribution companies wanted more than mills with five floors, in which it is more expensive to move goods around. That shift in demand should be taken into account.
Local areas should be allowed more flexibility to re-categorise and transform dirty industrial sites into new residential sites. That is not the case at the moment, due to the requirement for there to be a reasonable prospect of a site’s being brought into use within the life of the plan. That does not enable local areas to lead from the front and say to landowners, “We have a better vision for our community than a waste transfer site.” [Interruption.] I am being heckled by the Minister. That is fine—I am quite used to being heckled—but it would be great if he provided a substantive answer to some of these fundamental questions.
Why have an inflated target for housing and population when the latest data says we do not need that target? Why not allow the creation of a proper brownfield fund, so that we have the cash in place to redevelop the land that people want to see redeveloped? What about infrastructure? In Greater Manchester, we have lost more than 1 million miles of bus journeys since 2010.
I want to clarify something. The hon. Gentleman said there was an inflated housing target. On a number of occasions in the main Chamber and in Westminster Hall, I have heard his Front-Bench team make serious promises about the number of houses they will build, which is not dissimilar to the number that we are aiming to build. I just wonder whether he still pledges to hit that target, and if so, where he thinks those houses will go, if not in large conurbations such as Manchester.
I am speaking as a constituency MP rather than as a member of the Front-Bench team, but it is a fact that housing units in urban areas—in town centres and the immediate surrounding areas—are denser than houses of the type that are built on the green belt. If we had a brownfield fund in Oldham, we would see a renaissance of town centre living, with more apartments and town houses built. Of course, we would get more units on land in the town centre than on the green belt, where we generally see larger family housing built and, obviously, we get fewer per acre.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for providing that clarification. Just for clarity, he is saying that he is concerned not about the number of houses that are built but about where they are built in his constituency, and that he would like to see higher-density housing on brownfield sites. I agree with that aspiration. I hope he recognises that that is perfectly within the capability of the local authority and the Mayor in Manchester to decide through their plan process. If he would like to meet representatives of Homes England to talk about the marginal viability funding that we can and do provide for trickier sites that require remediation or other action to make them viable, I would be more than happy to facilitate that.
Order. I remind hon. Members that interventions should be short and to the point, and that Members should speak when they have the Floor, not from a sedentary position.
I accept the Minister’s energy on this issue, and I welcome the opportunity to sit down for a meeting. However, the question will be whether he can show me the money. We can have as many conversations over a cup of tea as we like, but it will not get a brick laid in Oldham. We need to see cash, to redevelop the sites that we are talking about and for vital public service infrastructure.
A problem in Oldham is that our schools are oversubscribed; we have an expansion programme in our primary sector and we are looking for sites for new secondary schools to deal with the growth in the number of children who need educating. No facility is being offered by the Government to meet that demand, nor on transport links—we have lost a million miles of bus routes in Greater Manchester. GP practices are overwhelmed. The local A&E has missed its targets constantly because of the number of people waiting on trolleys for four to 12 hours. We cannot build houses without accepting that public infrastructure is needed to service them.
Housing need will be particular to each area; it will be different in Oldham from that in Stockport, Trafford or anywhere else. The real issue for the Government ought to be how much public money is spent on housing benefit payments, given to private landlords for housing that does not meet the decent homes standard. It is a scandal. Billions of pounds are spent every year, including in my town, on renting substandard terraced housing built to service mill workers that has no resale value as such. These houses can be picked up at auction for about £40,000, but landlords charge £500 a month rent to tenants, many of whom will be in receipt of housing benefit. It costs us taxpayers more to pay for that substandard accommodation than to build new social housing or to help people to get on the housing ladder.
We keep hearing that austerity is still in place, and that it is still difficult to find resources. Surely that gives us a bigger responsibility to make sure that money spent in the system is spent to the best effect. The experience in Oldham is that it is not. Too many people live in overcrowded accommodation that does not meet the decent homes standard. We could use that money better. That goes beyond Homes England’s land viability fund. Homes England will say that funding will bridge the gap if homes built on derelict sites have lower-end resale values. However, what if there are streets and streets of terraced housing that are not of the standard required to meet the challenges of the future and to provide people with a decent place to live? We need an urban renewal programme of significant money, geographically anchored, to transform the housing markets in those areas.
The other point I would make is on the community’s feeling in the process. Any situation like this, in which we talk about changing where people live, will be emotive. Many people who live in my constituency, including myself, are dislocated, relocated or newly established former Mancunians. We moved to Oldham, the gateway to the Pennines, because we wanted a different type of lifestyle; we did not want to live in the urban streets of Manchester. By the way, many Manchester properties that we lived in, including the one that I grew up in, have been demolished as part of clearance programmes. Many estates in Royton, for instance, were developed in the ’60s and ’70s, when there was an urban clearance programme in Manchester. People made an active decision to move from the streets of Manchester and to a better lifestyle, with a bigger house with a garden, and fields that they could take their dogs for walks on and where children could play. The idea that that is being taken away—in a process that I am afraid lacks transparency at some points—does not sit well with local people. I will explain what I mean by that.
The original call for sites in 2016 meant that landowners and developers could put forward the sites that they wanted to be considered for development. In that process, I would expect—I have made these representations within Greater Manchester—there to have been a record, a scoring mechanism and a proper assessment of those sites to determine which then went into the 2016 consultation. I cannot see what assessment was used for some of those sites that have been put forward, and why some had been recommended by developers but not proposed within the plan. I am afraid we are seeing the same thing again.
There is a new site that is massively problematic for my constituents around Thornham Old Road in Royton. That was not part of the original 2016 consultation. It has now found its way into the revised plan. During the consultation, Redrow, the developer, sent letters to the surrounding properties because it apparently wanted to buy one of the houses to knock it down and use the site as an access road. That was before the consultation had even finished, yet we wonder why local people do not have confidence in the system’s being fair, transparent and properly assessed.
It feels like we are being hit from all sides. We are being hit by a Government who are imposing a target that leaders locally are saying is inflated and does not present the latest population data. That means that those leaders are forced to go into the green belt when they would prefer not to. The process is being far too developer-led, not community-led. Not one area in my constituency has a neighbourhood plan developed by the community, where they get to design what their community development will be in future, so they feel as though it is being done from the top down.
Why don’t you do it, then?
Because the resources needed to produce a plan are significant. Like me, the Minister knows that since 2010, capacity in planning authorities has been massively swiped to one side by Government austerity. Councils are struggling to deal with day-to-day planning applications, let alone a voluntary neighbourhood plan process that is hugely time-consuming.
The hon. Gentleman raises an important point on neighbourhood plans that I neglected in my remarks. We need to be clear about how the GMSF will take account of those neighbourhood plans. I have three such plans at various stages in my constituency. We need clarity on how they will integrate with the overall GMSF.
You were being heckled before.
I have been heckled by the Minister and the Parliamentary Private Secretary, the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Kevin Hollinrake)—I hope the officials do not join in, or it will get a bit out of hand. We were promised after the original consultation that there would be no loss of green-belt land, and we were promised a radical rewrite. I accept completely that Greater Manchester has to comply with the requirements placed on it. I do not hold any Greater Manchester politician responsible for the housing target passed to them, but it cannot be a radical rewrite when for my constituency there are 450 more units than were in the original plan.
I briefly wanted to talk about some of the land issues that we have. In August, we will be reflecting on 200 years since the Peterloo massacre, where working people demanded the right to vote. Many in my constituency as it stands today did not return home. They were killed at Peterloo. One of the contributing factors to Peterloo—this is, I accept, a local history point—was that the Rochdale magistrate had been given word that the rebels or radicals had practised military manoeuvres in their hundreds at Tandle Hill in Royton. Word got to the Rochdale magistrate, and they sent word to Manchester. That definitely contributed to the feeling that there would be a riot and civil disobedience that could not be controlled.
Order. May I ask the hon. Gentleman to quickly come back to the spatial strategy?
What I am saying is relevant, because the marching ground at Tandle Hill was eventually planted out with a beechwood to stop people marching there. It is now Tandle Hill country park, which is adjacent to the site proposed for development at Royton. These are important historical sites. The country park is also where the Tandle Hill war memorial is placed. Given the topography of Tandle Hill, it is no surprise that it is on a hill. When someone is stood at the memorial, they are looking down at the sites proposed for development. The development would change the character and nature of what I consider to be a very special part of the Borough of Oldham. It is a place where people can come together, where there is more to life than just work, and where people can enjoy the countryside. That is very important.
It was an issue that the north of the Oldham borough was taking a disproportionate share of redevelopment when the south of the borough had none. We made recommendations that there should be a more fundamental review to make sure that each area took its share of development. In consequence, hugely problematic new sites have been added in the Bardsley and Medlock Vale area of Oldham.
By and large, the community would find a way to reconcile with some of those sites—for instance, a former landfill site that lends itself to development—but because different processes have not been brought together, former public open space is being redeveloped for housing at the same time as new sites are being proposed that take away the green belt around that community. Not only have people lost their immediate urban open space to development, but they are likely to lose the field at the back of their estate too, which further cuts them off.
I do not want a devolution of blame or targets that does not meet with what local people want; I want the Government to genuinely give local people the freedom and ability to decide the future of their communities. It is not enough to say, “We are doing that with the Greater Manchester spatial framework”, because the people who are being forced to make the decisions have been hamstrung by Government-imposed targets. The Government know that and they can do something about it.
I am proud of my local authority. The leadership of Oldham Council is working hard to set a new vision for our town, to give our town direction, and to give us hope and optimism when, to be honest, the Government have walked away from our town. The council wants to use the spatial framework to frame that vision, but it is being forced to go into areas that it would rather not go into, as is the Mayor of Greater Manchester, who has been clear about that.
Let us use the debate as an opportunity, not to restate what we already know—it feels as if that is how the Minister is beginning to line up—but to genuinely reflect on the contributions that have been made and try to seek compromise. If Parliament and the Government learned how to compromise a little more, our politics would be in a better place.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Stringer, and to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham West and Royton (Jim McMahon). I am grateful to the hon. Member for Hazel Grove (Mr Wragg) for securing this important debate. It is a shame that it is on the Thursday afternoon of the non-recess week, so, unfortunately, a lot of our Greater Manchester colleagues are in their constituencies. The hon. Member for Hazel Grove has outlined the background to the Greater Manchester spatial framework, so I will not go over that. I am sure that the Greater Manchester MPs who are here are fully au fait with the scheme, having lived and breathed it for the last three years.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman’s remarks about preserving wildlife. This morning, in Environment, Food and Rural Affairs questions, with reference to the recent report about the decline of the insect population, I asked about the increasing fragmentation of our landscape, which is leading to a decline in pollinating species. We must make sure that these plans do not add to that environmental problem.
I am pleased that the Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, took away the original GMSF for revision, and that in the revised version the amount of green-belt land earmarked for development in my constituency has been reduced from 4.6% to 2.9%. I also understand that we need a plan. We need housing and employment opportunities plus the infrastructure—roads, schools, health services and public transport—to support them.
I am pleased that Andy Burnham has recognised the need for a joined-up plan that considers all development needs. I am also aware of and pleased about the protective effect of a plan on preserving the remainder of our green-belt land. Without an agreed plan, our green space would be at greater risk from speculative development.
Although the new proposals have reduced the amount of green-belt land proposed for development, what remains is still causing a great deal of unhappiness and outright anger, as in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham West and Royton. Several well-organised “save the green belt” groups have formed, and they continue to protest against the proposals. Since the new plans were announced, I have been inundated with complaints and comments from constituents. Many appear to hold me personally responsible for the plans, which were drawn up by the 10 combined authorities.
Several green-belt sites in my constituency cause a great deal of concern. I will mention a couple in detail, but there are six in total, including the large Northern Gateway proposal of 1,000 new homes, with a new employment area, plus the link road at junction 19 of the M62. Most of the objections I have received have been to the proposal for Crimble Mill of 250 homes, with redevelopment of the mill, which is a listed building. That is a new proposal, which was not in the first draft, and yet in the council’s own strategic housing land availability assessment of 2017, the area was discounted for development because of flood risk. Many constituents have been in contact to ask me what has changed in the past two years to make the land suitable for building on. I have urged all my constituents to feed their concerns into the online consultation. It is really important for them to do that, in order for their views to be heard properly and, I hope, to be taken into consideration and to make a difference.
Another proposal is to build 450 houses in Bamford, in the northern part of my constituency. That number has been reduced from 750 homes in the initial proposal, but residents remain concerned about the number of houses and the fact that they will all be expensive, non-affordable homes. That is perhaps an unintended consequence of this Government starving our councils of funds—they propose the building of executive homes in order to maximise council tax revenue to replace lost Government funding. There is hardly an incentive for councils to build affordable homes.
As I said, there is a lot of anger in my constituency, with a protest “Save the green belt” march planned for Sunday 3 March. Campaigners will come from Middleton and Slattocks in my constituency and from other areas such as Royton, Chadderton, Shaw, Milnrow and Newhey. The march will congregate at Tandle Hill, which we have heard a great deal about from my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham West and Royton.
Under the previous plan, the borough of Rochdale was set to lose 4.6% of its green belt. As I said, under the new plan that has been reduced to 2.9%, so 15.9% of the borough will remain green belt. That is the highest such figure in the region, out of the 10 combined authorities. Six hundred and forty-five hectares of land are earmarked for development, but that will be offset by 175 hectares that will be protected for the first time. However, many constituents are rightly sceptical about the assignation of parkland such as Queen’s Park in Heywood to the green belt. My constituents can see through that.
We need to be sure, as other Members have mentioned, that every available brownfield site is used first, so that the often-repeated phrase “brownfield first” is not just a slogan but a reality. That is a question for the local authorities as well as for the Minister, but I am interested to hear from him what financial help the Government will make available to councils to undertake the remedial work that is required to develop brownfield sites. My hon. Friend the Member for Oldham West and Royton went into a great deal of detail about that, and I fully support his comments.
Will the Minister make the most up-to-date population projections available to local authorities, to enable them to plan on the basis of realistic figures? We have heard from the hon. Member for Hazel Grove about the impact on the plan of the ONS figures that were released in 2018.
This is a difficult debate. None of us wants to stand in the way of progress or the growth and development of Greater Manchester, but we must get this right without losing our green spaces unnecessarily.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hazel Grove (Mr Wragg) on securing this debate. I will call him a friend, because although we are from different political parties, we represent constituencies in the same borough and have worked together on a number of issues. Sometimes the artificial barriers that this place sets up mask the real co-operation between Members on both sides of the House.
I believe in plan-led systems. They work best when larger areas co-operate over a wide geography, and I have experience of that. Before I became the Member of Parliament for Denton and Reddish, I served for 12 years as a councillor on Tameside Metropolitan Borough Council—one of the 10 councils that make up Greater Manchester. I remember very well, in my early days as a Tameside councillor in the mid-1990s, the proposals to introduce the Tameside unitary development plan. It was intended to replace the Greater Manchester structure plan, which had been in existence since the formation of the Greater Manchester County Council in 1974. The Greater Manchester structure plan, like the Greater Manchester spatial framework, covered the entire county. It made sense, because it meant that economic growth, housing growth and infrastructure planning happened on a county-wide basis, and that there could be co-operation across all the constituent authorities. Spatial planning actually worked. It is no good having 10 individual plans, because all 10 councils want to chase after the same goose that lays the golden egg.
Sadly, that is the situation that we fell into. When the Greater Manchester structure plan became obsolete, the then Conservative Government of John Major instructed the 10 metropolitan borough councils of Greater Manchester to get on and do their own thing. Each of the 10 local authorities produced its own unitary development plan. That was great for someone looking inside the box of just the city of Manchester—you served as a leader of that local authority for a considerable time, Mr Stringer—Rochdale, Oldham, Tameside or Stockport, but of course those boroughs do not act in isolation from one another.
With devolution, with the creation of the Greater Manchester combined authority and with the election of a Greater Manchester Mayor, I saw a real opportunity to get spatial planning right for the whole county so we can pool and share not just our resources, through things such as business rate retention, but our strengths as a destination—as a place to live and do business. I am biased. I will not get into a debate about which is the second city of this country; I will leave that to Birmingham and London, because we all know that Greater Manchester is the best place in the United Kingdom.
I saw those things as an opportunity, but I feel as though it is slipping away. We have had some really good co-operation on things such as housing targets, but as my hon. Friend the Member for Hazel Grove said very seriously, if Stockport were to go it alone, the housing needs that would fall on Stockport would mean that it would have to eat into the green belt. It is a very constrained borough, in the sense that it is surrounded by the green belt on three of its four sides. The only place where there is no green belt is where Stockport meets the city of Manchester and Tameside, but there is no room for it to grow that way either, because it has developed right up to those boundaries. By co-operating—not only has Stockport done that, but all the other outlying boroughs have done it to a lesser or greater extent—Salford and Manchester have been able to take around 40% of the housing growth for the entire county. That is good, because it will reinvigorate a large swathe of redundant brownfield sites in east Manchester, which borders my own constituency, as well as in the city centre and central Salford. The sites have lain derelict for decades and it is right that they are utilised first.
I do not just want to see growth in the central core, important though that is. There will only be a certain amount of demand for apartments and high-rise buildings without the greenery and the personal and private open space that comes with houses with gardens. There will have to be housing growth not just in the central core of the conurbation, but in the outlying areas. My hon. Friends the Members for Oldham West and Royton (Jim McMahon) and for Heywood and Middleton (Liz McInnes) are absolutely right. Unless we can get proper sequencing of “brownfield first”, there is a real danger for our conurbation.
The urban regeneration in the city centre is happening because land values have gone up, which makes brownfield sites worthy of developing, but similar brownfield sites—former old industrial sites that are now suitable for housing in Oldham, Rochdale, Tameside and parts of Stockport—will not have the same land value, and that value falls even further if there is an oversupply of green-belt land. This is about free market economics, and supply and demand. If I am a developer and a mass of sites have been identified, I will go for the cheapest site that gives me the greatest return. Frankly, in Greater Manchester, that is a green-belt site.
There could be much more buy-in to the loss of green-belt land. We all recognise that some green-belt land will have to be developed in the future growth of our city region, but if green-belt land is to be taken, we must have a proper “brownfield first” approach. I do not want to be here in future years saying that my constituents were proved right because the derelict site in the centre of Denton is still derelict 10, 20 or 30 years on, but the green-belt land surrounding Denton has been eaten up by development. If the green-belt land has to be built on—I accept that some of it might have to be—let that be because the brownfield land has been exhausted and it is absolutely necessary to build on the green-belt land. We should be creating sustainable communities. For a community to be genuinely sustainable, we need urban regeneration alongside new builds.
I want to commend the two councils in my constituency. Stockport Council is very ably led by Councillor Alex Ganotis, who is standing down in May. I thank him for his public service. He has done a great job of emphasising the need for urban regeneration. I particularly thank him for what I think will be a great legacy of his: the future regeneration of Stockport town centre. As part of the Greater Manchester spatial framework, with Andy Burnham using his new mayoral powers to create mayoral development corporations, Stockport is going to have the first mayoral development corporation in the country. It will regenerate Stockport town centre, which has got so much going for it. At the moment it is quite derelict on the edges. The historic core of the town—an absolute beauty—does not have the retail offer that it should have. However, the more people we get living and working in the town centre, the more vibrant and active it will become. I commend Stockport Council for its approach to urban regeneration, and I look forward to the mayoral development corporation transforming Stockport into the employment, residential and retail hub that a town that of size should be.
I also pay thanks to Councillor Brenda Warrington, leader of Tameside Metropolitan Borough Council, not least because she is my parliamentary agent; until last month she was also my constituency party chair. She, too, has approached the spatial framework process with fresh eyes. She understands that the environment matters, too; the built environment matters, and the natural environment matters.
One lasting legacy of the old Greater Manchester Council, and something I am really passionate about, is the transformation of the river valleys across Greater Manchester from industrial blackspots in the 1970s to linear country parks. In every part of Greater Manchester, there are river valleys that 45 years ago were industrial wasteland, but anyone standing in them now would think they had always been open countryside. One thing that unites the whole of my constituency, cross borough as it is, is the Tame valley.
I raise the Tame valley because the main campaign that has brought the hon. Member for Hazel Grove and me together is a campaign against the extension of the Bredbury Parkway industrial estate. I am not against economic growth, and Greater Manchester needs to grow economically. It is not a bad thing to want jobs to be created in Greater Manchester, in locations where our constituents can access them, but I have an issue with Bredbury Parkway. The existing industrial estate is locked in by the infrastructure in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency. It has direct motorway access on to the M60 at Bredbury roundabout, but unfortunately most HGVs cannot use it because they cannot get under the low railway bridge on the main line between Manchester and Sheffield.
I have met Highways England, Network Rail, Stockport Council and the prospective developers. It is fair to say that the prospective developers do not want to pay for any infrastructure upgrades—certainly not of the magnitude required. Highways England and the highways authority of Stockport Council say that the road cannot be lowered under the bridge, because it has already been lowered to its maximum depth; if it is lowered any further, the bridge will fall down. Network Rail says that to rebuild the bridge would involve the closure of the main line between Manchester and Sheffield, which would require funding of many millions that we will not get.
If there is any extension to the Bredbury Parkway, HGVs will have to come through Denton in Tameside to get on the motorway network at Crown Point. My constituents will not have that. They are already blighted by a considerable number of HGVs coming from the Bredbury Parkway scheme. Any extension would not be acceptable to them on traffic grounds or, indeed, on air quality grounds. My constituency is one of the most air-polluted in Greater Manchester. Two motorways run through it—the M60 and the M67—and anything that makes air quality even worse for my constituents is, frankly, not acceptable.
However, the situation is worse than that. The developers propose, aided and abetted by the Greater Manchester spatial framework process, to build very large distribution sheds in the “v” of the Tame valley. Everything at the top of the hill, in the constituency of the hon. Member for Hazel Grove, has basically already been developed, and everything sloping down to the River Tame, which is the constituency boundary as well as the local authority boundary, is currently pasture. Those sheds would be terraced, but—this is worse—they would come right up to the river bank. On the opposite bank are not one but two local nature reserves, which are very precious not just to the people who live in my constituency, but to those in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency.
It would be fine to destroy the green belt in that way if we took the jobs argument alone. However, this is not a Stockport local plan—this is not a matter just for Stockport—but a Greater Manchester strategic plan, and over the whole county there is an oversupply of new land for economic development in the spatial framework, so the argument for removing the green belt at Bredbury automatically disappears. That land is not just green belt; it is the Tame valley. It is the thing that unites Tameside and Stockport, and every part of my disparate communities of Dukinfield, Audenshaw, Denton, Reddish and the Heatons. That is why I am so cross; it is why I will continue to oppose the Bredbury Parkway scheme, together with the hon. Gentleman; and it is why I hope those who propose the Greater Manchester spatial framework exercise common sense with the next revisions, which will be published after the consultation ends.
I want very briefly to refer to the concerns of my hon. Friend the Member for Makerfield (Yvonne Fovargue), who cannot be here. I would probably have had to give her the same dispensation as I gave my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham West and Royton, because they are both members of the shadow Housing, Communities and Local Government team. She feels really strongly about this issue, so she has asked me to say a few words on her behalf. She has led a campaign with local councillors in Wigan against the use of land to create warehouses by junction 25 of the M6. In 2013, a similar scheme was thrown out by an independent planning inspector, but planning permission has already been submitted for warehousing the size of six football fields, and the jobs have been advertised.
That poses an important question: what is the point of even consulting on a spatial framework if developers can usurp the system as they seem to have done? That is precisely what is happening at Bredbury, where the developers have already held a public consultation. It makes a mockery of the plan-led system. I hope to get reassurances from the Minister that he takes very seriously the principle that developers and others should not seek to usurp the plan-led system, but that we need to get the plans in place before developers seek to develop cherished protected sites.
The other thing that has been mentioned—
Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but I would be grateful if he started to bring his remarks to a conclusion so the Minister has about the same time as he has had.
I am bringing my comments to a conclusion. I just want to touch on the serious issue of the numbers. We need clarity from the Minister about whether we should use the ONS numbers or the earlier numbers he set out. That brings me back to my first point about supply and demand. If we have an over-supply of green-belt land because we have used the wrong set of figures, how can the Minister give assurances to any of our constituents that those brownfield sites will be developed first?
I hope that the Minister will take on board the concerns we have raised and that he understands our sincerity. We want the best for Greater Manchester—we want our city region to grow and be prosperous—but it has to be sustainable for the future of all our communities.
I ask the Minister to leave at least a minute at the end for summing up.
I will attempt to comply, Mr Stringer. It is a great pleasure to appear under your wise and steady hand for the first time. I apologise for my agitation during the debate, but I am eager for houses to be built across our great land for a generation that is crying out for them.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hazel Grove (Mr Wragg) on securing the debate and on recognising the importance of the plan-making functions of local authorities and the importance of Greater Manchester, which is a place I know well, having been brought up at the far end of the M62 in Liverpool. I look forward to celebrating the relationship between our cities on Sunday afternoon, when the greatest football team of all time will play Manchester United.
Ten local planning authorities make up the Greater Manchester area, which is a key element of the northern powerhouse. The Government fully recognise how vital joint working between those authorities is to the success of Greater Manchester. The northern powerhouse is about boosting the economy by investing in skills, innovation, transport and culture, as well as devolving significant powers and budgets directly to elected Mayors.
In that spirit, the Government have placed faith in the people of Greater Manchester and their elected representatives to shape their own future. We have backed that up through the devolution of a wide range of powers under the leadership of an elected Mayor. It is the Mayor’s role to work collaboratively across Greater Manchester, and across the political parties, to provide the leadership and coherent vision required. Of course, local MPs should play an important role in the development of his plan.
The Government have also set out a national planning policy in the national planning policy framework, which we revised last year. That sets the overall framework for planning nationally. Local authorities need to bring forward plans for their local areas that respond to the particular nature, challenges and opportunities in their areas, some of which have been outlined by hon. Members.
Our starting position is that we trust local planning authorities, or groups of local planning authorities, as in Greater Manchester and many other parts of the country, to work together to produce plans that reflect the spirit of co-operation and joint working that we want to see. As a matter of law, plans are subject to a range of engagement and consultation with communities and other organisations. That consultation is a vital element of the plan-making process.
Plans are then subject to rigorous examination by independent planning inspectors, who are appointed by the Planning Inspectorate. The planning inspector or, in some cases, a panel of planning inspectors, assesses plans against the national planning policy framework and any other material planning considerations before coming to their conclusions. Ultimately, planning inspectors make recommendations about the soundness of the plan. Paragraph 35 of the NPPF sets out four tests of soundness that plans must pass, namely that they are positively prepared, justified, effective and consistent with national policy.
I am sure that hon. Members will understand that I cannot comment on the content or merits of the draft Greater Manchester spatial framework, as that could be seen to prejudice the Secretary of State’s position later in the planning process. I am aware that the draft spatial framework is out for public consultation until 18 March. I encourage anyone with views about it to respond to the consultation and take an active role in its development, as several hon. Members have. Knowing the tireless work that all hon. Members present, particularly my hon. Friend the Member for Hazel Grove, put into representing the interests of their constituents locally, I am confident that they will take on such a role.
The development of the spatial framework and the housing target were determined in this place and passed on to Greater Manchester to resolve. We agree with the spatial framework and the need to plan ahead, but there has to be a compromise. One Malthouse compromise has already died a death, so let us redo it for the Greater Manchester spatial framework.
The original compromise lives on—
Watch this space. I will come on to housing numbers, but I just want to finish this.
The plan-making process means that there will be a further round of consultation before the plan is submitted for examination by a planning inspector. I understand that that is likely to take place in summer 2019. Anyone with views about the document should make them known at that stage and, given that the timing is not yet fixed, those interested should remain in contact with the Greater Manchester authorities, as I know that all hon. Members and their residents will. The Government fully recognise the need to plan for and build more homes. We are committed to delivering 300,000 additional homes every year by the mid-2020s, and every part of the country has a role to play in reaching that target.
To some specifics, on the green belt, it would be wrong to think that this was just a numbers game. Clearly, the Government are committed to protecting the areas that communities value, including the green belt. The NPPF was revised last year and maintains strong protections for the green belt. It sets a very high bar for alterations to green-belt boundaries, and although a local authority—or even a collection of them, as in this case—can use the plan to secure necessary alterations to its green belt, that is only in exceptional circumstances.
The Government do not list those exceptional circumstances, which could vary greatly. Instead, it is for local plan makers and the Planning Inspectorate examination to check that any change is justified. At this stage, it is worth pointing out that there is obviously a difference between green-belt and greenfield. In some cases, I think that hon. Members might be confusing the two terms—one is in regulatory protection, the other is not. Fundamentally, it is for local authorities and local decision makers to provide the evidence base whether for variation of the green-belt boundary or for possible mitigation changes to the boundary by creation of space elsewhere.
It is still the case that the green belt overall in the country is bigger today than it was in 1997. We have taken particular steps to protect it. I also point out that in the NPPF that came out in July 2018, we put greater emphasis on seeking to develop brownfield land, especially within the green belt, as a priority.
A number of Members have mentioned the importance of the environment. As I hope everyone knows, we are in the middle of a consultation on the notion of biodiversity net gain in our housing and general development across the country, and that will conclude later in the year. It is absolutely right that in all we do we should seek to make the environment as much of a priority as we possibly can, and to accommodate and make space for nature.
Several Members mentioned the need for infrastructure. Plans are also about securing the necessary infrastructure to support development. It is essential to identify the type, scale and timing of the infrastructure required in any area, and that applies to smaller-scale infrastructure such as doctors’ surgeries or children’s playgrounds, right up to new hospitals, waterworks or rail connections. By identifying what is needed and where, the planning system can help to deliver the required infrastructure, either directly through tools such as section 106 agreements or the community infrastructure levy, or indirectly by signalling to utility companies or Government agencies such as the Highways Agency that certain items are required. Those agencies and companies can then build things in their own investment plans.
As I am sure hon. Members are aware, the Government also provide a number of opportunities for local authorities to bid for funding to assist with infrastructure. We have a £5.5 billion housing infrastructure fund, which can be used to bring forward housing sites and to release land for housing in a number of ways, including large infrastructure projects such as the multimillion-pound funding package for Carlisle that we announced last week, which put in a bid.
I am sure that the hon. Member for Oldham West and Royton (Jim McMahon) is aware that Oldham has submitted a bid to the housing infrastructure fund for marginal viability funding, which is designed to overcome exactly the sort of problems that he raised in his speech with difficult or marginally viable sites that might require work or some Government assistance to get them under way. We and Homes England are working with his local authority to solve some of the problems that he mentioned.
The hon. Member for Oldham West and Royton also mentioned neighbourhood plans. They have been incredibly popular across the country. About 13 million people now live under a neighbourhood planning system. We have provided £26 million of capacity support for neighbourhood plans, and I recognise that it takes a lot of commitment from local people to take control of planning in their local area. If the hon. Gentleman is having difficulties with neighbourhood plans, I will be more than happy to look at whether we can offer some kind of support because, however long I am in this job, I am keen to see neighbourhood planning established as a way for local people to take control of planning, so that they feel much less like its victims and more its master, particularly when it comes to design.
One area that we have made great play of in policy over the past few months is design. Where new homes are permitted, it is essential that we ensure that they are well designed. That is why we have established the Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission, chaired by Sir Roger Scruton. We held an important design conference in Birmingham just last week. We have also appointed a chief architect to work at the heart of Government to champion the important role that good design plays. I highlight the fact that the revised NPPF states that permission should be refused for poor design, especially when it fails to take the opportunities available for improving the character and quality of an area.
As has been said, many of residents’ objections to new developments tend to stem from the feeling that the new development will detract from the quality of the area. If we can get design right, if we make space for beauty, if we build the conservation areas of the future and communities that work coherently, people will, we hope, start to welcome new development in their area as something that will enhance it and make it more sustainable.
Finally, I want to raise the issue of numbers. All hon. Members mentioned numbers. We are very keen to see a lot of houses built in this country—many millions, perhaps—over the decades to come, because we believe that there is huge pent-up demand. We have set a target of 300,000 homes a year by the mid-2020s, and I have heard nobody politically say that that is not a good and ambitious target for us to hit. The question is where those homes should go.
We have attempted to put in a standardised system to assess local housing need across the whole country on a formula basis. The hon. Member for Oldham West and Royton is right to say that the ONS was tasked with producing the first projections, or the basis of the data for projections, of local housing need. Unfortunately, the numbers that the ONS produced created some very anomalous results across the country. For example, in relation to the city of Cambridge, one of the strongest-growing regions in the country and where there is enormous ambition, the 2016 forecast was that there was zero housing need in Cambridge. Other cities’ anomalous results caused alarm. As a result, we took the decision to step back and restore the 2014 numbers, and then consult further on a more coherent system going forward—one that could be generally agreed across the country. We really did not think that, on the basis of those anomalous results, it was a good time for people to take their foot off the accelerator, given that we all accept the strong need for housing, and that both major political parties have made ambitious promises about their housing targets.
I should clarify what the local housing need target is. It is exactly that—a target. It is a baseline from which a local authority can work to effectively establish the number of homes that it needs in its area. In the examination of any plan, a local inspector will look at the plan and accept properly evidenced and assessed variations from that target. If, for example, there are constraints such as an area of outstanding natural beauty, green belt or whatever it might be, and people can justify a lower number, an inspector should accept that. That said, if local authorities are ambitious for their area and want to address the legitimate housing needs of young people—many now have to live at home, with their parents and grandparents, into their 30s and 40s, even in the great cities of the north—they can go ahead of those targets if they wish. That, combined with the duty that now exists in the planning system to co-operate with neighbouring local authorities, means, we hope, that each area can arrive at a figure for provable, established local housing need, which has been assessed by an inspector, from a baseline that across the country will produce a target, we hope, of 300,000 homes.
I think, from what I have heard from the Minister—I must double-check this—that we may be making progress. Is the Minister saying that if Greater Manchester, on a proper evidence base, which could include more recent ONS population growth projections, comes forward with a lower housing target, the Government would be open to that?
I am more than happy to write to the hon. Gentleman to set out the precise way in which the target should be taken into account. There has been a lot of misunderstanding, resulting in the notion that this is a mandated number that local authorities have to hit. We recognise that within the United Kingdom there are lots of variables to be taken into account. If a local authority falls largely within a national park, there are obviously significant constraints on its ability to produce housing. The planning system must be flexible enough to accommodate that.
At the same time, however, I urge all Members to bear it in mind that we have an urgent national mission to build homes. All parties, when in government over the past two or three decades, have failed to build enough houses to accommodate the next generation. As a result, we have seen falls in home ownership, rises in density, and a homelessness problem, and we need to address that situation. Much of it is about supply, and most of that supply will necessarily be built in the great cities of the north and across the whole of the country because, frankly, as the right hon. Gentleman said, they are great places to live; I speak as a former resident of one of them.
I am delighted to hear what my hon. Friend says about mandated numbers and I should be very grateful if he would write to me as well on this issue, because we have just produced an Island plan, and unfortunately we assess that the target of the Government and the Planning Inspectorate would require us to build 640 new homes on the Island. I believe that we should argue that we have exceptional circumstances, and I should be grateful for advice from him, because the problem is that half that housing is for domestic use and the other half is part of a larger market.
I am happy to copy in all hon. Members who are present for this debate, so that they may understand how the local housing target will work. However, I urge hon. Members to recognise that there is a requirement across the whole of the country for us to look for more houses for younger people and, frankly, not to let local authority leaders off the hook—
I am afraid that I do not have time to give way again. We must not let local authority leaders off the hook in relation to taking the sometimes difficult decisions—they are difficult; I have been a councillor myself—to build and develop the right types of houses in the right places for the next generation.
I appreciate that there is likely to be a range of views about the Greater Manchester spatial framework; that is to be expected, and shows that people care passionately about what happens in their communities, which is a good thing and I applaud it. The current version of the GMSF has been agreed by 10 local planning authorities and the Mayor as being suitable to be consulted upon. That in itself shows a unity of purpose, and no doubt a degree of compromise.
I suspect that there may be further refinements to the framework, and its policies and proposals, over the coming months. As part of that process, some of the important issues that many hon. Members have so passionately highlighted today may be considered.
There have been excellent contributions in this afternoon’s debate from colleagues from across Greater Manchester, including the hon. Members for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green), for Oldham West and Royton (Jim McMahon), for Heywood and Middleton (Liz McInnes) and for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Gwynne), the shadow Minister—and, indeed, from my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight (Mr Seely), who represents that well-known suburb of Greater Manchester, the Isle of Wight.
I am grateful to them all. I was very grateful indeed to the hon. Member for Oldham West and Royton for his brief local history lesson. In 1819, those around Greater Manchester flocked to hear Henry “Orator” Hunt at St Peter’s Fields. They have not quite flocked here this afternoon, although we know that people feel passionate about this subject. None the less, we are hopeful that this debate can end on a more cheerful note than Henry Hunt’s speech did. The Minister is a man of great compromise; he will now tackle the Northern Ireland border, as well as the singularly intractable problem of the Bredbury roundabout railway bridge, which he heard about earlier.
On a serious note, we need appropriate housing figures that are fully justifiable; a proper and comprehensive “brownfield first” strategy; and appropriate infrastructure in place so that the Greater Manchester spatial framework realises its potential to be a great success.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework.