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Greater Manchester Spatial Framework and the Green Belt

Volume 673: debated on Wednesday 18 March 2020

[Caroline Nokes in the Chair]

I beg to move,

That this House has considered Greater Manchester spatial framework and the green belt.

I am here on behalf of all my constituents in Bury, Ramsbottom and Tottington who believe that we should do everything possible to protect the green belt. The Greater Manchester spatial framework is described as GM’s

“Plan for Homes, Jobs, and the Environment…to deliver the homes people need up until 2037.”

The Greater Manchester Combined Authority website comments:

“This plan is about providing the right homes, in the right places, for people across our city region. It’s about creating jobs and improving infrastructure to ensure the future prosperity of Greater Manchester.”

In my view, however, talking specifically about my home town of Bury, the GMSF does not deliver that. Instead, it is a charter to build unaffordable homes in the wrong place, without ensuring that the necessary infrastructure will be in place to support such large-scale construction. Furthermore, the plan ensures the destruction of large areas of green belt unnecessarily and the devastation of important wildlife habitats. It is also a guarantee of congestion on our roads, which will increase along with air pollution.

This debate presents an opportunity for Members, specifically from Greater Manchester, to tell the Mayor and the leaders of the 10 metropolitan authorities that the draft GMSF is unacceptable. More must be done to ensure that the green belt is protected within the framework of the plans recently announced by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government to bring Britain’s planning system into the 21st century.

Next month, the Government will launch a register of brownfield sites that will map out unused land, as part of plans to encourage councils to make the most of such land first, backed by £400 million to bring mostly unused land back into use. Developers will be able to demolish vacant commercial, industrial and residential buildings, and replace them with well-designed homes, without the delay of a lengthy planning process. Crucially, £12 billion of investment is to be ploughed into building more affordable homes.

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing this debate, which is of great importance to all our constituents. I apologise; I will have to leave early for another meeting at 3.30 pm. His point about brownfield sites is vital at New Carrington in my constituency. It is a massively contaminated site, but one with great potential. We will need very substantial investment to undertake the necessary remediation.

Will the hon. Gentleman join me in urging the Government to ensure that all the funds we need to remediate those brownfield sites are made available to Greater Manchester? Otherwise, it will be difficult for us to build the houses we need in the places where they could be constructed.

I am sure the Minister will comment on the hon. Lady’s intervention when rounding up.

Given the drive to regenerate our town centres—through building beautiful, affordable homes more densely, in part—it is clear that the green belt in towns such as Bury is being sacrificed unnecessarily. The local environment of the residents of Tottington and Walshaw, and in the vicinity of Elton reservoir, is being decimated because the local council is a signatory of a planning document that is not fit for purpose. It has no plan to take advantage of the funding opportunities provided by this Government to reclaim and build truly affordable houses on brownfield sites.

I appreciate the support given by the Government for the development on brownfield sites, but does my hon. Friend share my concern that the plan, the GMSF mark 2, was only to be published for public consultation and public challenge after the local elections? People would not have been able to judge councillors, local authorities and the Mayor on what they are proposing. Even though we want local democracy, this is hardly a good example of it.

My hon. Friend speaks powerfully, and I agree with every point he made.

One of the great faults of the GMSF is that it does not require local authorities to be proactive or innovative in their planning policy. Instead, it allows them to go for the easy option of allowing developers to build three, four and five-bedroom houses all over the green belt—houses that will be totally unaffordable to the vast majority of my constituents.

My hon. Friend makes an interesting point about the nature of the housing being built. My local authority in Rochdale has signalled its intention to build more houses than required, and they will be mostly unaffordable. Does he agree that the strategy should take account of housing need?

I agree with every word of my hon. Friend’s powerful point, which I am sure the Minister will address.

The proposals to build on the green belt come despite the Government’s alterations to the national planning policy framework, which have strengthened green belt protections. Why are local authorities such as Bury Council determined to build on the green belt rather than work innovatively to regenerate brownfield sites and provide truly affordable homes, by which I mean houses and flats with a value of less than £100,000? I believe that they are simply taking the easy option.

The defence to that charge by those who support the GMSF is that the Government are forcing them to build a certain number of homes in line with national guidance, and that to do so they must encroach on the green belt in Bury and elsewhere. That question was put to the Minister in a Westminster Hall debate the week before last, and has been put to Housing Ministers before him. Will the Minister confirm that councils are not mandated to build definitively the number of homes required under 2014 population projection figures? Those figures should be the starting point. Local authorities should conduct their own assessment of the number of homes that need to be built over the length of a local plan, and those homes should be affordable and in the places that people need them.

There is concern that as GMSF mark 1 was torn up, GMSF mark 2 will also be rejected—the Mayor of Greater Manchester should do that—so we will be in limbo. Local authorities should be respected and valued, as should their determination of what their communities need. The planners and developers should follow what the local authority wants.

My hon. Friend speaks very powerfully on this issue and I agree with every word that he said.

I also bring to the Minister’s attention the fact that 2016 Office for National Statistics population forecast figures revised down Bury’s population by 43%, and recently released 2018 provisional figures show a further fall of 13%. On the basis of recent population projections, no homes would have to be built on the green belt in my constituency. Will the Minister confirm whether the Government will review the use of projections published six years ago?

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing the debate. The issue of “brownfield first” quite rightly comes up all the time and, as an Opposition MP, I point out that, in fairness, that is the Government’s policy. Certainly, in my constituency and in the Borough of Tameside, almost every bit of brownfield land has been found for use, even if its viability is borderline. Is the hon. Gentleman saying that the Government should find more money to make unviable sites viable, or is he saying that we should build fewer homes in Bury, Tameside, Greater Manchester and so on? Those are two different ways to solve the problem, and I want to understand his approach.

There are three questions in the hon. Gentleman’s intervention. I have already commented on the funding that the Government are making available to assist local authorities in remediating brownfield sites—that will be very important. The question comes down to housing need. It is the easiest thing in the world simply to say, “We need to build more houses,” but we need a robust formula that allows each local authority to build the number of houses that they need and where they need them over the course of a local plan. I am making the point that using the most up-to-date population projections reduces the need to build on the green belt, and in my borough—I am sorry, I cannot comment in respect of the borough of the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Jonathan Reynolds)—that would allow properties to be built on brownfield sites.

The question, though, is the “brownfield first” policy. “Brownfield first”, again, is a statement, but there is nothing within the GMSF to force councils to build on the brownfield first. If the GMSF was in place, the green belt would undoubtedly be concreted over and no developer would be interested in building truly affordable homes on brownfield sites.

Coming back to the point, we have to build homes for people who need them, at a price that is affordable, in the right place. In the GMSF in respect of Bury, there was virtually no comment regarding building affordable flats in the town centres within my borough. That is one of many reasons why I believe the document is not fit for purpose.

Will the hon. Gentleman join me in asking the Minister—this is slightly tangential to the GMSF, but none the less pertinent—to look again at permission in principle? That is also being used in my constituency by developers as a means to try to build on green belt where the planning and obligations that the developers are required to meet are much less rigorous, and both the public and the planning committee have really no say in stopping such applications. Will he join me in asking the Minister to look again at that particular regime and what it might mean for building on the green belt?

Again, I thank the hon. Lady; that it is a very strong point, and I am sure the Minister will address it in his closing remarks.

As you can probably tell, Ms Noakes, I could talk on this subject at great length, but a number of other hon. Members wish to speak. I have been contacted by numerous constituents, so in bringing my contribution to an end I ask the Minister to comment on the following points, which they raised.

First, does the Minister agree that housing occupancy rates should be used to calculate how many houses we require in Bury and elsewhere? The average occupancy rate, I believe, is 2.35 persons per home in Bury, against the national average of 2.4. For example, that would mean 5,733 new homes needed within the metropolitan borough of Bury, rather than the 9,500 currently indicated in the GMSF. That is taking into account the 2,000 current offset, and it would be the case even using 2014 figures.

Secondly, returning to a point that has already been raised, will the “brownfield first” policy be made a legal requirement, which it has to be if it is to have any teeth? How can local authorities access national funding to assist in clearing toxic sites and making them financially viable for development, which they have to be? Those sites are the ones where we can develop truly affordable homes. We must be aiming to build homes that are innovative and green, but that are truly affordable for £40,000, £50,000 or £60,000. We must have a real vision for ensuring that we have the houses our populations need.

Thirdly, what measures are the Government taking to ensure that developers contribute to local public transport and infrastructure requirements? Fourthly, what measures are the Government taking to ensure that there are no further impacts from flooding as a direct consequence of the construction of roads and housing? In my seat, it is proposed to build on fields within Walshaw. Those are areas that flood, and have flooded in recent times. If we build there, that is only going to get worse.

Finally, the Government are committed to protecting, restoring and expanding natural habitats. How can sites in GM gain access to the Nature4Climate fund to ensure the preservation of local mosslands and woodlands?

The one thing that all our areas have is vociferous, committed and passionate community groups, who have been at the forefront of the fight to protect the green belt. I finish off by paying tribute to the Bury folk, numbering in the thousands, who are passionate and determined to protect their environment, to protect their community and to do what they feel is best to ensure that we all have a positive future.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Nokes. I congratulate the hon. Member for Bury North (James Daly) on securing this important and timely debate.

According to the 2019 draft of the Greater Manchester spatial framework—GMSF—Salford is to accommodate 16% of the overall housing requirement for the region. This allocation has risen compared with the 2016 draft, and Salford’s overall housing requirement is now second only to Manchester’s. The adoption of the GMSF in its current form would result in four sites being removed from the green belt in Salford—GM allocations 30, 31, 32 and 33—in order to deliver 2,350 homes and commercial space at Port Salford. All four green-belt sites allocated for development in Salford lie within my constituency, and my constituents have expressed a great deal of anger over plans in the GMSF to develop that green-belt land. I share their concerns and strongly oppose any loss of green-belt land in my constituency. I will briefly lay out why.

In July 2019, I presented a petition to the House signed by more than 1,000 local people objecting to GM allocation 31 in Boothstown. Green-belt land is precious in Salford, as it provides the green lungs for an urban city. It is vital that these green spaces are preserved in a city that has high levels of air pollution, low levels of physical activity and poorer health outcomes. I have objected to the two previous drafts of the GMSF because Salford has enough brownfield sites to satisfy the housing need outlined in the revised GMSF without the development of green-belt land, but today I will talk particularly about GM allocation 32—a proposal to build 1,600 homes on green-belt land north of Irlam station, in an area known locally as Chat Moss.

The 2016 draft of the GMSF recognised that

“the site has significant depths of peat…it still performs an important carbon storage function, and should be retained wherever possible.”

However, the 2019 draft of the GMSF removed that observation. I believe strongly that our mosslands should be managed and restored, to ensure that their carbon sequestration potential is realised. We should not allow pockets of this land to be lost for development.

Given the large sum of money that the Government allocated in the Budget just last week for the protection and restoration of peat mosses, it is surely absurd that we are still looking at building on peat mosses that are still in good condition when money is being allocated to restore ones that need to be improved.

I absolutely agree. That is particularly relevant for Chat Moss because, for those who do not know it, large parts of the moss were destroyed, or nearly destroyed, by peat extraction. I fought that peat extraction and we won on that issue, so we should not be talking about losing any more peat. Some wonderful projects are restoring those lands affected by peat extraction, but let us not go back and do that again.

The land at Chat Moss is peatland, and its designation for development, interestingly, runs counter to certain policies. GM-S 2, on carbon and energy, encourages

“Increasing carbon sequestration through the restoration of peat-based habitats, woodland management and tree planting”.

GM-G 2, on developing a green infrastructure network, says we should

“Reduce carbon emissions, by sequestering and storing carbon, particularly in peat and trees”.

GM-G 10, on seeking a net enhancement of biodiversity and geodiversity, states that we should be

“Safeguarding, restoring and sustainably managing Greater Manchester’s most valuable soil resources, tackling soil degradation/erosion and recovering soil fertility, particularly to ensure protection of peat-based soils and safeguard ‘best and most versatile’ agricultural land.”

That last point is key, beyond the fact of the peatlands.

I have stated repeatedly that this land should be used in a sustainable way, but given the need for locally sourced food and fuel, which I think we will see much more of in the coming months, it would be much more productive and efficient to use the land for agriculture. The land has been recognised as grade 1 agricultural land—“best and most versatile”, flexible, productive and efficient, which can deliver food and non-food crops for future generations. That means that it is excellent-quality land with either no, or very minor, limitations for agricultural use. A range of agricultural and horticultural crops can be grown on this land, and yields are very high and less variable than from land of lower quality.

The mossland is also a tract of countryside of great value to those living in surrounding urban communities. In addition to its agricultural importance, it has great potential for informal recreation for those living in Salford, and it is important for nature conservation, particularly for bird life. For Members seeking to walk and maintain social distancing, it is possible to really get away from people when you are walking on Chat Moss. The loss of this land would set a worrying precedent. The framework states that remaining areas of moss land would be protected and preserved, but local people are sceptical of that claim.

The destruction of green-belt land is not the only thing drawing objections to the GM Allocation 32. Irlam is a town with one main access road, the A57, which connects Irlam to Eccles and the M60 in one direction, and Cadishead and the M6 in the other direction. It may no longer be true since I wrote this speech, but traffic is at a standstill on many days—more so when there is an event at the AJ Bell stadium; there may not be one of those for some time to come. If the development goes ahead, there are real fears that it could add at least 2,400 cars to what has been a gridlock in this area for years. Although we encourage people to leave their cars at home and use public transport, the Metrolink network does not get close to Irlam. Constituents describe local train services as appalling and a daily nightmare, and bus services have been severely cut.

It is important to view this alongside GM Allocation 33, the Port Salford extension. That is one mile away on the same A57 road leading in and out of Irlam, and that will in itself add hundreds of HGVs and transit vehicles to the local road network. In addition to the potential 2,400 extra cars each day, I cannot see how all of this works together to create a sustainable and greener environment for those living in Irlam and the neighbouring town of Cadishead. I have objected strongly and repeatedly to these aspects of the Greater Manchester spatial framework, because I have real concerns about these proposals for Salford. The framework earmarks substantial areas of green-belt land for large development and commercial space.

It is also essential that we have clarity from the Government on the basic housing figures that Greater Manchester should be using to calculate the housing need. Currently, there is no clear guidance on whether targets should be based on forecasts made by the Office for National Statistics, or on Government forecasts. Once that has been clarified, there needs to be an explanation on whether local housing need target is a minimum number, a target that the city region must hit, or if that is a buffer within which we can fall. These two issues are vital to my constituents, who face losing four precious areas of green belt.

Like the hon. Member for Bury North (James Daly), I pay tribute to local campaigners and people who persistently describe and value this wonderful piece of land. The impact of extra traffic and air pollution, which I hope I have outlined, together with the loss of recreation space brought about by any new development will be damaging to the people of Salford. This green-belt land is cherished by our local communities. There would be grave consequences if these four green-belt sites on my constituency were released for development.

I have grave concerns about how my own local authority, Wigan Council, has conducted itself during the Greater Manchester spatial framework process. When the plan’s first draft was announced, many local farmers and landowners were surprised to find that their land was earmarked for development. They had not put forward their land during the “call for sites” process. They had not even been consulted on whether their land should have been included in these plans.

When the landowners attended a public information event to protest the lack of consultation, they were told initially that, should they refuse to sell, the council would rely on the use of compulsory purchase powers to obtain the land. Following a public backlash against this approach, both the leader of Wigan Council and Andy Burnham, the Mayor of Greater Manchester, stated that they would not using compulsory purchase powers after all.

The council has still not removed all these sites from the plans, however, which raises two issues: first, the deliverability of these sites and secondly, housing supply if these sites are allocated but not deliverable. Wigan Council’s approach towards the GMSF has generated an unworkable plan because of the lack of due diligence in ensuring site availability, a lack of consultation with the affected landowners, and an unwillingness to compromise when this was highlighted. I hope that measures can be put in place to ensure that this situation does not arise again.

I had not intended to make a speech—but if there is an opportunity, why pass it up? It is good to have this debate with new colleagues who have come in as a result of the election; obviously, that change of composition is not entirely favourable to the Opposition side of the Chamber, but it is good to be having this discussion again.

It makes sense to do this housing plan together. Between the two speeches we have just heard, I could not help but notice that one of the attractions of a GMSF-style plan for boroughs such as Tameside, Oldham, Bolton and Stockport is that it transfers that housing allocation into, in the main, Manchester and Salford. If we are not to have the plan for Bury and we are not to have the plan for Salford, that presumably means fewer houses for Salford, but more for Bury. That has to be acknowledged and admitted.

Of course, we are discussing the Greater Manchester spatial framework in the round, which encompasses the 10 local authorities that would be working with the Mayor of Greater Manchester to put this in place. One problem has been that where there are some pluses—for instance around common ground, which would allow movements between the various areas—that is very much top-down driven, so we are waiting for the Labour Mayor of Greater Manchester to tell us what we should have. I have been working with local residents, my constituents and neighbourhood groups, including Woodford Neighbourhood Forum and Save Heald Green Green Belt, and they want to know what is going to be right for their area. That depends on having the right figures, so we really do need guidance on those figures, and to bear in mind that we want a spatial framework or local plans that fit the needs of our local populations.

I am grateful for the hon. Lady’s statement, and I agree with her. There have been huge problems with process, and I cannot easily see how we correct those, because the honest truth about the way we do housing allocation in this country is that we start with a piece of agricultural land. The minute we make that a piece of housing land, we increase its value tenfold, and that value does not stay in the public sector: it goes to the private sector, despite the fact that there has been no productive capacity increase. It is simply an administrative change that makes people very wealthy, so how and when we release that information to prevent land speculation is clearly a massive issue.

The hon. Lady asked about the figures, which are really what the debate has been about for the past few years. To be honest, sometimes we have had clarification from Ministers, but when the written version has come through, it has been something completely different from what Conservative Back Benchers were told at the time. However, my understanding is this: the Government set a housing target figure for each borough. The hon. Member for Bolton West (Chris Green) said that local areas should do that, which would be a revolutionary change in how the Government approach housing allocation. I am not sure that is where this Government are going, for the simple reason that if that system were to exist, I cannot imagine that the Government’s housing targets would get anywhere near fulfilled. Many parts of the country, particularly in the south-east, would just refuse to build any houses at all, so I cannot imagine a situation in which there is not national Government guidance. If that is going to happen, we would like to know that, because it would be revelatory.

Once that housing target figure is assessed, it is possible to do something like what we are trying to do together in Greater Manchester: work out a different figure for each borough, based on re-organising and re-allocating some of that housing need around Greater Manchester. Once there is a figure for a borough, as we have for Tameside, we look at the housing land supply and try to get everything we can into that, so as to avoid touching the green belt. That is the Government’s policy: we cannot touch the green belt until we have as much of the brownfield land supply in as possible.

There are sites in my constituency that, to be honest, would require tens of millions of pounds to remediate, but we got them in there because building on them is the right thing to do. We presume that central Government will come to help remediate those sites and make them viable, but I am not sure that commitment will be infinite. I know the phrase “whatever it takes” is in vogue right now, but there are surely limits to what the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government will give Greater Manchester to remediate all those sites. That is the point at which we get to the green belt.

The hon. Gentleman is being very generous in giving way. One of our issues in Greater Manchester is that these areas have been allocated. I have allocations of green-belt housing of over 2,000 houses, so this is having a huge impact on my area, and people are fearful that the green belt is going to be built on. I have been pushing for “brownfield sites first”, and for a register in Stockport that should be entirely about building on those brownfield sites, but unfortunately, while those allocations are still in the Mayor’s plan, people feel we are going to have this housing there.

I completely agree, but it goes back to the difficulties of the process. There are green-belt sites marked for allocation in my constituency that I oppose; Apethorn Lane, effectively, is the land between Stockport and Tameside. I have nothing against people from Stockport, but I want to maintain that green-belt barrier between us. We are close enough as it is.

I am grateful to my constituency neighbour for giving way. Members might look a little surprised, given that I do not represent a Greater Manchester constituency. However, my constituency is right on the border and homes built in places such as Tameside or Stockport have a big impact on commuters in my seat, particularly on the A6 or through Mottram to try to get on the M67.

A big complaint has always been that we put in houses without the infrastructure to cope with them. To praise the GMSF—slightly unusually—one good thing is the proposal for a Gamesley railway station that is included in it. Will my constituency neighbour have words with his colleague, Andy Burnham, to see whether he can throw his full support behind that station, and will the Minister have words with the rail Minister about getting a train station built in Gamesley?

It is great to see the hon. Member for High Peak (Robert Largan) here. To be frank, in Tameside we might say it is houses built in Derbyshire that have put infrastructure burdens on to us, but the fact that it is relevant to his constituency and his towns shows why this debate is so important.

We all agree on the crucial point about infrastructure and about how housing, if it is not organised through a plan like the GMSF, will be developer-led and of a size and scale that we would not necessarily want to see in our constituencies. I often tease Conservative friends about how they believe the market should determine lots of things, but apparently not, in this case, housing allocation.

Development is a huge problem. The speculative aspect—often seen as something that does not meet local needs and is not connected to local transport—is the biggest problem. I could see it coming from the minute I was first elected to Tameside Council. I was a Longdendale councillor on the border with High Peak. When I looked at housing policy, it was clear that we were running out of brownfield land sites. In Hyde we had built on all kinds of former employment sites, which, again, was the right thing to do, but that cannot go on for ever.

When we looked at what would inevitably happen in Tameside, we got to thinking about a garden village, where we would insist that, if were to allow housing to be built, it would come with infrastructure investment up front in schools and in transport—all the things that reflect the only time this country has ever done housing policy well, which is when the new towns were built after the war and then a few decades later. They were built in exchange for the establishment of the green belt. That was the deal. We built houses where the state and society wanted them to be. We demanded the infrastructure that goes with them and we would protect the rest from speculative development, particularly in an age when councils were incentivised to build houses because they got rates comparatively greater than they do now for the more houses that they allowed to be built.

Control is the key issue. I cannot fathom rejecting the GMSF altogether because it would mean more houses being built in places such as Bury. It would mean less control and our not working together. I cannot see the logic in that. Whether houses are built in High Peak or Stockport or anywhere else in Greater Manchester, they will have an impact on my constituency, so we have to start by saying, “Let us have a plan and work on it together. If it is not acceptable in terms of infrastructure or sites, we will work on it.”

If we do nothing, certainly in Tameside, we cannot guarantee the five-year land supply, which, again, goes back to the national planning policy framework that determines much of how planning is developed. If we do not do that, developers will pick the sites and build the things that we do not want. We will get no infrastructure and no contribution to any of the things that we all want to see. If we go forward with this, I can understand why there has to be the permission and consent of every part of Greater Manchester, but the way it is sometimes talked about does not reflect the reality that there are decisions to be made about housing.

If we want to do all the things that all of us say we want to, it comes down to working on a plan together. Even if the Government radically changed their policy on the numbers, I think they would still want the kind of approach that we are all talking about. I understand why this has been such a powerful electoral issue for everyone, but we have to reflect the reality and not promise our constituents things that we cannot deliver. We will need new houses, we will need to work together, and we will need infrastructure. That should be the basis for going forward.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Nokes. I congratulate the hon. Member for Bury North (James Daly) on securing the debate. It might seem like a very localised matter, but it will affect 2.5 million people in Greater Manchester, and it is a huge issue for the Members of Parliament who represent them. It has been all-consuming for a few years now. I should probably declare my constituency position on this, which is that I do not support the spatial framework in its current form. The weight of responsibility for housing development is not evenly spread, either across Greater Manchester or within boroughs, and the process has led to mistrust. When I say that, I am just being honest about the weight of feedback that I get from local people.

The principle of a spatial framework is critical, and it was hard-wired into the Greater Manchester devolution deal: it was about Greater Manchester deciding for itself how it wanted to see its future. As to the idea that after being given that responsibility and power Greater Manchester should suddenly say to Government, “Actually, we don’t want to play anymore on this, because it is just too difficult,” I am afraid that that is not a mature way to do politics. We have to take responsibility for finding a way through. Ultimately, when housing development need is identified, it will affect our constituents, and we have a responsibility to ensure that the next generation will be provided for. We need to provide for the right type of housing in the right place in the future. There are no easy answers in this situation, but I think there may be an easier way to get where we want to go than the journey we have taken so far.

I have heard the politicisation of the issue, in terms of Greater Manchester having a Labour Mayor, among other things, but it does not matter what party the Mayor represents. There is a legal responsibility, passed down by central Government, to produce a spatial framework covering the whole of Greater Manchester —and, by the way, without a spatial framework the responsibility would fall on each of the 10 local authorities individually to create a new local plan, which would have a worse impact on most places, in terms of the distribution of development, and probably run a greater risk of a developers’ free-for-all if the plan was not in place at the right time. It is in our collective interest to try to find a way through.

My boss, my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Gwynne), should have been here today, but he is self-isolating. He has been clear from the outset about the balance between making the mature response and planning ahead, because that is the right thing to do, and giving voice to constituents. There are proposals to extend the Bredbury Park industrial estate into the Tame valley but he and local people have worked out that that could be accommodated at Ashton Moss. We have to find a different way of engaging the public, so that together we co-produce the future of Greater Manchester. We cannot have people believing that the future is being done to them or that the future of the places and communities where they live and grew up, and in which they have a stake, is being decided without them.

My first submission went to 70 pages. I have a quite geeky interest in some of the issues—and they are important. It was a call for the development of more neighbourhood plans. I would love people in my constituency to come together to co-produce the development of their area. The evidence from across the country is that when local people have the task of developing neighbourhood plans they come up with greater housing numbers than were originally proposed, because they know the infill sites that could be developed, and they know the community better. However, of course, for a geographical area as large as the one that the spatial framework covers, it is not possible to do those things within the timescale that has been announced.

I remember asking a previous housing Minister in this Chamber whether the Government would give way and allow us to develop a new population evidence base. If we are not allowed to use the most up-to-date, bespoke evidence base for our population estimate, we will always provide more, because we will not believe the estimates are correct. I do not think that there is a single MP in the Chamber who believes that the current population estimates proposed by the Government are anywhere near the reality on the ground. They do not even take into account the impact of Brexit and the new immigration system, let alone other issues. There is also a general belief that even the employment land evidence base is not robust enough—and that is before getting on to the type of employment and the nature of the employment structure that we want in Greater Manchester. Time was, for a town such as Oldham, which was built on the mills, that tens of thousands of people came to work in the palaces of industry—to take a rose-tinted view of them. Now, square footage does not equal jobs. The rise of automation means that the huge factories and distribution centres that have been developed do not mean thousands of jobs. For a town such as Oldham, we want to be ambitious—realistic, yes—about the type of employment that we will get.

On infrastructure, as much as we talk about the need for schools, GP practices, hospitals, transport and all the rest, we should also talk about broadband and how the future world of work will be. What type of connectivity will people need? That is where Greater Manchester deserves great credit, because it is trying to connect the 2040 transport plan to ensure that we bring together how our conurbation will develop, in terms of planning, employment and physical development, and how people will get to work and share the area. There is no doubt that Greater Manchester cannot do that by itself.

Every Member of Parliament, regardless of which party we stand for—although I am afraid the weight falls on the Government—has to accept that if our shared belief is that “brownfield first” is a policy that we should pursue, we have to accept that a cost comes with that. It cannot be done on the cheap. It is not just about the cost of remediating a site that might be polluted; there is an issue in towns such as mine, where the end values are so low that the gap is even tighter. We need far more effort on that.

We also need a more radical plan to address the current housing stock, not just one that talks about building new stuff but ignores the substandard housing conditions that many people in Greater Manchester live in. The housing market renewal programme that was cancelled in 2010 intended to remove a lot of substandard accommodation—terraced streets in Oldham that were not fit for purpose—and replace them with decent quality family homes. When that money was taken away, nothing followed it. We have to address the poor quality that exists today and improve the standard across the board. Of course, we have to plan for the future, but that has to be done in partnership.

I genuinely hope that we will work together, not to pass the buck between Westminster and Greater Manchester, or between Conservative and Labour. The community expects us to be mature, to grow up and to work in partnership to find a solution. We need bespoke population data for Greater Manchester, in partnership with the Government and Greater Manchester, a more ambitious fund for brownfield sites in Greater Manchester, so the sites that we identify can be brought to market and developed in a reasonable timeframe, and far more ambition on the infrastructure investment that we need. I genuinely believe that if we work together, we can bring local people with us. But if local people continue to see debates such as this, where we pass the buck between different parties and from central Government to local government, I am afraid that will reflect badly on us all. Let today mark the change that our communities want, and let us begin to work together on it.

I am pleased to serve under your chairmanship for the first time, Mrs Nokes. I should say Ms Nokes—I will get my coat. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Bury North (James Daly) on securing this important and topical debate, and all colleagues across the Chamber on their contributions. I was particularly struck by the doughty defence that my hon. Friend made of his constituents and their concerns. I was also struck, as were all hon. Members, by the, as ever, thoughtful speech from the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Jonathan Reynolds).

The debate may not be as full as it could have been for a matter of this importance, but I think we all understand why. We may lack in quantity, but we do not lack in quality. As I said, powerful contributions have been made. I look forward to visiting Greater Manchester; my hon. Friend the Member for Bury, North put in an early bid for a visit, which I will make as soon as circumstances allow.

I am sure that all colleagues will understand that I cannot make any comment on the contents or the merits of the draft Greater Manchester spatial framework, as that could be seen to prejudice the Secretary of State’s position at a later point in the planning process.

While the Minister cannot comment on the merits of the GMSF, does he accept that it is self-evident that it would be better for it to be based on up-to-date household projections, rather than ones that are six years out of date? Very soon, some projections for 2018 will be produced; can we assume that they will be the projections on which the future draft will be based?

I congratulate my hon. Friend on getting in so early with that question. A number of hon. Members across the Chamber have raised the question of housing projections. I can understand the reasons why, but we believe that the standard method remains consistent with delivering the homes our communities need, and that means basing our guidance on the 2014 household projections.

However, I would say two further things. The Secretary of State confirmed last week that he will look at reviewing the formula for calculating the local housing need, so that we encourage greater building in or near urban areas, and so that we can meet our target of 300,000 homes built each year.

It is worth noting that the standard method is not mandatory; in exceptional circumstances, an alternative approach can be used, provided that that reflects the current and future demographic trends and market signals. If my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale West cares to check paragraph 60 of the NPPF, he will find reassurance in that paragraph.

My hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale West (Sir Graham Brady) makes an important point about housing projections, but it is also a county lines issue. Does the Minister agree that it is important not only that the GMSF has accurate population figures, but that it factors in houses being built just outside Greater Manchester when doing the figures? A large number of houses are being built in places such as Chapel Buxton, which puts a lot of pressure on the A6. I have talked an awful lot to my next-door neighbour, my hon. Friend the Member for Hazel Grove (Mr Wragg), who I am certain would be here today if he was not self-isolating right now, and those numbers also need to be taken into account by the GMSF. We need a lot more joined-up thinking when it comes to county lines.

I certainly agree that local authorities should work together and should work collaboratively. Of course, they have a duty to co-operate, so I encourage local authorities in and around Greater Manchester to work collaboratively together.

On a point of clarification, it is not the case that the Government believe that 2014 is the most appropriate evidence base; it is just that they did not have faith in the more recent population data, because of some anomalies that came out of it. For instance, Cambridge showed an under-supply of housing as a result of the more recent population data. It is not the case that 2014 was the point to which we should go because it was more accurate in that sense. It was a mistrust of the more recent data. It makes complete sense to suggest that we now go to the 2018 population data, and that, for me, would seem to be the most appropriate route. The idea that we use data that is now six years old does not make sense.

As I said, we believe it to be the better method. The hon. Gentleman has already pointed out that the more recent analysis has thrown up some anomalies, so we believe the 2014 figure to be the better one, but the Secretary of State has said that he will review the NPPF, so I hope that the hon. Gentleman will watch this space.

I would also like to highlight a number of Government priorities, which are reflected in our national policy, such as our protections of the green belt.

Before the Minister moves on to Government policy and while he is still talking about the household projections, much of the argument in Greater Manchester has been based around what set of figures give us what set of outcomes. The ONS website clearly states that its household projections should not be the basis for allocating housing numbers; they are an analysis tool and, for example, do not take into account any policy objectives such as more affordable housing or higher levels of economic growth. Will he confirm that point, from a ministerial point of view? If we get to the position where we in Greater Manchester do not want a more prosperous Greater Manchester—more affordable housing—if we have a set of figures that gives us no room to improve things for our constituents, that is not satisfactory either. We have to get a clear view of that from the Minister.

We want to ensure that we build more appropriate homes. We know that we need those houses and the right sort of houses, with the right quality. Local need needs to be determined locally. The starting point is the minimum, not the maximum figure. The Secretary of State will talk about potential changes to the NPPF in due course, so I encourage the hon. Gentleman to make his further points in his own unique and eloquent way when the time comes.

In a moment, I will speak about our priorities on the green belt—support for prioritising brownfield development and our desire to see plans in place—but my hon. Friend the Member for Bury North also mentioned flooding as an issue of concern. As he knows, in the Budget speech last week, the Chancellor announced £5.2 billion of investment in additional flood defences. That will seek to ensure that communities around the country know that future development will be safe from floods. We will assess whether existing protections in the NPPF are enough, and we will consider options for further reform in our wider ambitions for the planning system. I hope that gives my hon. Friend and other colleagues some reassurance.

My hon. Friend also mentioned housing type as an issue, with large numbers of four or five-bedroomed homes. I draw his attention and that of the Mayor and the local authorities in Greater Manchester to the NPPF, which is very clear that local authorities need to identify homes of the right size, type and tenure, as necessary for local people. That needs to be reflected in their planning priorities, which I am sure is a point that my hon. Friend the Member for Bury North will make to the Mayor and his local authority.

Will the Minister ensure that, when we talk about flooding, we do not jump automatically to the issue of sites that historically were flood plains or have the potential to be at risk of flooding in future? We must also consider the wider infrastructure. Much of our existing sewerage infrastructure is Victorian, and was not built to take on the type of capacity that it is now expected to with the developments that keep getting added on to it.

The hon. Gentleman is right that infrastructure needs to be fit and proper for the purposes to which it is put. We recognised that in the housing infrastructure fund made available to local authorities around the country, and will do so in the HIF successor, the SHIF, the single housing infrastructure fund.

A number of colleagues mentioned brownfield sites in their contributions. In last year’s debate on the GMSF, brownfield cropped up again and again. Last week’s “Planning for the future” statement by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State made it clear that we will invest £400 million to use brownfield land more productively. We want to work with ambitious Mayors—I suspect that Andy Burnham categorises himself as such—and with local authorities to regenerate local brownfield land and to deliver the homes that their communities need on land that is already developed. That built on our previous work with mayoral areas, such as the £300 million housing investment fund agreed with the devolution deal in 2014. That is entirely devolved to the combined authority, and can be put to good use.

We will also provide local authorities with greater funding for infrastructure, ensuring that those who strive to build enough homes for their local communities and make the most of brownfield land in urban areas are able to access sufficient resources. In Greater Manchester specifically and most recently, we announced £51.6 million of forward funding to unlock more than 5,000 homes and funding for 10 marginal viability schemes worth £62.5 million, unlocking some 6,000 homes.

The Government have a number of other funds that can unlock tricky brownfield sites. They can support small builders and provide necessary infrastructure for development. They include the small sites fund, land assembly fund, land release fund, home building fund and public sector land funding. I hope that addresses some of the points that the hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green) made about her constituents in Carrington. I encourage colleagues of all political stripes and persuasions to encourage the Mayor and their borough leaders to ensure every opportunity is taken to get the funding for the communities that they want and need.

The Government have placed their 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 wide-ranging powers under the leadership of the elected Mayor, who in this case is our former colleague, Andy Burnham. It is his role to work collaboratively across Greater Manchester and the political divide to provide leadership and a coherent vision of what is required. I am sure that colleagues across the Chamber will want to play an important role in nudging the Mayor in what they believe is the right direction for the GMSF.

The Minister is being generous in giving way. The Government do have some overarching policy objectives, with one of them being, as I alluded to earlier, the preservation and restoration of peat mosses, and £640 million was announced at the Budget for that purpose. Does my right hon. Friend accept that it would be foolhardy to allocate huge sums of public money for the restoration of some peat mosses while allowing development at peat mosses in Carrington or Chat Moss?

I do not want to comment on specific sites in the GMSF simply because that might prejudice my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State’s position later, but certainly local authorities need to give very careful regard to the areas in which they build. They should look at brownfield sites first, and there are very careful controls, which I shall come on to, about building on the green belt. I hope that gives my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale West (Sir Graham Brady) some more general reassurance, if not on the specifics that he raised.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State announced that we will publish an ambitious planning White Paper in the spring, and we will take a fresh and sensible look at planning rules to support local areas—especially those that have urban areas where housing is most needed—to plan. Our starting position is that we trust local planning authorities—Greater Manchester, in this case—in many parts of the country. We respect them, and the groups of authorities that are working together to produce plans reflect the spirit of co-operation and joint working that we want to see and to which the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde referred.

On the green belt, which I know concerns a number of colleagues, plans are subject to a rigorous examination by the independent inspectors appointed by the Planning Inspectorate. The examination includes testing their consistency with national protections for the green belt. Planning inspectors will assess plans and their soundness against the national planning policy framework and against any other material planning considerations before coming to their conclusions. That includes assessing the plan for its consistency with our policies, which maintain strong protections for the green belt.

The national planning policy framework, which was revised last year, sets a high bar for alterations to green-belt boundaries. A local authority—or a collection of local authorities in the case of the GMSF—can use the plan to secure necessary alterations to its green belt, but only in exceptional circumstances. The planning inspector will check at examination that any changes to green-belt boundaries are fully justified. As a matter of law, plans are subject to a range of engagement and consultation activities with communities and many other organisations. The Government believe that such consultation is a vital element of the plan-making process.

I am aware from the comments made by colleagues that Greater Manchester published feedback from last year’s draft spatial framework public consultation in October. The Mayor is proposing a further consultation this summer, before the plan is submitted for examination by a planning inspector. Although we all accept that the Mayor, local authorities and Members of Parliament have significant and serious distractions now and for some time to come, I trust that the Mayor will move as fast as he can and I hope that he will ensure that consultation is meaningful and delivers a plan that all Greater Manchester can support. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Bury North and other colleagues will work tirelessly in the interests of their constituents to ensure that the Mayor comes up with the best possible plan.

A benefit of strategic planning is that, by looking at housing need across a wider area, it can be met in areas with greater brownfield capacity rather than in those with more green-belt land. That involves the sort of co-operation and collaboration that colleagues have mentioned. I hope the Mayor seeks to minimise green-belt development while meeting housing needs in line with national policy.

The Government fully recognise the need to plan for and build more homes. A crucial first step is ensuring that local authorities plan for the right number of homes. I appreciate that sometimes that means that communities have to make difficult choices about where homes should go. I believe that those decisions are for local communities to make through the plan-making process, so I encourage the Mayor to bring his amended plan forward so that the people of Greater Manchester can respond accordingly. I hope that, in doing so, he pays due regard to the NPPF, the national design guide and the forthcoming national model design code, and that he ensures that excellent quality homes are built, and are appropriate to their surroundings and as beautiful as possible—that should be baked in.

Before I conclude, I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for High Peak (Robert Largan)—the interloper in this Greater Manchester debate—on his ingenuity in shoehorning a transport request into his intervention. If he cares to write to me, I will forward his letter to the Secretary of State for Transport, with what I hope will be a suitably helpful covering letter.

In conclusion, I appreciate that there are likely to be a range of views about the GMSF. We have heard some of them in the Chamber today. That is to be expected and it shows that people care passionately about what happens in their communities, which is a good thing. The current draft of the GMSF received an unprecedented number of consultation responses. So I say again, as I am sure he is watching this debate from his office, I hope that the Mayor has listened to the feedback he has received in the consultation and the words that have been uttered in this Chamber, and that when he puts forward an amended plan for consultation later this year, it reflects the feedback he has received.

There is still a chance to further refine the spatial framework, its policies and proposals, over the coming months. As part of that, we may see some of the important issues highlighted today by colleagues, including my hon. Friend the Member for Bury North, considered. I hope the Mayor will not delay before he takes his next steps, because, as a number of colleagues said, the people of Manchester have been left in stasis for several years. It is time they had a plan that worked. I hope the Mayor demonstrates real leadership in the months ahead, as he did when he was a Cabinet member in Government. I know that, based on the contributions that have been made today, many hon. Members will help him along the way.

I thank all colleagues for their contributions and the Minister for commenting on the points that have been raised. This is not a party political issue. I agree with most, if not all, of what Labour Members said. The recent announcement by the Secretary of State that he will review NPPF guidelines is good. We can all play into that, and a number of us in this Chamber will urge him to consider using the most recent population projections from 2018 as a basis for local plans for housing need.

My final comment is that this is not simply a debate about housing projections, but about how we deliver truly affordable houses to the people who need them, in the areas where they need them. The GMSF is a charter to build very expensive houses on the green belt. At present, there is no legal mechanism within the GMSF to stop that happening. We can all unite to fight to ensure that that does not happen and that people get the houses they deserve in our areas.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House has considered the Greater Manchester spatial framework and the green belt.

Sitting suspended.