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Will brownfield land registers solve Greater Manchester’s housing crisis?
It is well-known that Greater Manchester is not immune from the national housing crisis. Going forward, the first draft Greater Manchester Spatial Framework’s (GMSF) housing target is still considered too low by many observers (including ourselves). However, at least it has confronted the issue of Green Belt release. Greater Manchester’s Mayor Andy Burnham campaigned on, and has delivered on this matter through his review of the draft Framework, and it will be covered in the much anticipated, upcoming 2nd draft of the GMSF. Whether this represents the promised “radically changed” approach to make more use of the city region’s brownfield sites, and reduce the impact on the Green Belt, we will have to wait to see. New rules in force since last April mean that all local planning authorities (LPAs) had to publish a brownfield land register before 31 December 2017. Nationally, Lichfields’ analysis shows that only approximately half of English local planning authorities have published their brownfield land registers (BLR); the registers tend to simply include sites identified in strategic housing land availability assessments/ allocated housing land. This is possibly related to, and symptomatic of, the slow delivery of local plans, with patchy coverage at best nationally and a similar development planning pattern across Greater Manchester too. As part of Lichfield’s analysis highlighted in this blog, we focus on the Mayor’s stated aim of tackling the city region’s ever-growing housing crisis with the re-use of brownfield sites. How will the GMSF make better use of brownfield land, and how realistic is this policy approach? Publication of the region’s registers in December 2017 provides some insight on this issue. To be fair, all 10 Greater Manchester authorities have published their registers, reflecting their wider regeneration aspirations and the drive to maximise the re-use of brownfield land for housing-led development. In total 1,314 PDL sites have been identified across Greater Manchester which collectively have the capacity to deliver around 100,100 new homes over the next 15 years. How many of these are deliverable without significant public sector investment will be interesting to see. It is by any measure a significant number, but it only helps to crystallise the case for retaining the Green Belt around Greater Manchester or not; the number of homes on BLR sites equates to only around 44% of the draft GMSF housing target of 227,200 new homes up to 2035. Many within the industry considered this aspiration to be too low already, identifying how it failed to serve aspirations for economic growth and the Northern Powerhouse agenda. Irrespective of this, we all have to grapple with where the other 127,100 or more homes will be built. It is also fair to say there is a mixed picture across Greater Manchester in terms of distribution of brownfield land. Figure 1 below compares the quantity of brownfield land to the previous draft GMSF requirement. Only Manchester, Salford and Bolton can deliver over half of their target. Six local authorities (Bury, Oldham, Rochdale, Stockport, Tameside and Trafford) can only deliver less than 30% of their requirement. Figure 1: Brownfield land register proposed dwellings compared to the previous draft GMSF’s requirements   Source: GMSF, MHCLG The capacity gap in Trafford (86%) and Stockport (88%) is very substantial to say the least. So what does this mean for the future spatial strategy, and what are the consequences? How are Trafford’s and Stockport’s (and others’) needs to be met, without further increasing the affordability gap and the pressure on house prices. The previous draft GMSF identified a series of greenfield sites - predominately from the Green Belt - that would be required to meet need, contributing some 63,850 dwellings overall. Since it was formally adopted in 1984, the Greater Manchester Green Belt boundary has largely remained unaltered and it is a highly controversial topic - hence the Mayor’s review of the first draft GMSF. However, even if one adds all of the potential GMSF allocations to the BLR sites, the total falls a long way short of housing targets. Taking Greater Manchester as a whole, BLR sites and potential GMSF allocations will only deliver 72% of the city region’s housing requirement overall. Again the picture is highly variable, with Bolton and Bury close to achieving their requirement, but others, including Trafford and Tameside, having significant shortfalls. Figure 2: Total GMSF allocation & proposed brownfield land register units compared to the previous draft GMSF requirement Source: GMSF, MHCLG Furthermore, when considering the identified allocations, the GMSF has focused primarily on a few very large sites coming forward to meet the shortfall in supply. This results in inevitable pressure on infrastructure in key communities. We will have to wait and see how the 2nd draft GMSF responds to these issues, but it may for example include a broader range of sites, of different sizes and locations in order to de-risk the delivery issues and problems associated with not achieving the housing requirement. Brownfield land is one step towards meeting the requirement, and key questions will remain around delivery, and how long term requirements are to be met.   However, as demonstrated in Figure 3, there remains a shortfall of 63,245 homes to meet even the first draft GMSF housing target.  Regardless, the 227,000 GMSF requirement still remains well below the level of housing necessary to address housing pressure and the under-delivery that the city region has experienced over the years, even before considering the long-term economic growth needs of the conurbation at the heart of the Northern Powerhouse. Figure 3: Identified housing shortfall Source: GMSF, MHCLG Conclusion Whilst there is much to be welcomed in the Greater Manchester local authorities publishing their BLRs before the deadline, it seems that the re-use of brownfield land for housing can only be part of the solution. Even if every one of these sites were to come forward as intended, the local authorities still need to identify land for more than 127,100 homes just to meet the GMSFs conservative targets. If less land is to be removed from the Green Belt, there remains significantly more deliverable sites that will have to be found to meet need. This is even before a debate as to whether a target of 227,200 is suitably ambitious for a great conurbation such as Manchester, that should be driving the economy of the North in the Northern Powerhouse agenda.   Image credit: A.P.S. (UK) / Alamy Stock Photo  

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Burnham means business on affordable homes

Burnham means business on affordable homes

Lauren Thompson 28 Jun 2017
My original plan was to write a blog on the outcome of the Greater Manchester Combined Authority Mayoral election on 4th May, Andy Burnham’s first month in office and the impact on the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework [GMSF]. So much for plans. These seemingly important issues have been completely dwarfed by the horrific terrorist attack that took place at 10:30pm on 22 May 2017 in Manchester. This was without question one of the most challenging scenarios that any public figure can face, particularly so soon after taking office. Prior to the attack, it may not have been obvious to all quite how important the mayoral race was to Manchester’s future, particularly in the context of the snap General Election on 8th June 2017. However, Andy Burnham’s actions in response to  all these events has brought the Mayor’s powers into sharp focus. Whilst not all Greater Manchester residents may be aware, the Mayor has control over the following: Policing: in effect, replacing the Police and Crime Commissioner. Fire service: previously managed on a Council by Council basis. Spatial planning: has a pivotal role in the adoption or otherwise of the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework. Housing: overseeing the administration of a £300m housing fund. Transport: tasked with road management responsibilities currently managed by TfGM including road safety, bus lanes and congestion as well as influence over bus services, the tram system and cycling schemes. Influence over NHS spending in Greater Manchester. Those that followed the news in the aftermath of the 22 May attack will be aware that Mr Burnham put his autonomous powers as Police and Crime Commissioner into action, regarding information sharing with the US. He was also one of the first public figures to spring into action following the Grenfell Tower fire in London on 14 June 2017, by calling for a meeting with all high-rise landlords to explain how they had to have their buildings safety-checked. Whilst the national press has described the minority Government asgoing from ‘strong and stable’ to ‘weak and wobbly’ in the face of the General Election results and the declining popularity of the Government following the handling of the Grenfell Tower fire, Andy Burnham’s popularity has stood strong. At a time of ongoing uncertainty nationally, Mr Burnham’s appointment does give a sense of stability to Greater Manchester, even though some of his more assertive pledges, e.g. for no net loss of Green Belt, were not popular (particularly as those in the industry don’t think the emerging Plan does enough to provide the homes and jobs Greater Manchester needs). We have already provided a synopsis of the GMSF and our views where we suggest that the GMSF does not go far enough, if the Northern Powerhouse is to succeed as a driver for economic growth in the North of England. However, Andy Burnham’s more strident comments were made when he was in full campaign mode and he has since stated he is broadly happy with the number of homes and jobs proposed. He also remains on board with the concept of the GMSF, unlike his Liberal Democrat opponent. As such, the development industry can breathe a collective sigh of relief that he won’t be throwing the baby out with the bath water any time soon. Moreover, whilst he is proposing to significantly reduce the amount of Green Belt allocations, this is a much watered down version of his ‘no net Green Belt loss’ pledge. Mr Burnham has put Salford’s Mayor Paul Dennett in charge of the Plan re-write, with the stated aim of prioritising affordable housing. However, there has been radio silence since the initial announcement and therefore much second guessing about what format the ‘radically re-written’ plan will look like. There is one matter that is almost certain; Paul Dennett has played a central role in the decisions which led Salford Council to publicly announce their intentions to build new council housing. It is probably no accident that Mr Burnham has appointed Dennett as the portfolio holder for housing, when one of his key pledges is to use the Housing Investment Fund to provide loans to councils and registered providers (RPs) to build affordable homes, including rent-to-own. Nationwide, there has been a trend away from council-owned housing over the last 30 years, with many local authorities opting to transfer their existing housing stock to RPs. It looks like Greater Manchester could be bucking this trend under Andy Burnham’s term. Mr Dennett’s public comments regarding affordable housing also closely align with another of Mr Burnham’s election promises – providing a mix of housing and reducing the perceived over-reliance on executive-style homes. Mr Dennett has previously suggested that the Government’s definition of affordable housing is out of touch with the reality for everyday people. This suggests that a range of low cost housing options could be on the agenda, which could be brought forward on greenfield sites and publicly-owned land. Affordable and low cost housing requirements could end up being toned down for constrained strategic sites and development on brownfield land, as Paul Dennett will be well-aware of the issues surrounding viability and affordability which have plagued many of the housing schemes that have come forward in his own authority’s area over the last few years. This is however conjecture at this stage, as details of the re-write have yet to be announced. Going forward, our view is that: Those initial Green Belt site allocations proposed in the first draft GMSF which do not score so highly on the sustainability appraisal within the integrated approach may be at risk of being removed; Developers should prepare for increased affordable housing requirements on allocated sites and / or providing a broader mix of housing; and, Further delays on the GMSF and final adoption date are almost inevitable. In summary, Andy Burnham has had an exceptionally strong start to his term in office, and others may have had difficulty navigating the challenges he has had to face.  We understand that he has yet to meet with the GMCA which makes it difficult to say with any certainty precisely when he will pick the reins back up. However, this is perhaps understandable given recent tragic events in Manchester and London, which have rightly pulled his attention in a different direction. For bespoke advice on the implications on the latest events regarding the GMSF and up to date information on its progress please contact our Manchester Office on 0161 837 6130.  Image credit: A.P.S. (UK) / Alamy Stock Photo

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