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
02 Jun 2017
With the steady emergence of proposals to explore and extract unconventional gas by fracking (hydraulic fracturing), the mainstream UK political parties have set out their positions on this controversial form of development when considering future UK energy supply. With the election campaign back in full flow and the main political parties having all issued their manifestos, each has confirmed their own stance towards the extraction of this source of energy by fracking.
The election promises are made against the backdrop of a changing pattern of energy supply which is seeing the emergence of lower carbon options including solar energy. Reported in the national press at the time, the National Grid has confirmed that 21 April was the first full day of coal-free power in 135 years. This was achieved through the generation of electricity from an increasingly varied range of power options. It reflects the changing face of the UK’s energy supply chain and follows on the heels of reporting in October 2016 that in the preceding six months, the electricity generated by solar panels had outstripped Britain’s ageing coal-fired power stations for the first time. The last Government had aimed to reduce the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions by at least 80% by 2050 (from the 1990 baseline).
The Conservative manifesto takes a supportive stance towards fracking, whereby:
“The discovery and extraction of shale gas in the United States has been a revolution. Gas prices have fallen, driving growth in the American economy and pushing down prices for consumers.”
"The US has become less reliant on imported foreign energy and is more secure as a result.”
"We will therefore develop the shale industry in Britain.”
“We will only be able to do so if we maintain public confidence in the process, if we uphold our rigorous environmental protections, and if we ensure the proceeds of the wealth generated by shale energy are shared with the communities affected.”
The manifesto also sets out proposed changes to the consenting process:
“We will legislate to change planning law for shale applications. Non-fracking drilling will be treated as permitted development, expert planning functions will be established to support local councils, and when necessary, major shale planning decisions will be made the responsibility of the National Planning Regime.”
In addition, the Tories propose that a new ‘Shale Environment Regulator’ would be set up, taking over responsibility for the fracking-associated roles currently performed by the Health and Safety Executive, the Environment Agency and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.
The Labour party in its manifesto undertakes to “ban fracking because it would lock us into an energy infrastructure based on fossil fuels, long after the point in 2030 when the Committee on Climate Change says gas in the UK must sharply decline”.
The Liberal Democrats in their manifesto oppose ‘fracking’ “because of its adverse impact on climate change, the energy mix, and the local environment”.
The Scottish National Party in its manifesto says:
"We have blocked underground coal gasification and a moratorium means fracking cannot take place in Scotland."
The Green Party manifesto states:
"We will introduce a ban on fracking, phase-out the £6bn-a-year fossil fuel subsidies, bring forward the coal phase out date to 2023 (at the latest), divest public funds from the fossil fuel industry, and ensure a just transition for those communities dependent on fossil fuel jobs."
Plaid Cymru makes no specific mention of fracking but in 2015 supported a moratorium.
Meanwhile on the ground, the development of unconventional gas opportunities continues to be challenged through the courts. In a decision in October 2016, the then Communities Secretary Sajid Javid agreed with his Inspector’s recommendations, to allow appeals for the development of exploration facilities for unconventional gas by hydraulic fracturing (fracking) at sites at Roseacre and Wharles on the Fylde, overturning the earlier decisions of Lancashire County Council to refuse planning permission for the exploratory developments. The decision has however been challenged on two occasions, latterly in April this year in the Court of Appeal, where Mr Justice Dove rejected objectors’ judicial review actions. It is understood that papers have again been lodged by an objector with the Court of Appeal to reconsider this decision.
Planning permission for similar development in North Yorkshire was granted in September 2016, for Third Energy to frack at Kirkby Misperton, near Malton. This decision was unsuccessfully judicially reviewed in November last year and the operation is now underway, although not without objectors based locally and at a nearby objector encampment known as the ‘Kirkby Misperton Protection Camp’ blockading the well site in April.
IGas received a resolution to grant planning permission in November 2016 from Nottinghamshire County Council, subject to a Section 106 planning obligation, for an exploratory site at a former MoD site in north Nottinghamshire. Following the decision, Stephen Bowler, CEO of IGas, said:
"We are at a critical juncture in the future of our energy mix and supply, as we move away from coal towards lower carbon sources."
In Scotland, where there is a moratorium on shale gas extraction, it is ironic that INEOS’ first US shipment of shale gas was received at Grangemouth Refinery in October 2016. This is the beginnings of a trade route which is likely to trigger an expansion of Scotland’s largest industrial complex. INEOS has previously obtained fracking exploration licences within the Central Belt, but has so far been blocked from implementation by the Scottish Government moratorium. It is thought that the most populated part of Scotland - the Central Belt - may contain substantial amounts of shale gas, oil and coal bed methane, where exploration could prove to be controversial.
With the snap general election countdown now in its final phase, we wait with great interest to see if unconventional gas firmly becomes an established component of the UK energy supply mix over the term of the next parliament.
Image credit: Daniel Foster