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The only way is up?

The only way is up?

Colin Robinson 03 Jul 2018
An e-mail confirming Lichfields’ Northern Powerhouse Partner status dropped in to my inbox as I stood surveying the Manchester manor from 2o storeys up; from the delightfully named 20Stories restaurant at No1 Spinningfields. When I moved to Manchester two decades ago, only four buildings in the city topped 20 storeys and you certainly couldn’t enjoy gourmet food with a panoramic view and a raspberry martini; or enjoy living in any of them. I did once take some chips to rooftop of Portland Tower, the building where I plied my planning trade back then, but that was a glamorous as high-rise Manchester got pre-2000. Back to the future, and I stand watching the construction lifts scuttling like children’s toys up and down the façades of Renaker Build/SimpsonHaugh & Partners’ Deansgate Square Towers – the 67th floor of the tallest of four towers will top 200 metres and be the fifth tallest building in the UK – and wonder whether, for the largest city and metropolitan area in the Northern Powerhouse, the only way is indeed up? The Northern Powerhouse is characterised by cities with commonality in land use planning issues, and whilst the focus of this piece is the North West, my 20Stories view affords an outlook of the Pennines and I am acutely aware that beyond those hills the same issues are in play; and the same over t’other way too, in Liverpool. The smart money in the North West is on up, and out; across Greater Manchester. Local election results, amongst other things, have forced back – to ‘later this Summer’ - a consultation on the rewritten Greater Manchester Spatial Framework (GMSF); now the ‘baby’ of Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham. The confidence and supply support from Trafford Liberal Democrats to Labour in a minority administration alliance is dependent upon a brownfield first approach to new housing, and seemingly removes from the GMSF the Flixton Station and Timperley Wedge sites put forward for Green Belt release. The two sites might have provided over 4,000 new homes and represent 6% of the residential development potential from Green Belt release sites (some 65,000 homes) across Greater Manchester. It remains to be seen how the rewritten GMSF proposes to redress the short-fall. Trafford’s reticence to embrace its housing shortage may well result in opportunities for additional sites elsewhere, across the combined authority area, but there is clearly a need for significant additional high-density, high-rise urban development and that will be driven by Manchester and Salford-focussed demand.  Lichfields knows that market well, leading the planning process on several 30+ storey towers. There is plenty here about Lichfields’ housing and expertise and insight. One certainty is that Andy Burnham will want the GMSF and a housing strategy for Greater Manchester sorted well in advance of the next Mayoral election in 2020. Back at a 20th storey terrace lunch table – I was at 20Stories as a client celebration on completion of an important regeneration project – I dropped into the conversation the spatial framework; not the Burnham ‘baby’ but the City of Manchester Plan of 1945. Those who know me will recognise that I am a bastion of topical conversation. Chapter 12 Housing Standards starts with quote from once Bishop of Manchester William Temple ‘We need more space, above all more space for and in the homes of people…’; nothing changes. The 1945 Plan includes page-upon-page of guidance on appropriate residential densities, standards for internal living and principles for outdoor amenity space. I read it recently, and I bring to this into the discussion.  Stick with me my lunch guests did.   The 1945 Plan’s relevance to modern day society and policy aspirations, through its references to ensuring that the delivery of residential development is ‘…compatible with a sense of well-being’, achieves a ‘softening…of stark lines’ and contributes to ‘enlivening…arid monotony’ is palpable. It goes on to say that ‘…means must be found to bring back living greenery into our inner residential districts’. Whilst the Manchester Plan was seeking a move away from bare, drab too-closely-built Victorian streets the reference to well-being is as applicable now as it was then. Millennials (born early 80s to mid-90s), often dubbed Generation Rent, are occupying a significant proportion of new-build city apartments across UK towns and cities; Manchester and Salford are no exception. In the past, Baby Boomers who moved ‘out’ to new-build peripheral housing estates often cited isolation and loneliness given an absence of ‘community’ and facilities; a sense of being a long way out from their traditional inner-city residential areas. As we increasingly embrace building up as well as out, and land availability constraints will demand this, land use planning needs to be increasingly minded of those living a long way up. Residential tower blocks have always carried the risk of social isolation, all too often a social failing of our elderly citizens. Such discussions about loneliness typically focus on the elderly, but a recent Study by the Office for National Statistics found that young people (aged 16-24) identified with a feeling being lonely more often than is the case with any other adult age group. If Millennials and those who follow (so called Generation Z) are to populate and make communities out of our high-rise cities then the Northern Powerhouse needs to reflect on the foresight of 1945 to ‘…bring back living greenery into our inner residential districts’. It is not the greenery per se that might guard against that threat of loneliness, rather the opportunity carried by open space for social interaction. Moreover, making something of that potential is down to those potential users; the Fortnite versus real world conundrum. Don’t think either that I’m questioning high-rise, high-quality being delivered in our new vertical cities; that is top drawer. It’s the spaces in between that is of fundamental importance to creating liveable and sustainable environments. Perhaps Yazz –known well by my Generation X cohort – was prophesising about 21st century living when she sang– But if we should be evicted, Huh, from our homes, We'll just move somewhere else, And still carry on – in the 1988 hit The Only Way is Up.   Generation Rent might be residentially peripatetic and upwardly bound, but that footloose sense captured by Yazz will only meet with success if our urban environments delivery a sense of well-being and belonging. Ultimately the Northern Powerhouse, and its success, is all about, and dependent upon, the people of the North. That is, utilising their economic might to drive forward the new Northern agenda. We can only do this if land use planning creates the right foundations for society, and looking after the social well-being of Northern Powerhouse citizens is paramount as our cities grow up as well as grow out.

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The Greater Manchester Spatial Framework – Ambitious Vision or a Missed Opportunity?
After a wait of nearly a year since the release of the Strategic Options Consultation, the draft Greater Manchester Spatial Framework (GMSF) was finally released on 20th October 2016.  It will be presented to the Greater Manchester Combined Authority’s (GMCA’s) Executive Board for approval (and, unusually, amendments) ahead of a formal consultation process beginning on 31st October.The report has been awaited with great anticipation amongst the local development community as it will set out the approach to housing and employment land across all ten Greater Manchester (GM) authorities for the next 20 years.  In recent weeks leaked documents, local newspaper headlines and e-newsletters have built up expectations, suggesting that the GMSF will be ‘ambitious’, create 200,000 new jobs and result in a radical re-drawing of GM’s Green Belt boundaries, with substantial new releases for housing and employment development as a consequence.Given the Government’s devolution agenda and continued supported for the Northern Powerhouse initiative, the GMSF has a key role to play in making GM a financially self-sustaining city, sitting at the heart of (and driving forward) the Northern Powerhouse.  Many industry observers had expressed disappointment at the level of housing delivery set out in the 2015 Strategic Options Consultation.  Indeed, NLP produced a report on behalf of a housing consortium analysing GM’s potential role as a driving force behind Osborne’s Initiative, and what this was likely to mean in terms of housing and economic growth.  The work suggested that a step change in housing provision was required in the order of 16,640 dwellings per annum [dpa] compared to 10,350 dpa in the 2015 draft. It is fair to say that the newly released draft GMSF has been met with a mixed reception by the development industry so far.  The document seeks to accommodate land for 200,000 jobs and provide 227,200 new homes over the 20-year period 2015-2035 (at a rate of 11,360 dpa), with a strong emphasis towards directing new development to brownfield land in urban locations.  This represents a 10% uplift on the housing target that was previously put forward, and as we can see from the Figure below, represents an 18% uplift on the latest household projections.  However it still remains well below the level of housing many observers (ourselves included) feel is necessary to address years of under-delivery in GM and to effectively drive forward the Northern Powerhouse agenda. Furthermore the level of job growth, at just 0.7% annually, is lower than the 1% job growth that has been achieved in recent years - hardly the level of growth necessary to allow Greater Manchester to drive forward the Northern Powerhouse and act as the counter-weight to London that George Osborne originally envisaged.There are also concerns that there is a strong reliance on high density apartment schemes to help make up the numbers.  The Table below indicates that 98,470 apartments are envisaged to come forward, or 43% out of a total housing requirement of 227,200.  We might expect some particularly high contributions in Manchester City and Salford.  However, identifying 43% of the overall housing target as high density apartments puts the overall housing and economic strategy at risk as there is a particular need for family accommodation and aspirational housing more generally.It is also unclear from the evidence that has been released to date why Rochdale’s contribution towards the housing target should be a figure almost two-thirds higher than the starting point demographic projections, whilst Stockport’s figure is only 8% higher (despite being an area with some of the highest house prices and development pressure in the sub-region).  Perhaps the justification for this will become clearer once the detailed evidence base documents are released in the weeks ahead.However, even at this relatively modest level of housing delivery, the GMCA accepts that it cannot accommodate all the homes within the existing settlement boundaries and has therefore accepted that exceptional circumstances exist to amend the existing Green Belt boundaries.  The draft GMSF has identified 55 potential new allocations for residential, industrial and commercial development in the Green Belt, which would result in a net reduction in the total area of designated Green Belt of 4,900 ha, or 8.2% of the total.  This would reduce the total land area of GM covered by Green Belt from 47% to 43%.The GMSF has also added three large sites to the Green Belt, at West Salford Greenway; Rectory Lane, Standish (Wigan) and land within the Roch Valley in Rochdale. *Note: includes some sites that straddle two local authority administrative areas – the housing allocation has been split 50:50 in these instances. In total, we estimate that the draft GMSF makes provision for almost 70,000 new homes from Green Belt/greenfield releases, 30.7% of the total; although the pattern is distinctly uneven.  Whilst many of these Green Belt releases appear logical and are likely to have considerable support amongst the development industry, there is also a concern that many of the releases are not located in those parts of the sub-region where housing need is strongest.  This could mean that sites either take longer to come forward or do not materialise at all.  Furthermore, it is unclear for the time being how the GMCA has justified the scale of Green Belt release in each district, given that it has not undertaken a comprehensive urban capacity study.  It has instead relied upon existing SHLAAs and 5-year land capacity studies undertaken by each LPA independently (each presumably having different approaches and assumptions).  This could present consistency problems further down the line. Many of these Green Belt releases are also intended to stimulate economic growth.  This is part of a strategy of planning for over 2.4 million sqm of new office floorspace and 4 million sqm of industrial and warehousing floorspace, with the latter representing a 40% increase in development rates compared to the average achieved since 2004.  Whilst the GMSF suggests that these site allocations deliberately allow for a significant level of choice and flexibility (which is to be welcomed), it is curious that such considerations have not been applied to the housing and commercial office allocations.Hence whilst there is much to be welcomed in this latest draft of the GMSF, it still seems to be pursuing conservative levels of housing and employment growth levels well below many cities elsewhere in the UK.  A re-booted, pro-development, GMSF would be beneficial for Greater Manchester, sustain the Northern Powerhouse and act as a healthy counterweight to London and the Greater South East.  

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