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There’s no place like home

There’s no place like home

Katie Howarth 12 Jun 2020
Many people are currently reappraising what is important in a home as a result of COVID-19, with a recent survey undertaken by Rightmove finding that bigger gardens or at least access to one, and proximity to outdoor space are amongst the top 5 priorities for both buyers and renters. This suggests that the demand for high-density apartment living may decrease, with the traditional home (and garden) outside of the city centre becoming an attractive option for those who have recently been confined to a more limited living space.  It is important to consider what implications this will have on strategic plans such as Greater Manchester Spatial Framework (GMSF), which as set out in my colleague Brian O’Connor’s recent blog, has been delayed further, ostensibly to account for the COVID-19 pandemic. Since the announcement of this delay on 3rd June, the Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) has stated that “it is essential that any plan recognises and responds to these new circumstances. Acknowledging these circumstances will be vital to ensuring that Greater Manchester is prepared for the challenges that lay ahead, and that we seize the opportunity to build back in a way that’s better and fairer for all.” At the moment it is unclear what strategy for housing the GMCA will pursue in the next iteration of the GMSF. As currently drafted, it focuses on delivering high density homes and distributes 43% of housing to Manchester and Salford. Many of these homes will comprise 1 / 2-bed apartments. This is despite evidence which demonstrated that many families want to live in larger suburban family homes with private outdoor amenity space. For example, the 2017 GM Housing Survey suggested that 80% of 2,000 local respondents want to own a home in a suburb; 84% seeking a home with a private garden; and just 8% want to live in an apartment in the City. The need for traditional homes with gardens can only have increased as people begin to reflect on their living environments as a result of COVID-19. The implications of COVID-19 on plan-making has already begun to be acknowledged by local authorities, with Lichfields being approached to undertake evidence base updates in light of the ‘new normal’ economic conditions resulting from the pandemic. Going forward, it will be necessary for the GMCA to reconsider how it will meet its future housing needs. The focus can no longer be on maximising the delivery of high-density homes in Manchester and Salford. A more realistic and balanced approached is required, which may shift the focus to suburban areas, where there are also opportunities to improve connectivity and create more jobs. This will inevitably result in suitable Green Belt sites being forward for development. Another dimension to consider is the supply and demand of new homes. Anecdotal evidence from housebuilders suggests that sales have remained on track and there have been strong number of reservations. However, delivery will be significantly affected by the suspension of construction activities early in the lockdown period and whilst many firms are now back on-site, the requirement for social distancing will mean that completions have slowed down considerably. All in all, the likely increase in demand for traditional homes is yet another challenge arising from COVID-19 which will need to be in addressed in strategic plans such as the GMSF. It is imperative that authorities have the right evidence base to ensure that housing needs are genuinely being met and in Greater Manchester, it is clear that additional Green Belt release across the city region is the only means of delivering the homes that are required. Watch this space.

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The three certainties in life: death, taxes and delays to the GMSF
In 2014, the Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) commenced the preparation of a joint Development Plan Document known as the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework.  The aim of the GMSF was to set out a coordinated approach to housing and employment land across Greater Manchester for the next 20 years.  The initial consultation exercise on the scope of the plan was undertaken in November 2014,  yet almost 6 years later, Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham announced that it will be delayed further to account for the Covid pandemic.  We are now sometime away from seeing an adopted GMSF - even with a fair wind. The next iteration (Submission version) of the much-delayed plan was anticipated this summer; but at his Mayoral weekly press conference on 3rd June, Mr Burnham announced that this timetable will not be met.  Instead, Mr Burnham announced that ‘in light of the new reality that we are facing, the economy is facing a real challenging period and that will have implications for the spatial framework’.  Although, Mr Burnham set out that there was a clear commitment from the 10 leaders of the Greater Manchester authorities, one would have to question if the GMSF will ever come to fruition.  This Covid related delay is just one of the many reasons given for the persist delays in the plan making process. The  preparation of a sub-regional plan which proposed the strategic realise of Green Belt sites to meet housing and employment needs of the city region over a 20-year period was welcomed by the development industry as a means of supporting economic development in the city-region in its early years. The continued delays are now exacerbating issues of affordability, land supply and potentially stifling development. Some authorities in Greater Manchester are relying on plans dating as far back as 1997 and have been shielded from the threat of Government intervention in the plan making process by the presence of the slowly emerging GMSF.  Only one of the 10 authorities (Rochdale) has adopted a Local Plan/Core Strategy in the past five years and seven of the 10 LPAs have plans which predate the 2012 version of the NPPF.  6 of the 10 Greater Manchester authorities delivered less than their housing requirement as indicated in the latest Housing Delivery results. There is a real threat of losing control over development if the housing need is not met in accordance with §11d and footnote 7 of the NPPF.  For instance, Bolton and Trafford only met 58% of their housing requirement over the last 3 years.  Bury and Oldham only delivered 61% and 65% respectively.  The lack of an up to date plan which identified sufficient land to meet needs is hindering the delivery of the housing and employment land needs of the city region. If the GMSF continues to stall, at what point will MHCLG decide that intervention is required to produce up to date plans in Greater Manchester to direct growth and ensure sufficient land is available to meet demand? No revised timetable has been released by GMCA on the GMSF but given the current economic uncertainty, there is now a distinct possibility that the GMSF will be released until summer 2021 with the delayed Greater Manchester Mayoral being pencilled in for May 2021.  Mr Burnham is highly unlikely to release a divisive and politically charged plan in late 2020/early 2021 as the backlash may frame and affect his prospects of re-election as Greater Manchester Mayor. In Mr Burnham’s press conference on 3rd June he indicated that the economy is likely to face a really challenging period going forward.  No one can doubt that this will be the case, but Mr Burnham has the ability to have a direct and positive impact and shape economic future of the city region.  A revised and more aspirational GMSF which seeks to identify and deliver sustainable employment opportunities and high-quality housing development in line with an economic growth target would greatly assist. Mr Burnham and the GMCA now have an opportunity to assist in the recovery of the city region and central to this would be a more aspirational and ambitious GMSF.  We will have to wait and see if this opportunity is grasped or if the political pressure to minimise the release of Green Belt land which has been largely unaltered since 1984 wins out.

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