The Greater Manchester Spatial Framework: what is it and why is it important?

There has been a lot of recent coverage in the press about the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework and how it will impact the region. But what exactly is it, why is it so important and how much new development is it proposing? This post explains.

What is it?

In November 2014, the government announced a devolution deal for Greater Manchester which will see a number of responsibilities (and the associated cash) moved from Westminster to a new Greater Manchester Combined Authority (‘GMCA’). Part of that deal is that Greater Manchester must have an elected mayor, with voting to take place in May 2017.

The devolved responsibilities cover a range of areas including health, social care and also planning. The Spatial Framework is the GMCA’s response to those new powers. It is a plan to guide development in Greater Manchester until 2035.

Work has been progressing on the Spatial Framework since 2014, with the first draft being published in October 2016. The aim is to finalise the plan by the end of 2017 although, as with all local plans, it seems probable that it will actually take longer than that.

What does it cover?

The Spatial Framework will cover things like:

  • how many new homes are necessary
  • how much land is needed for new employment development
  • what new infrastructure is required
  • where it will all be located

There hasn’t been a plan like it before. Up until now, each of the ten councils that make up Greater Manchester had their own development plans, each setting out a vision for their own areas. The Spatial Framework is the first time that the councils will have worked together to produce a single plan setting a vision for the development of the whole region.

Some of the development will take place on large sites which are strategically important to Greater Manchester overall. Those sites will be specifically identified in the Spatial Framework regardless of which council area they might actually fall in. There will also be policies setting out exactly what form development on each of those sites should take.

Beyond that, the Spatial Framework will confirm how much development each council will need to deliver, but leave it to each borough to determine exactly where it should go. That means that each of the councils that make up Greater Manchester will still need to prepare their own plans too. These are likely to quickly follow the Spatial Framework.

How much development is the Spatial Framework proposing?

In total, the plan intends to provide enough land to deliver 200,000 new jobs and house 248,000 new residents. In terms of the amount of development, that equates to:

  • 227,000 new homes
  • 4,000,000 sqm of new industrial and warehouse space
  • 2,450,000 sqm of new offices

Although these numbers seem big, there are many who believe the Spatial Framework isn’t ambitious enough. For example, it assumes that the average rate of jobs growth over the next 20 years will be lower than it was over the last 20 years – a period which included the Great Recession.

One of the main reasons for the government devolving powers to Greater Manchester is to try to drive economic growth in the region and help it become as prosperous as the south. The Spatial Framework doesn’t seem to be striving to achieve that objective. Of course, a more ambitious economic growth rate would mean more land was needed for both employment-generating development and homes for those workers to live in.

What does this all mean for Green Belt?

One of the reasons that the Spatial Framework has received so much attention in the media is that it is proposing to release some large areas of Green Belt for development.

The Green Belt in Greater Manchester was established in 1984 and hasn’t been reviewed since. It is drawn very tightly to the edges of the existing settlement and provides hardly any room for the region to grow. That was a deliberate decision at the time the Green Belt was established to try to encourage brownfield sites to be redeveloped.

However, many of the brownfield sites have now been redeveloped and there simply aren’t enough left to accommodate the amount of growth needed. The Spatial Framework estimates that only a proportion of the new homes could be accommodated on brownfield sites. The only way that enough new employment and housing development can be delivered is therefore through allowing development on some areas of Green Belt.

The Spatial Framework is proposing to do just that, and has identified areas in each council which it believes are suitable for development. Overall, 4,900 hectares of Green Belt are proposed to be released, shown on the map below, amounting to 8.2% of the total. That will still leave 43% of the region as Green Belt. In addition, don’t forget that the Greater Manchester Green Belt actually spreads beyond Greater Manchester into some of the surrounding boroughs, and the Spatial Framework doesn’t propose to touch any of that.

Spatial Framework Green Belt Releases

Map 1: Greater Manchester Spatial Framework – proposed development in the Green Belt

What does this mean for my chances of building on my land?

Every time a council starts work on a new local plan, it provides an opportunity to promote land for development that might not previously have been considered suitable, and the Spatial Framework is no exception.

There is an obvious opportunity to try to secure development on Green Belt sites – we’ve explained how to do this in a previous blog post. The scale of new development though means that sites of all types might be suitable for development.

The Strategic Land Group is an experienced land promoter with a track record of delivering planning permission on sites promoted through new local plans just like this. We do it all at our cost and risk – our return is a share of the site’s value once it is sold, so if we don’t succeed, it doesn’t cost you anything.

If you own or know of a site that you think might suitable for development, then get in touch today for a confidential, no obligation discussion.

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