Greater Manchester’s leaders have announced that the next consultation on the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework (GMSF) will start in January 2019 and run for eight weeks.
A special meeting of the Combined Authority is planned for 11 January. The GMSF consultation will then run from late January through to late March 2019, avoiding a clash with local election campaigns.
The GMSF is a planning strategy covering ten local authorities and nearly three million people, sitting above councils' individual Local Plans.
Although there was no GMSF item on the agenda for the 30 November meeting, Salford Mayor Paul Dennett made the announcement at the start of an item about the geographical targeting of Homes England funds.
In a statement released by the Combined Authority on Friday, Paul Dennett said:
Today we agreed at a Combined Authority meeting in Bury that the draft Greater Manchester Spatial Framework consultation will go to a special Combined Authority meeting in January next year. That will then trigger an eight week consultation, providing the 10 Leaders of Greater Manchester and the Mayor agree to the draft consultation documentation.
We also know that at this moment Government are consulting on local housing need numbers, a consultation that runs to December 7. After then we understand that the government will formally respond to their consultation. However, we do anticipate going live with the next phase of the Spatial Framework in mid- to late-January next year.
As ever, leaders are having to tread a fine line on timing.
An ONS household projection report a few months ago would have seen housing targets slashed. The government is consulting on it – that’s the consultation Paul Dennett says runs to 7 December. It is clear what decision they will make: the latest ONS figures will simply be ignored and housing targets will be kept relatively high. However, until the formal decision is taken it’s not official. The leaders can press on without that government decision, but they would prefer not to. Avoiding a consultation launch just before Christmas has also been a consideration.
Leaders are keen to avoid the consultation overlapping with the 2019 local election campaign period, which starts in late March and runs through to polling day on Thursday 2 May. It probably wouldn’t be illegal as no decisions are being taken, but ruling councillors will be very keen to avoid the 2019 local elections becoming the “Save our Green Belt elections”.
The GMCA has always said it prefers a longer 12 week consultation period, but that’s now impossible without pushing the whole process back another six months, which no-one wants, so we will have an eight week consultation.
Expect to see papers for the GMCA special meeting published in the first few days of 2019. Those papers might include all the GMSF draft plans, and all eyes will be on which Green Belt sites are still being proposed for release. A lot of work has been done to increase the housing numbers for town and city centres, which should allow some of the most controversial Green Belt sites to be saved. But no-one is under any illusions: this plan will still contain substantial Green Belt release and that’s going to generate a lot of opposition.