- Letter from Councillor Jean Stretton
RE: 5259L: RE: GMCA & Oldham Council
Thank you for your e-mails in relation to GMSF.
1. I am aware of your community group and its actions.
2. Like you, many people have raised issues with the GMCA’s economic growth figures and objectively assessed need figures. However, to my knowledge few have detailed why they think the figures are wrong or set out a realistic alternative that will stand examination at the GMSF public inquiry that will scrutinize this eventually. The view set out that these figures do not consider the impact of Brexit is mistaken. In contrast to the views of many members of the public, a significant part of the development industry have raised concerns that GM’s growth figures are not high enough and that GM’s needs are underestimated. Overall, there are significant differences of opinion in this area. The government has said that they will provide a formula in the Housing White Paper that will dictate the number of properties needed but that formula has yet to materialise.
In view of the above, I acknowledge that it is clear that all Greater Manchester (GM) authorities will have to review and justify its figures further if we are to convince people why development in the Green Belt may need to occur and this work is being done. However, even if the numbers do change it is difficult to see them changing so significantly that no Green Belt development in GM is required in the next 20 years unless GM proposes a no growth scenario – and such a scenario would have economic and social consequences.
3. Both GM and the Council remain committed to a ‘brownfield first’ approach. Indeed, this is stressed within the GMSF. I also took the opportunity to raise this again at the most recent Greater Manchester Combined Authority meeting, saying that we should be lobbying government to bring forward funding that allows for the remediation of brownfield sites so that the costs of developing them can be mitigated. The Council is required under national planning legislation to meet its objectively assessed needs in relation to housing, office and industry and warehousing amongst other things. I’m afraid this requirement means difficult decisions will have to be made because the alternative is to leave GM without a plan and consequently a position where developers can pick and choose where they want to develop on the basis that GM has not planned or met its objectively assessed need. Cheshire East Council is in this position now and it has created significant problems for their communities.
4. I am glad that you recognise that there may be a need to build more and the right type of homes and provide the right type of employment premises in Oldham. I say this since this Council strongly believes that creating mixed and balanced communities, via a mix of housing types and tenure and employment premises (as required by planning legislation) in the long term will create a better Oldham and better opportunities for our residents and businesses. This will not be easy given the restriction on options that are created by the amount of Green Belt and Other Open Protected Land that Oldham has (46.11% of its area).
5. I appreciate your offer to source brownfield sites. Council Planners have looked at this in detail and do so yearly as part of the Council’s Annual Monitoring Report. There is a very precise methodology to establish if a site can be counted in the Council’s land supply and this limits what a Council can put forward. I have attached a link to the guidance on this and in particular the need to apply the ‘suitability’, ‘availability’ and ‘achievability including viability’ test required to put a site in a land supply.
6. Finding the right balance between delivering enough new homes and jobs and protecting the Green Belt is a challenge that Councils across the country are encountering as they prepare new Local Plans. Oldham and GM are not the only areas struggling with this question since on the one hand there is pressure from government to ensure that enough new homes and employment floorspace is built to help address the housing crisis and support economic growth. On the other hand, local residents want to protect the Green Belt for perfectly understandable environmental and social reasons.
The modern role of the Green Belt is defined in the National Planning Policy Framework. This sets out five functions which the Green Belt is supposed to serve. These are:
To check the unrestricted sprawl of large built-up areas;
To prevent neighbouring towns merging into one another;
To assist in safeguarding the countryside from encroachment;
To preserve the setting and special character of historic towns; and
To assist in urban regeneration, by encouraging the recycling of derelict and other urban land.
As I said earlier, finding the right balance between delivering enough new homes and jobs and protecting the Green Belt is a difficult challenge that this Council does not take lightly. There are positives and negatives on both sides of the argument and it is with this in mind that I and many others are working to find the best compromise that delivers a balance between the two.
7. I assure you that this is a genuine consultation. The consultation received a high volume of responses. These are now being carefully documented and all will be considered. As a result of the consultation it is likely that changes will be made, although it is not possible at this stage to pre-empt the outcome of the consultation. However, as you request, I would be happy to meet with you and appropriate officers to discuss this matter further.
Councillor Jean Stretton
Leader, Oldham Council