What does Labour’s defeat at the polls mean for the future of the GMSF?
Save Royton’s Greenbelt is not a political group and for that reason we did not endorse any political candidates or party, but the fact remains the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework is a policy conceived by Labour and therefore it is inherently political. Oldham Labour have persistently tried to disown their own handiwork, preferring to blame central Government for forcing them to build on Green Belt.
Whoever’s side you come down on, one thing is now indisputable: by electing a Conservative over a Labour candidate, Royton North rejected a candidate from a party that has repeatedly voted for the GMSF (and building on the Green Belt) and elected one from a party that has repeatedly voted against the GMSF.
The people of Royton North could not make their feelings any clearer on this subject.
St. James’ ward bordering onto Royton South (where the Broadbent Moss allocation is located) also voted in a Conservative, while Shaw & Crompton (where the Beal Valley and Cowlishaw allocations are located) re-elected their Lib-Dem councillors (who have consistently voted against the GMSF).
The Conservatives also came very close to winning in Royton South but, ironically, Labour was unwittingly saved by UKIP who, along with an independent, soaked up enough votes to prevent a Conservative win.
In Chadderton North, Green Belt campaigner Tracy Woodward put in a strong showing and was only thwarted by the Conservative and Green Party candidates splitting the vote, but all three (along with the Lib Dems) oppose development on the Green Belt and collectively surpassed the number of Labour votes. It is evident that Oldham Labour do not have a mandate to build on the Green Belt.
In the southern part of the borough, independent candidates won in Failsworth, ousting Leader of the Council, Sean Fielding. The Conservatives also took Medlock Vale (the Fitton Hill area) and came very close to winning in Chadderton South. All in all, it was not a good night for Labour. And all entirely preventable, if they had only listened.
If this year’s results are repeated in next year’s 'super election', when all the seats are up for grabs, then Labour will lose control of the council. While issues in the south of the borough are more complicated, the issue in the north boils down to one thing: Green Belt.
The GMSF is about money, not housing
Nobody, but the most gullible Labour voter, believes their protestations and false claims that the Tories are “forcing” the councils to build on the Green Belt. In actual fact, Government policy explicitly permits councils to set lower housing targets if faced with “restrictive polices” such as “land designated as Green Belt, Local Green Space, an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty”. Furthermore, the Mayor unsuccessfully petitioned the Government to change the law to permit Greater Manchester to remove land from the Green Belt with reduced scrutiny. Most damning of all is that the small print in the GMSF concedes it has enough land to hit its target without the need to build on protected land.
We believe this is, and always has been, motivated by money. Oldham Council has some of the most inflated salaries in the country and some of the highest council tax, and Royton, Shaw & Crompton and North Chadderton are being expected to foot the bill. If Labour wants to win back our trust then its councillors need to rein in the profligacy at the civic centre (over 160 positions pay in excess of £50,000 PA), and once again be the “party of the people” rather than the party of middle management.
How to fix the GMSF
If our councillors have bothered to read the GMSF documentation, they would have come across a paper called “Growth and Spatial Options”. This paper outlines five alternative housing solutions, three of which do not require building on the Green Belt. Our preference would be the “Public Transport Max” option, which has identified enough non-protected land for building up to 240,000 homes (easily surpassing the 179,000 house target). This option would increase housing densities in town and city centres and along routes well served by public transport which, incidentally, would also complement Oldham’s town centre regeneration strategy.
We also strongly object to the GMSF’s intention of turning Oldham and Rochdale into the “warehouse of Greater Manchester”. Oldham and Rochdale already account for a quarter of all warehousing across Greater Manchester. We don’t want any more. It is low paid work, it offers low density employment (i.e. it takes a lot of space to employ relatively small numbers of people) and it is an industry that is extremely vulnerable to automation. The GMSF assumes that the employment density of warehousing jobs will remain constant over the next 20 years, but we all know this won’t be the case. This plan just bakes more unemployment into Oldham’s economic future.
Lessons for Labour
With the election of Dave Arnott in Royton North, the people of Royton will finally have a voice in the council chamber opposing development on the Green Belt. For the first time in this process the Green Belt campaigners of Royton will have some political representation. We take this opportunity to congratulate Councillor Arnott on his victory and look forward to working with him to continue to protect our precious Green Belt.
However, Labour still have a majority and, for the time being at least, are still in the driving seat. It is time for Labour to acknowledge that the GMSF has been a serious error of judgement on their part, and we hope fresh leadership will provide the opportunity to review their decision. We would equally be pleased to work with them if they adopted the same stance against development on our Green Belt.
Our group is not wholly against a regional joint plan (we accept it has some benefits) but it must adopt the right strategy that prioritises long-term economic rejuvenation and protection of our green space.