Consultation Response: The Greater Manchester Plan for Homes, Jobs and the Environment
I write to submit my views on the revised Greater Manchester Spatial Framework. While I welcome an overall reduction in the proposed loss of green belt and some of the proposed transport and infrastructure solutions, I still have serious concerns regarding the viability of this plan on individual areas in my constituency as a result of policies GMA37, GMA40 and GMA41, as well as the potential wider consequences.
Concerns have been raised whether Greater Manchester needs the amount of housing proposed by the GMSF. The Government have stated in their response to the Technical consultation on updates to national planning policy and guidance that “local housing need does not represent a mandatory target – it is simply a starting point for planning and the GMCA may either choose to plan in excess of this or to conclude that they are not able to meet all housing need within their boundaries, for example due to constraints such as protected designations and Green Belt.”
I continue to support a ‘brownfield first’ policy, and when voicing opposition to the loss of green belt and spaces, residents often mention sites in their area which they feel have been passed by. While I am encouraged by the extent of the shift to brownfield development in this version of the GMSF compared to the first, I do not believe that the potential of brownfield has yet been maximised, and in a future revision of the plan I urge further efforts to be made to identify and assess the viability of all deliverable brownfield land.
Heald Green – GMA37 & GMA40
I will take GMA37 and GMA40 together, as apart from a small area of GMA40 to the east of the railway line, the combined area of both allocations falls with a single Council ward (Heald Green). Despite the reduction in allocations to 850 homes on each site, these policies together would mean that the village of Heald Green loses over half of its surrounding green belt. While I understand that the rationale has been to look at development in areas with existing infrastructure networks, in my view it is entirely disproportionate to pack nearly half of all proposed green belt development in Stockport into a single Council ward.
I am also concerned about the public health impact of these policies on Heald Green. It is bordered by Manchester airport to the west, major transport routes to the south and east, and almost continuous development to the north leading into central Manchester. In my view, 1,700 homes directly bordering Heald Green will compound any future air quality and public health issues, and while assumptions can be made about how much use will be made of public transport, the realities of modern life would indicate that any development would mean hundreds of new cars on the roads.
These policies also do not take into account the issue of urban sprawl, especially considering the scale of proposed housebuilding in Cheshire East on the border with Stockport. If housebuilding went ahead at the proposed scale on these sites, it would exacerbate the urban sprawl between Heald Green and Handforth, Cheadle Hulme and Manchester.
Policy GMA37 now takes Heald Green’s village hall, as well as the playing fields behind it, out of the green belt. Both of these are valuable local assets, well used by the community and a key facility for the hugely well supported annual Heald Green Festival. Their removal from the Green Belt would detrimental to the community.
I also have concerns as to the viability of allowing access to up to 850 homes via Outwood Road. It is clear to me that people in Heald Green are not convinced by this proposal and fear that it will lead to huge traffic issues given the number of cars that 850 homes would bring with them.
Policy GMA40 is particularly concerning in light of the fact that the land is the subject of a planning application currently going through the appeal process, which could add hundreds more homes onto the site. Many people have already made their concerns clear about development on this piece of green belt in particular, and will be disappointed that the GMSF furthers the threat of losing it.
Turning to the proposed transport solution for GMA40, I am pleased to see a train station suggested for Stanley Green, however I have concerns about the impact of potentially over 1,000 homes on the site before any transport or infrastructure solution comes along towards the end of the time period which the GMSF covers.
Woodford – GMA41
I am pleased that the vast majority of Woodford will now remain in the green belt, and while I have issues with the new policy GMA41 which I will outline below, in general I am pleased to see that the proposed number of homes has been reduced.
It is disappointing that fields currently due to be returned to the green belt once the ongoing Woodford Garden Village development has been completed are now under threat themselves. The current development already has over 920 homes that have been granted planning permission, and adding another 750 next door would in my view represent unnecessary overdevelopment. Avro golf course is also taken out of the green belt by this policy, however as a green space providing recreation activities I believe it is best served by continuing to be designated as green belt land.
My concerns regarding urban sprawl are similar to those outlined in my comments on policies GMA37 and GMA40. When looking at likely developments just over the border in Cheshire East, the overall loss of green belt will have a negative impact on the character of communities.
The ongoing development at Woodford Aerodrome provides a test case of sorts for whether public transport solutions to the infrastructure challenges posed by large scale developments can live up to their promise. Woodford’s rural nature has meant that most people are accessing the site via car, increasing pressure on local roads, which would be compounded by hundreds more houses facing the same challenges as current residents. This also brings into question the site’s suitability as a location for affordable housing and housing for the elderly without significant developments in the public transport offer, as well as local facilities.
Wider Transport and Infrastructure Issues
Turning to the wider implications of these three policies, throughout my discussions about the GMSF and its impact on areas in my constituency, it is clear to me that people feel that the scale of proposed housebuilding on our border in Cheshire East has not been taken into consideration.
A clear concern being raised by local residents is the belief that current infrastructure will not be able to cope with the scale of housebuilding proposed just in these policies. The completion of the new A6MARR has provided a great benefit, however the rate at which usage of the new road has risen is a sign of the infrastructure challenges we have to confront in south Manchester. This is in addition to the fact that the A34 remains a heavily congested road and the junction of the A35 and the A560 (Gatley Junction) in my constituency is particularly in need of a solution. More congestion, resulting from thousands of new homes, in close proximity both in Stockport and Cheshire East, would test our existing road capacity to breaking point.
I am, however, encouraged by the ambition set out in Policy GM-Strat 14 regarding a larger and more integrated rapid transit network. I have expressed support previously for a bus rapid transit scheme along the A34 in Cheadle and Gatley, and I hope that a tram/train solution can be considered when looking at how to provide a better transport offer through a station for Cheadle.
Many residents have expressed the view to me that, beyond the statement that existing schools must expand, the GMSF does not adequately explain how to provide schooling provision for thousands of new families both in Stockport and also from Cheshire East, whose families may decide to send their children to school in Cheadle. This view is also expressed in relation to health provision where existing capacity is often stretched.
Areas being taken into Green Belt
I support the proposed addition to the Green Belt of several golf courses in my constituency namely; Bramhall Park Golf Course, Brookfield Park/Cheadle Golf Course, and Bruntwood Park & Adjacent Green Chain.
However, whilst welcoming the inclusion of some land (Adswood) it is disappointing that the entirety of the land to the west of Lugano Road is not taken into the green belt.
Furthermore, I am disappointed again that Mirrlees Fields, which has served people in Hazel Grove, Woodsmoor and the surrounding areas as a well-used green space for decades, has not been offered the same protection. In a further revision of the GMSF, this should be addressed and the fields taken into the green belt.
Overall, while this version of the GMSF is an improvement on the first draft, and opens the door to a number of infrastructure solutions which would benefit areas in my constituency, in my view there remains too many unanswered questions and unexplored opportunities to justify the green belt loss which has led residents fearing for the future of their communities. I fully support building more homes, making sure that they are the homes we need for the future, and that they are in the right places. I look forward to seeing how the plan to achieve this in Greater Manchester develops.