Greater Manchester housing figures ‘not mandatory’ and greenbelt building should be ‘exceptional’, says Government Minister

In a reply to the Leader of the Opposition and the Liberal Democrat Group on Oldham Council, Councillor Howard Sykes MBE, a Conservative Minister conceded that Government policy appears to allow for building less housing than is currently planned under Greater Manchester Spatial Framework proposals and the green belt can only be built on ‘in exceptional circumstances’.

Howard Sykes

Councillor Sykes wrote to the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, James Brokenshire MP, in February. Kit Malthouse MP responded on Mr Brokenshire’s behalf earlier this month as Minister for Housing.

Although original government estimates were that there be a need for 213,380 extra homes in Greater Manchester by 2035, later projections released by the Office for National Statistics in 2016 put the figure at only 164,000.  In his letter, Councillor Sykes asked if would in fact be permissible for the ten local authorities in Greater Manchester to use the lower figure to decide on the number of homes to be built under the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework. 

In his response, Mr Malthouse reiterated Conservative Government policy that the higher figure should still be used as ‘the standard method’ for determining housing need ‘until an amended version of the formula can be released’.  However, he concedes that this ‘does not represent a mandatory target’, and that local authorities ‘may decide that exceptional circumstances justify the use of an alternative method of determining housing need’ with this being ‘tested by the Planning Inspectorate’.

Councillor Sykes said: “The difference between the earlier and later figures is a massive 50,000 homes.  It is my view that there would be ‘exceptional circumstances’ in the ten Greater Manchester local authorities and the Greater Manchester Mayor choosing to use that lower figure because this would save much, if not all, of our previous and irreplaceable Green Belt from housing development.”

“In Oldham, the difference is 2,587 less properties to build; a similar figure to the number of new homes earmarked for Green Belt sites in my part of the world at Kingsway South, Beal Valley, Broadbent Moss, Cowlishaw and Hanging Chadder.”

The Minister also made clear that the Government’s own guidance, the National Planning Policy Framework, makes clear that ‘only in exceptional circumstances’ can the Green Belt be built upon, and that local authorities must first make ‘best use of brownfield land, optimise densities and determined if need can be met my neighbouring authorities’.

Commenting Councillor Sykes added: “The Oldham Council Liberal Democrat Group made clear in its latest letter of objection to the recent Greater Manchester Spatial Framework Consultation that our view remains unchanged that our replaceable Green Belt and Other Protected Open land sites must not be built upon.

“Instead we want to see new housing on brownfield sites, new homes in our redundant textile mills, factories, and shops, more homes with higher densities in Oldham town centre, and our many existing empty homes brought back into use. There are no ‘exceptional circumstances’ in this Borough which justify concreting over a single blade of grass!”

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