The government’s intention to radically overhaul planning laws has sparked calls for Stockport to pull out of the region’s long term masterplan.
Housing secretary Robert Jenrick wants to speed up the system by creating ‘growth’ and ‘renewal’ areas where developers will automatically be granted planning permission if certain criteria is met.
Green belt and areas of outstanding natural beauty would come under a third ‘protected’ category, however.
The city region’s controversial – and much-delayed 20-year development plan – the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework (GMSF) – seeks to do something similar, by assigning areas for housing and employment, rather than allowing developers to exploit a lack of housing land supply to build where they like.
However, plans to sacrifice some green belt land continue to meet widespread opposition and a third public consultation is due to go ahead later this year.
But Stockport’s Liberal Democrat group claim the government’s white paper renders the GMSF ‘redundant’ – as councils would have to draw up a new local plan anyway – and have urged the borough to pull out of the masterplan.
Stockport council’s ruling Labour group says that pulling out of the GMSF now would be ‘irresponsible’ and ‘a recipe for total chaos’.
However, the borough’s Conservatives say they would ‘consider’ supporting calls to withdraw from the plan, but are as yet undecided.
This could leave the controlling Labour group unable to get the GMSF voted through as the Lib Dems and Tories account for more than half of Stockport’s 63 councillors.
It is likely the three Heald Green Independent Ratepayers would also block the plan unless it is radically different to the last version in terms of green belt loss.
Lib Dem group leader Mark Hunter attacked the government’s proposals – which he says would ‘drive a coach and horses’ through the current planning system – but believes the GMSF has now reached the end of the road.
He added: “The plans, as they stand, are ill thought out but the government have the votes to push them through parliament.
“Here in our area they render the controversial GMSF proposals redundant. GMSF has limped along towards an unsatisfactory conclusion for months and it’s now time to put it out of its misery and focus on our own local plan.
“We call on the Association of Greater Manchester Authorities to withdraw GMSF, or for Stockport to pull out of it. We will be tabling a motion to this effect at the next full meeting of the council.”
But the council’s deputy leader Coun Tom McGee hit back at the Lib Dems ‘knee jerk reaction’, adding that the authority was still seeking clarity on ‘what are some very radical proposals’
The Labour councillor warned that, while the government may have published a white paper, the proposals might not pass through parliament – or could do so in a different form.
“One of the big disappointments is the failure of local Lib Dems to realise that abandoning the GMSF will mean that Stockport will have to rely on the current Stockport local plan’s Housing need allocation,” said Coun McGee.
“This would mean almost 4000 – 3,948 to be exact – more housing units than the housing need allocation that we have negotiated with other GM authorities who are keen to increase their allocation and take up some of Stockport’s allocation.
“We have almost fully utilised all of the available brownfield sites and as such the only places left to build these extra 4,000 homes would be on our green belt or on green spaces i.e. our much loved open spaces.”
He added: “Pulling out now – whilst we don’t have clarity – is not only a recipe for total chaos but is totally irresponsible particularly as we don’t know how our local plan might be affected by these or any amended proposals.
“I would urge the Lib Dems to withdraw this motion and work for the best interests of those they claim to represent – the residents of Stockport.”
Conservative group leader Coun Mike Hurlestone said he felt the Lib Dems were ‘scoring points’ but didn’t rule out backing their call to take Stockport out of the GMSF.
“Asking me on the spot to pull out of the GMSF, I think it’s something we would consider, but we would need to talk it through ourselves,” he said.
“We are waiting for Andy Burnham to tell us what’s in the latest version, but I think it’s fair to say that, as it was, we were not particularly happy with what we had seen so far – albeit it’s moving in the right direction.
“The problem is you then hand the power to the property developers because we haven’t got a five year supply of housing and if you haven’t got that, they will win on appeal.
“That means, effectively, you have not got control where people are building, we need to think quite a lot about that.”
Speaking at a press conference last month, Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham said he was ‘reasonably confident’ the GMSF would get through all 10 city region councils.
And in an apparent swipe at the Lib Dems he added ‘if you rip it up, most sensible people realise you’re leaving the green belt exposed’.
The latest draft of the GMSF is currently being scrutinised by local authorities ahead of it going out for an eight-week public consultation in November.