A ‘political impasse’ could derail Stockport’s new housing plan and leave the borough at the mercy of developers, town hall bosses fear.
Stockport is the only borough in Greater Manchester not involved in the joint ‘Places for Everyone’ strategy, after pulling out of its predecessor – the GMSF – last year.
With the GMSF’s proposed loss of green belt rejected by opposition councillors, the Labour-led authority now has until Autumn 2022 to come up with a draft local plan to address its long-term housing need.
But the process has already run into problems with a row erupting over the number of houses the borough has to build over the next 17 years.
A report that went before last month’s full council meeting says the borough will need to build 18,581 new homes between now and 2038 – albeit this is a ‘working number’ with further analysis needed.
However the Liberal Democrats – the council’s largest group – says that the figure is ‘artificial’, ‘inflated’ and based on outdated population growth estimates.
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And while the Tories have endorsed the council’s ‘refreshed approach’ to developing a local plan, they too have warned that the number should be ‘what’s right for Stockport’ – not the government or council.
Both groups point out that a letter from the housing minister stresses that the national method for calculating housing provides councils with a ‘starting point’, rather than a target.
With the clock ticking on the need for a local plan that meets that both meets housing need and commands support from a majority of councillors, town hall boss Elise Wilson has issued a plea for further help.
In a letter to Secretary of State Robert Jenrick MP she writes: “Despite the guidance provided by MHCLG and outside professional expertise, the Local Housing Need remains a significant obstacle and is now described as ‘artificial’ and ‘inflated’.
“This reluctance from opposition members to accept the guidance is likely to place a significant strain on the council’s ability to deliver a Local Plan by December 2023, a feat which was already a challenge due to the borough’s size and complexity.”
She continues: “As leader of the council, I am immensely proud of the council’s record on regeneration and sustainable development, including the delivery of affordable housing and other critical infrastructure.
“Therefore, in order to avoid any possibility of intervention or the risk to Stockport’s planning process descending into planning by appeal, I would welcome a meeting with you to finally settle any grievances over Stockport’s Local Housing Need and to find a way through this political impasse.”
In July a majority of councillors voted to endorse a ‘refreshed approach’ to developing a local plan – including taking a ‘brownfield first approach’.
They also backed the continuation of work on creating a draft plan for submission in Autumn 2022.
The Liberal Democrat group abstained, with leader Mark Hunter saying it was not necessary to endorse a specific number of homes at that stage.
Any plan will be subject to a public examination and will need to satify the planning inspectorate that it provides enough homes to meet the borough’s housing need.
Stockport council seeks to have an adopted plan in place by the end of 2023.
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