Region’s housing masterplan dealt huge blow as crisis talks fail

Crisis talks aimed at saving the region’s long-term development plan – at least in its current form – appear to have failed.

The Greater Manchester Spatial Framework (GMSF) hinges on all ten boroughs coming on board with the 17-year blueprint for new homes and businesses.

But plans for building on the green belt have proven highly controversial – nowhere more so than in Stockport where last week councillors voted to postpone a vote on whether to adopt the proposals.

Contentious proposals for Stockport in the GMSF include 1,700 homes in Heald Green, 250 at Tangshutt Fields and a further 750 at Woodford Aerodrome.

The controlling Labour group argued that the blueprint would protect green belt while providing the homes the borough needs. But the three opposition parties all said they will not accept the proposals.

While the plan has either been approved or is expected to be approved elsewhere in the region, Stockport dropping out would be a huge blow and would undermine the whole principle of a region-wide masterplan.

Last week a compromise deal appeared to be emerging, with the controlling Labour group offering to pull proposals for 500 homes in High Lane, as well as scaling back sites at Heald Green and Woodford Aerodrome.

It seemed this may have been enough to win over the Tories, whose votes – together with those of Labour members – would see the GMSF pass in Stockport.

But the Conservatives have now effectively torpedoed the GMSF in Stockport by rejecting the changes offered by Labour.

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Coun Mike Hurlestone the new leader of Stockport Conservative group
(Image: Copyright Unknown)

Tory group leader Mike Hurlestone said while he was ‘delighted’ that High Lane had been removed from the proposals, it was ‘too little, too late’.

He said: “We are sorely disappointed for the residents of Woodford, Heald Green, Woodley, Bredbury and Romiley that Labour have let them down and also not understood that small communities will have to take the brunt of mass development both in our borough and at the borders leaving them potentially lost in sprawl.

“Conservatives have been completely clear that we are not against joint planning but we are against this plan which is too high a price to pay. Unfortunately, though this is just too little, too late.”

He added: “Andy Burnham could not deliver for us and we will therefore have to vote against his plan. We will stand firm against Labour Manchester’s plan to move development onto our green belt and as Conservatives we remain unanimously opposed to the flawed and unfair proposals of GMSF.”

Labour’s David Meller, cabinet member for economy and regeneration, said he was baffled by the Tories’ decision – adding that it would put High Lane ‘back on the table’ for developers.

He said: “From my perspective, I don’t really understand the Conservatives position.

“If they are going to vote against the GMSF despite us listening and taking High Lane out, then High Lane is back on the table for developers. It will have to come back as part of a local plan if we go it alone.”

Under the GMSF, Stockport would build 5,000 fewer homes between now and 2037 than projections say it needs. This is due to other boroughs – mainly Manchester and Salford – shouldering a larger share of the housebuilding burden.

“The irony, now we have listened and taken High Lane out, is that we could be the only party that votes to protect High Lane, effectively,” added Coun Meller.

Councillor David Meller

“There’s obviously a lot of politics in all this. It’s gone beyond us having a spatial plan and gone to raw politics. Whether the Lib Dems will recognise that voting for the GMSF will protect High Lane, I don’t know, but I’m not sensing any change from them.”

Coun Meller said his group was open to further discussions but admitted that there was little else that could be done short of ‘ripping it up and starting again’.

“It’s very difficult now, to say the least,” he said.

The Liberal Democrats – who have been the fiercest opponents of the GMSF in Stockport – met with Andy Burnham and Stockport council leader Elise Wilson on Monday, but have not changed their position.

Stockport Lib Dem leader Coun Mark Hunter said: “It was clear they were not going to go any further. Andy Burnham said ‘we have taken it as far as we possibly can’. I said ‘I can understand what you are saying but that’s what you were saying a couple of weeks ago, so you can understand us being a bit sceptical’.”

Liberal democrat leader Cllr Mark Hunter
Liberal democrat leader Cllr Mark Hunter
(Image: Manchester Evening News)

However, Coun Hunter said he wasn’t ‘entirely persuaded’ that the GMSF was finished in Stockport just yet.

“If it is the final word, then great, I’m delighted they [the Conservatives] have rediscovered a back bone and will vote against it. But it’s taken too many twists and turns at this stage anyone to start celebrating.”

What this means for the GMSF more widely remains to be seen. Salford and Trafford have postponed their votes in light of the uncertainty created by Stockport and others may follow suit.

While a ‘Plan of the Nine’ could still go ahead, it would need to be re-worked in light of Stockport’s departure – further setting back this already long delayed project.

Stockport’s GMSF proposals are due to be brought back before the council for a final vote on December 2.

|Ma Evening Post