Stockport will not pull out of the region’s controversial development masterplan ahead of its latest draft being released next month.
Councillors voted against withdrawing from the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework (GMSF) at a heated town hall meeting last night.
The Liberal Democrat group tabled a motion calling for the authority to concentrate on developing its own local plan, claiming the government’s intention to radically overhaul the planning system would soon render the GMSF ‘redundant’ in any case.
Leader Coun Mark Hunter told elected members it was time to put the long-delayed plan ‘out of its misery’.
The proposal was strongly backed by the Heald Green Independent Ratepayers.
But Labour and Conservative groups said it was a reckless move that would result in more houses being built on green belt in Stockport.
The Lib Dem motion was defeated by a Tory amendment which instead called for a ‘full public debate and vote’ next month, once the third version of the GMSF is published.
Coun Hunter had kicked off the debate by calling on councillors to take a ‘pretty fundamental decision’ on Stockport’s future.
He told the meeting the Lib Dems had opposed the GMSF since the ‘size and scale’ of the green belt development involved became apparent.
He added: “Since then, it has continued to be controversial across the Greater Manchester conurbation.
“Unloved by many, the plans have lived through many unsatisfactory stages and now it is time to put the whole thing out of its misery and concentrate our efforts on our own local plan, reflecting the wishes of our residents.”
The Lib Dem chief said his group accepted the need for new homes, but this was not the same thing as ‘granting a licence to concrete over the countryside’.
He also questioned why the wisdom of signing to a 17-year plan when the future was more uncertain than ever given the coronavirus crisis.
Local leaders have already been at loggerheads with the government after being told to plan around outdated – and higher – population forecasts.
And Coun Hunter pointed out that proposals set out in the government’s Planning for the Future white paper only require a five-year housing supply. “Unbelievable, but true,” he said.
But the proposal sparked anger from anger from both Labour and Conservative councillors.
Tory leader Coun Hurleston said it was an ‘attempt to scrap over five years of work without even seeing the end result’.
He added that the government was genuinely consulting on its proposed reforms, but these were ‘far off’ and ministers had been clear it did not mean authorities should drop their current plans.
“In Stockport we need right homes in the right place rather than arguing about the mechanism. It should be about what the best deal looks like and how to get it,” he said.
“If we wait, as the Lib Dems want to, how many years will be left without an up-to-date local plan? We can’t sit around waiting years down the line and in the meantime watch our greenbelt concreted over because we have no five-year housing supply.”
And Coun David Meller, Labour’s economy and regeneration chief, also had harsh words for the Lib Dems.
“The Liberal Democrat motion sums up their complete recklessness,” he said.
“If we do not have a plan, we will see more green belt taken up. It’s as simple as that.”
He said the Seashell Trust’s successful appeal for permission to build 325 homes in Heald Green highlighted the importance of having a proven housing land supply.
Coun Meller added: “I believe that GMSF, all being well, will ensure we have protected green belt in terms of managing it sustainably.
“If we do not have a plan then we are heading towards -in my view – almost catastrophe in terms of the amount of green belt that could be used as a result of not having a plan.”
The Conservative amendment was carried at the expense of the original Liberal Democrats motion, with the backing of Labour councillors.
Previous drafts of the GMSF were consulted on in 2016 and 2019. The third – and final – version will be published in October.
Stockport council has long maintained it will not approve the report without majority support from councillors.
The GMSF needs the approval of all 10 local authorities before it can proceed to a formal consultation with a view to submitting it to the Secretary of State for examination in June next year.
Greater Manchester Combined Authority anticipates that the GMSF will be ready for adoption at some point in 2022.