Policy priority 1: A quick win
Put the GMCA spatial plan into action and create certainty over development
- The spatial plan allows the metro mayor to be bold and strategic about the future growth of the city-region
- This will help to ensure the right types of housing and offices get built in the areas of the city-region that need them most.
- It also provides a chance to build consensus and trust with local authority leaders.
By the time the mayor takes office, the consultation period for the GMCA spatial framework will be complete and the final document finished, with the aim of ensuring that investment and growth in houses and jobs happens, and that it makes Greater Manchester a better place to live and work. However there will be political battles over many of the specific site recommendations in each local authority, especially regarding green belt release. By committing to its recommendations, the mayor will show s/he is ready to take the bold, strategic and long term decisions that will help support future growth in the whole city-region, and in turn demonstrate the merits of taking decisions at this level.
Build housing where it is needed most
While housing is more affordable in Greater Manchester than the national average (average house prices are at 6.7 times local incomes compared with 9.8 nationally), there are nonetheless particular and acute housing issues within the city-region. There will also be pressures from different interest groups to champion specific causes, as there is an inevitable competition for space and resources in the city for multiple uses. However, the mayor will need to select the issues that are most important and can be improved by better strategic planning and intervention.
The city-region’s spatial framework provides an agreed plan and evidence base to aid these strategic decisions. It also provides a level of certainty for developers and the framework to respond to specific issues, for example homelessness in the city centre.
More market housing is also needed across the city-region, especially in the high demand areas of South Manchester. Home ownership levels have fallen in recent years, in large part due to a lack of homes being built in areas that are most in demand. To continue to attract the highly skilled labour force that will sustain Manchester’s growing economy, this is a priority that needs to be addressed. The spatial framework indicates the potential to meet some of this need by strategically releasing green belt sites in high demand areas, which will benefit the housing market across the city-region.
Develop office space where it will be most viable
The spatial framework also plans for other land uses. For example, the city centre is home to a disproportionately high share of jobs in the most innovative, productive, knowledge-intensive industries. These industries favour the city centre because of the proximity to workers, infrastructure and other business it offers, and they are the types of firms which are expected to drive growth in the city-region. The spatial plan therefore rightly prioritises commercial development in this area of the city. However Grade A office space is under acute pressure in the city centre, and the under supply is further squeezed by the nationwide policy of permitted development rights of office to residential conversions. The metro mayor can use their considerable mandate to call for an extension to the city centre exemption zones into the neighbouring commercial areas of Salford, the Northern Quarter and central retail district, while backing more suitable alternative sites for housing, as set out in the spatial framework.
It will be essential for the mayor to be working with local developers and housing associations as early as possible to get the homes and offices the city needs. Committing to the established framework early on will enable the metro mayor to do this effectively, offering developers certainty. It will also show that the mayor supports council leaders’ plans, which will be essential to getting budgets and decisions agreed, and in implementing the mayor’s vision for the city.