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06 Apr
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Guest Blog: Andy Burnham Manifesto Briefing by Chris Peacock and Jonathan Coverdale, Newington Communications

Chris Peacock and Jonathan Coverdale of Newington Communications discuss, assess and examine Andy Burnham's Manifesto in a helpful briefing which hopefully clears some of the fog, particularly with regards to the potential influence on planning and development industries.

Planning and Development Summary

Yesterday (15th March), Andy Burnham launched his manifesto for the upcoming Greater Manchester mayoral election in May. With the majority of the development community in the south of France at MIPIM, as well as his electoral rival Sean Anstee, the Labour candidate revealed his commitment to a radical shake-up of the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework. His previous rhetoric in the media, plus the fact that parts of the policy had already been leaked online the previous day, provided a warning to the sector of what to expect. Even so, Burnham’s tough stance on Greenbelt loss is a clear play towards local communities and is likely to force a rethink on the GMSF. Consultants at Newington have identified the key themes for the development sector and analysed the potential implications of Burnham’s policy platform.

Key Proposals

On the GMSF, if elected Burnham will: “order a radical re-write of the GMSF…this means a substantial reduction in loss of quality open green space and he will work towards the aim of no net loss in Green Belt”. In his speech this morning, Burnham said the plan should be “rebalanced to provide affordable homes in town centres”.

  • Alternative strategy – the “priority objective of revitalising Greater Manchester’s proud towns” through higher density development in town centres. Burnham calls for higher densities on brownfield sites as a trade-off for protecting green space. He said town centres are unlikely to become retail hotspots in future and should be remodelled as “residential centres”.
  • A GM-wide ‘Rent-to-Own’ scheme focused on helping under-30s on to the housing ladder.
  • A voluntary regulatory scheme for private landlords to set quality standards. Burnham’s message to private landlords: “respect our communities or get out of Greater Manchester”.
  • The Greater Manchester Housing Fund is to be refocused on delivering more affordable housing. The fund was set up to kick-start housing projects that would otherwise be difficult to fund because of caution in the residential finance market.
  • Homelessness Action Network to be led by Ivan Lewis MP and Cllr Beth Knowles. Aims to eradicate rough sleeping in Greater Manchester by 2020.
  • Recognition of chronic infrastructure problems. “Levels of traffic congestion are at saturation point…build more homes closer to public transport hubs”.

Analysis

If developers hoped for a moderation of Andy Burnham’s position on the GMSF in "Our Manifesto" launched yesterday, they will be somewhat disappointed with the planning and development approach spelled out by the leading mayoral candidate just 50 days before Election Day. Burnham launched his manifesto on Thursday morning from The Sharp Project, a digital production complex located in the north-east of the city centre. The launch had originally been planned for a week later, but with the mega-property networking event MIPIM taking place this week in Cannes, there is speculation that Burnham’s team rescheduled the event to coincide with Manchester’s regeneration showcases in the south of France. At the time of the launch in Manchester, Burnham’s election rival Sean Anstee (Conservative) was at MIPIM engaging with the development community. Furthermore, Newington understands that Burnham wanted to ensure that his manifesto was published first, in an effort to demonstrate that his campaign is progressing well, and to frame Sean Anstee’s response as reactive in the coming weeks.

Public outcry ensued across GM following the publication of the GMSF draft plan in October 2016, making Burnham’s call for a “radical rewrite” very welcome amongst Greenbelt campaigners. However, could his stance serve to stifle the ambition of developers, and create confusion about the level of opportunity that will be available across the conurbation under Burnham’s leadership?

At a Place North West Greater Manchester Mayoral Debate in mid-February, Mr Burnham said “if devolution starts with a forest fire of public opposition, it won’t last very wrong…and will become another form of detested politics”. As a senior advocate of North West devolution and a politician who is positioning himself to win the mayoral election, Burnham clearly thinks that a bullish and overly bold GMSF could put Greater Manchester devolution at risk at its first hurdle. In short, Burnham wants to get the public on side to garner support for the Greater Manchester project, a process which the electorate in Greater Manchester never actually voted for. A commitment to limited development on ‘precious’ green spaces will inevitably conjure popular support in the immediate term. 

Aside from the broader political calculation, the detail within the manifesto raises some interesting questions. Given that Greenbelt allocations account for 28% of the draft plan and Burnham has suggested that, “he will work towards the aim of no net loss in Greenbelt”, his vision is radically different to the current GMSF. By deliberately framing “no net loss in Greenbelt” as an aspiration rather than a staunch policy commitment, Burnham is very aware that this isn’t a feasible proposition and the conurbation would struggle to deliver 227,200 new homes by 2035 without some Greenbelt release.

Further to this, Burnham’s competing objectives of protecting Greenbelt land, and building tens of thousands of new affordable homes, are difficult to reconcile. Developers generally view green sites as prime targets for affordable housing provision given the added cost of developing brownfield sites and the consequential effects on viability. Meanwhile, s106 contributions from green sites are likely to be more sizable and provide capital for housing associations and infrastructure investment – something which Greater Manchester desperately needs. Whilst reductions in Greenbelt allocations will naturally please local residents on the doorstep of large allocated sites, the Labour candidate will be questioned on the impact of Greenbelt reductions upon the city-region - especially with regards to affordable housing and infrastructure investment. If, as expected, he is elected in May, it will be interesting to see how planners behind the spatial framework will operate under a Burnham mayoralty. The Mayor and planners will need to work collaboratively to develop a plan that will warrant approval from the Combined Authority in the coming years. In addition, when the prospect of adoption becomes ever more immediate as the plan progresses, Burnham will need to provide leadership alongside the 10 council leaders on the Combined Authority. Given that the eventual plan will have varying consequences for each of the ten authorities, this won’t be an easy task for the elected Mayor and will require astute political negotiation behind the scenes to get all of the council leaders on side.

Burnham’s alternative strategy focuses on the “priority objective of revitalising Greater Manchester’s proud towns…with higher density residential development” in town centres. Whilst a general scepticism towards Greenbelt development across GM has become clear in recent months, are high density high rise apartment buildings what the people of GM want in their town centres? This question is especially potent considering brownfield redevelopment is often associated with rekindling civic pride and local identity. Furthermore, a concentration of housebuilding in urban areas won’t necessarily alleviate the conurbation’s chronic infrastructure problems. Such an approach would require a comprehensive re-evaluation of strategy from TfGM. Ultimately, Burnham wants to see existing communities “revitalised” and built upwards rather than creating new satellite settlements on Greenbelt land around GM’s existing towns. Given that Burnham hasn’t objected to the calculated housing need of 227,200 new homes by 2035, and suggests that higher density is the answer, a radical reappraisal of brownfield sites across GM will need to take place. While Burnham should be credited for offering an alternative vision for GM, and not simply opposing the draft plan, one has to question whether his plan could provide sufficient quantities of affordable housing across GM over the next 20 years.

The tone in the manifesto suggests that Burnham has clearly picked sides in the GMSF debate, and wishes to see a radically different plan emerge in the coming months. Whilst avoiding overt confrontation with the development community, the Labour candidate has given developers plenty to think about and many are likely to view his approach as unrealistic. Some may even view his proposals as unreasonable given his adversarial approach to Greenbelt development. However, taking into account his genuine desire to make devolution a roaring success and to deliver new homes, it is likely that Burnham will adopt an attitude of openness, partnership and collaboration with the private sector if elected to office in May.

Is the GMSF now on hold? It is difficult to see how the GMSF can adhere to its original timetable of adoption in 2018, especially if Burnham’s town centre strategy gains salience amongst senior planners behind the draft plan, and if Greenbelt allocations are radically reformulated. By displaying his sceptical position on the GMSF in his official manifesto, Burnham has reshaped the debate on planning and development across the conurbation and sought to kick-start fundamental change to the strategic plan before its adoption in the coming years. In the foreword of his manifesto, Burnham says: “It is time to build a new future for Greater Manchester”. If elected as Mayor of Greater Manchester in May this year, it will be his responsibility to ensure that his aspiration becomes a reality. 

Newington Communications delivers issue-led, outcomes-focused communications.  From their offices across the UK and working with an international network of partners, for over ten years Newington Communications has worked in partnership with their clients, taken a holistic approach to the development and delivery of communications support - from start to finish, they work with their clients to ensure there is value in everything Newington Communications do.

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