UK: Greater Manchester Spatial Framework – It Took A While – But We Think It Was Worth The Wait

Last Updated: 2 November 2016
Article by Simon Bedford

The newly published Greater Manchester Spatial Framework is already making headlines, principally because it suggests making the first substantial changes to the green belt that we have seen in a generation.

However whilst we are sure there will be a lively debate about green belts and new housing allocations, from our perspective there are other matters bound within the plan that are perhaps even more worthy of note.

Firstly, we should consider the political context within which this plan has been produced. The very fragmented policy making that has been a feature of planning across Greater Manchester for the last 25 years has been consigned to the bin – that is a huge step forward. No more arguing across artificial boundaries, rather a mature response to the challenges of planning for the future across an economic geography populated by 2.7m people – which over the lifetime of the plan will grow to 3m.

Greater Manchester has to plan at scale – to do otherwise would be ignorant of the competition – there is only one plan for Copenhagen, Amsterdam, Barcelona and Dublin. Thankfully we now have one plan for Manchester. We should celebrate firstly therefore the political consensus that has enabled the plan to come forward.

Secondly, the plan embeds in policy for the first time the strategic employment and leisure locations. The City Centre is joined by The Quays, Airport Gateway, Western Gateway (which incorporates the Trafford Centre and the Eastern Gateway – a real opportunity to 'rebalance' investment east from the Etihad Campus to the M60. These new constructs – all invented over the last 20 years have never been recognised as growth poles for Greater Manchester – they are now. This should enable investment in infrastructure and supporting development to be properly planned and brought forward. Most of these growth poles cross old district boundaries and would probably not have been brought forward without this new plan.  

Thirdly, the plan recognises the importance of the conurbations existing physical fabric. Not just the natural environment most obviously characterised by the river valleys of Greater Manchester, but also the many varied neighbourhoods that make up the Greater Manchester community. Perhaps, most important and also the most vulnerable are Greater Manchester's eight principal town centres.

These town centres, the civic centres of Greater Manchester are under threat from out of town retail development and suburban housing sprawl. They represent a tremendous opportunity for more sustainable growth – they all have rail stations and excellent multi modal transport connectivity – they also have abundant land and property that is currently under used. The plan rightly makes them a policy priority, if anything this policy imperative could be strengthened with a more proactive approach being advocated to the use of the 97 rail stations currently in use across Greater Manchester.

These are three big things – a word on two others to conclude. The City Centre has advanced immeasurably over the last 20 years – the next 20 years will be even more exciting as the City Centre reaches and breaches its natural boundaries embracing the river on both sides, taking in the Universities, the hospitals and sports stadia. The plan embraces this ambition, again stretching across district boundaries in Salford, Trafford and Bury to do so.

And then a final word on housing – it is perhaps the only part of the plan that has still to be proven. The attempt to plan for new homes in a series of new garden villages is laudable, brave and exciting. However new villages have been notoriously difficult to get right – they can be soulless places, they will therefore need to be planned and executed brilliantly to ensure that they add to the urban quality that many of Greater Manchester's existing 'urban villages' exhibit. We would all appreciate another Chorlton, a Standish or even a Shaw – let's hope the housebuilders who will be tasked with delivery are up to the challenge.

As for the rest of the plan – we think it sets Greater Manchester up very well as it continues to mature as a great European city.' 

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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