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
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
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
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