The wait is finally over with today’s publication of the revised Greater Manchester Spatial Framework (GMSF), which has seen countless delays since the first draft was published in 2016. The new draft will deliver 201,000 new homes across Greater Manchester (GM), with a greater focus on high density town centre development than Green Belt strategic site allocations.

The rationale behind a town centre strategy is that it is not only easier to address issues of infrastructure and congestion, but you will also see a significant economic boost locally – delivering more employment opportunities and providing a larger customer base for local businesses. As Manchester City Council has found, the uplift in large volumes of residential flats will not only deliver substantial council tax receipts, but also allow local authorities to deliver their services in a more cost-effective manner.

But how did we get here?

During the 2017 GM Mayoral Election Andy Burnham promised a ‘radical rewrite’ of the GMSF to address voters’ concerns about Green Belt releases. He commissioned Salford Mayor Paul Dennett to undertake a review to provide a greater focus on brownfield development and safeguard the Green Belt. Inevitably, this opened up a new round of consultation with local authority leaders and this process was delayed by the 2018 local elections, which saw Cllrs Western and Fielding take over as leaders at Trafford & Oldham councils respectively – both of whom would have wanted to have their say on a revised draft.

The outcome after this deal-making is that the new draft GMSF cuts the volume of Green Belt releases in half (compared to the 2016 draft). However, a number of new sites have been added to the Green Belt to offset reductions elsewhere. Whilst a number of controversial housing allocations have been reduced in scale to reduce footprint and help the Green Belt figures, they still remain in the revised GMSF.

The new draft also reduces the total housing figure, down from 227,000 to 201,000, with 25% affordable housing being delivered as part of this headline figure. How this reduction can be reconciled with ever growing housing demand (the revised draft references demand alone for local authority housing in excess of 85,000 units) is difficult to see.

A further point to mention on the housing figures is that a number of local authorities such as Bolton, Bury, Oldham; and Trafford have rear-loaded their housing targets across the plan period, with much higher annualised housing targets for the 2024-37 period compared to 2018-23. In part this is due to the delays in bringing forward strategic sites, but it can’t be denied that politically it’s an easier sell for wary backbench councillors to vote through a revised GMSF draft, which defers the perceived housing pain until a later date.

With all that being said, the revised GMSF should be welcomed as it is a step in the right direction which will help facilitate delivery of much needed new housing for GM and accompanying infrastructure.