I am a firm believer in sustainable development, and as we approach the start of Mayor Andy Burnham’s “radical rewrite” of the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework (the countywide planning document that will set out how, and where, the 10 boroughs will meet the Government’s very ambitious housing targets) we all need to up our game.
Yes, this Tory Government has set out a very challenging target for Councils to provide sites for new housing growth; so too will a future Labour Government. We need many, many more houses of different types to solve the current housing crisis. The blunt truth is that we’ve not built anything like enough homes over the past three decades and we are now playing catch-up.
But in the draft National Planning Policy Framework, it’s clear that the policy emphasis is on providing as much of that new housing on previously developed (brownfield) land to prevent the unnecessary loss of our urban greenspace and greenbelt land. I support this approach fully, which is why I opposed the sale of key greenfield sites across my constituency whilst we have lots of redundant land that could, and should, be redeveloped first.
And the hard truth is that our planners just haven’t clocked that for ‘brownfield first’ to work, they (and not just developers) have a big role to play. Because for every brownfield site lost to poor quality, low density development, it necessitates a greenfield site somewhere to be sacrificed at some stage in the future.
The direction of the National Planning Policy Framework is clear: on brownfield sites in town and city centres, where public transport and road infrastructure is already good (or can be made good), high quality and much higher density developments should be demanded by our planners. And it makes sense. The more people living in our town and city centres, the more economically viable they become and it also prevents, or at least restricts, lower density urban sprawl into the greenbelt.
So our town planners need to get much smarter – and quickly. They need to have a clearer vision for urban regeneration; with quality design demanded from developers too – because why should Tamesiders have to accept second best all the time? And they should be insisting that every brownfield site brought forward for development meets strict minimum densities, as the draft guidance suggests.
This is the only way we can – with any certainty and confidence – ensure Planning is properly plan-led, and not developer-led, and is a function that’s done with communities, and not to communities without their consent.
And let me be perfectly clear on my position. As MP for Denton and Reddish, I’m just not prepared to see our planners squander our brownfield sites to the wrong kind of development. It happens far too often, I’m afraid and our brownfield sites are a finite resource.
Every time a planner lets a badly designed low density development through on these key strategic plots of land, they also potentially squander a greenfield site somewhere else in the borough. It’s time to rapidly up the game. Brownfield-first matters.