With the country heading into a third national lockdown as COVID infections soar, we are again all rightly focused on how we can work together to bring infections down and prevent our NHS from being overwhelmed. At times like this, it can be hard to look beyond the immediate crisis, but I think it is vital that we carry on thinking seriously about what we want our country and our communities to look like in a post-crisis world.
Here in Stockport, we recently saw the council vote against the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework (GMSF). This was a plan for homes, jobs and the environment across the whole of Greater Manchester, which attempted to balance development across the ten boroughs.
Now that the GMSF is dead for the borough, the Council needs to produce a local plan. This will pose some significant challenges. For example, the GMSF involved cooperation between boroughs, meaning that Manchester and Salford could take on extra housing targets, easing the pressure on Stockport. With this cooperation now rejected, Stockport will need to find space to accommodate more housing than had been expected. We all know how difficult that might be.
However, this can also be an opportunity for a coherent master plan to be developed for and by the borough that champions affordable and social housing. I’m very proud that, under the current Labour administration, Stockport already has a very good record on this through the Viaduct Housing Partnership.
I’d also like to see good design championed, proper urban regeneration (as we’re seeing under the Mayoral Development Corporation) and a renewal of the District Centres, like Reddish and the Heatons. It is essential that regeneration in Stockport reaches out beyond the town centre and its surroundings and into every corner of the borough.
Another key element will, of course, be protecting and improving our river valleys for nature and recreation, and tackling air quality (a process begun by the Greater Manchester Council more than 45 years ago).
Whilst it is vital that we focus, as a community, on dealing with the COVID crisis – following regulations to reduce transmission, looking out for the most vulnerable in our communities and getting vaccinated when we get the chance – we also need to make sure that we do not lose sight of what comes next. With the GMSF off the table, I’d encourage everyone to think how they would like to see our communities reshaped over the coming months and years.