The Greater Manchester Spatial Framework (GMSF) is a legal requirement by central government on local authorities to plan and deliver housebuilding targets against centrally determined government figures.

For 40+ years, housing need has been calculated independently through population projections produced by the Office of National Statistics. The government has ignored the latest of these projections from 2016 in favour of their own political targets. The latest independent analysis found these targets to be unrealistic and far exceeding expected housing demand in Greater Manchester.

See my question at Prime Minister’s Questions (6th Feb 2019)

Read my letter to the Minister challenging these politically motivated targets

In order to fulfill the government’s demand, a draft GMSF was produced in 2016/17. A number of sites on green belt land in Bury were originally earmarked for development in the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework (GMSF). Greater Manchester’s Labour Mayor, Andy Burnham, promised a radical rewrite of the GMSF after intense opposition from many of us to these plans.

I strongly supported the need for a rewrite and have been working closely with Bury Council and Andy Burnham since becoming your MP to protect as much green belt land as possible in Bury. I’ve also challenged ministers in Parliament on their political housebuilding targets which bear no relation to real housing need as determined by independent analysis.

Watch my speech in Parliament

There have been numerous delays to the publication of the second draft of the GMSF whilst I and other local MPs, council leaders and the Mayor have been pressuring the Government to accept independent household projections over their own political targets in order to save as much of our green belt as possible.

The Government is refusing to budge and is forcing councils like ours to give up green belt land with no consideration of community impact or commitment to fund new infrastructure. The government’s highly political housebuilding targets bear no relation to the level of housing need, but are in all but name binding on local authorities.

In March 2019 I met with the Housing Minister along with a delegation from Bury to plead Bury’s case for dispensation to use the latest lower housing need figures in order to protect our green belt.

James meeting the Housing Minister with other Bury leaders
James meeting the Housing Minister with other Bury leaders

Unfortunately, the very same day a senior official from the Ministry of Housing sent a letter to GM leaders pulling a multi-million pound package of investment from Bury and Greater Manchester because we’re not building as many houses as the government would like. This confirms that the government has indeed set a housing target for Bury and GM in all but name.

    On 16th March 2019 I was proud to join a protest walk with hundreds of local residents as part of the effort to protect our green belt.

    James on the Bury Folk march
    James on the Bury Folk march

    We need housing, but we must protect Bury’s green belt land. It’s why I have consistently called for a brownfield first approach. And why, with Bury having the lowest proportion of brownfield land in GM, I’ve demanded the government reflect this in our targets. But developers and their supporters in Government aren’t listening.

    Bury Council and Mayor Andy Burnham agreed with me and we renewed efforts to identify brownfield sites to replace green belt first. This focus on brownfield sites has lead to a significant reduction in the green belt land we’re forced to give up in Bury – down from a fifth to 12% across the borough, with just a 1% net loss in Bury North due to the addition of new land to the green belt. The Elton Reservoir site has been reduced by half, Walshaw by one third and sites in Holcombe Brook and at Gin Hall have been removed from the plan entirely.

    The Mayor and Bury Council have also committed funding for road and junction upgrades, new roads and cycle routes, improved public transport and new amenities such as extra schools in order to meet additional demand from new housing.

    The GMSF consultation closed on 18th March 2019. While we await the response of the Mayor and Greater Manchester leaders, I will continue lobbying ministers to change national policy in order to give us the flexibility we demand to build the houses we need whilst protecting our green belt.

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