Greater Manchester CA mayor Andy Burnham has accused the housing minister Kit Malthouse of being ‘at best partial and at worst misleading’ over comments made regarding Greater Manchester’s plans for new homes.
The issue of whether it is really necessary to build on greenbelt land in Greater Manchester is a contentious one right now. After being beset by delays, the latest consultation on the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework opened last month and runs until 18 March.
Greater Manchester has calculated how many new homes it will require by 2037 based on 2014 household projections, in accordance with the government’s proposed methodology for calculating local housing need.
This required Greater Manchester to plan for 73,500 more dwellings than had it used more recent 2016 projections. In order to meet these targets the combined authority has earmarked nearly 64,000 dwellings on a series of greenfield sites, predominantly within the green belt.
The mayor claims that the government’s insistence on using these “outdated housing targets” had left him with “no choice” but to plan to build on green belt land. But housing minister Kit Malthouse denied that the government’s targets were mandatory.
Mr Malthouse stated that any inspector will accept a “properly evidenced and assessed variation” from that target.
“If, for example, you have constraints like areas of outstanding natural beauty or green belt, or whatever it might be, and you can justify a lower number, then an inspector should accept that.”
Mr Burnham claims that Mr Malthouse’s comments, which were made during last week’s parliamentary debate on the framework came as a “surprise” to him.
“They do not reflect current government policy,” he said. “They give a very different impression to the one offered in private by civil servants.
“Under pressure from Conservative backbenchers, it would appear that the Government is trying to soften its line on housing numbers and greenbelt and deflect blame towards councils…It is unfair and dishonest.”
Mr Burnham claims that Greater Manchester does not believe it has discretion over housing numbers, because the government’s planning guidance says local authorities are “expected” to use the government methodology to calculate housing need and will be required to “demonstrate exceptional circumstances” to deviate from it.
The government’s target, based on its standard methodology, is to build a million homes by the end of 2020. But a report released this month by the National Audit Office, ‘Planning for New Homes’, admitted this target will be “challenging to meet”, and found the standard methodology approach has “weaknesses” and “as a result will be revised”.
Although local authorities in the South and East of England are being pushed to build significantly more new homes, the report explains that the latest standard method of assessing housing need specifies that the minimum numbers of new homes needed in some areas is now less than the local authorities had previously assessed - in the North West, by 24%.
Responding to Mr Burnham’s comments, Mr Malthouse said: “We need more homes in the right places and we are reforming the planning system to ensure this occurs.
“But we have been clear that the use of green belt land should be a last resort, with the standard method not providing a mandatory target.
“That’s why we strengthened green belt protection with councils now having to show they have exhausted all other reasonable options to meet development needs before even considering changes to the green belt and then evidence exceptional circumstances to justify development.”