Letter: What do our local Councillors think of Greater Manchester Spatial Framework (GMSF)?

Date published: 11 January 2017

Dear Editor,

Let’s hope the renaissance of local people power we have seen reported in the first few weeks of the New Year is the shape of things to come. It's clear that when people feel their democratic representatives no longer represent their views or voice their concerns adequately they will mobilise and organise for themselves and their communities.

Thousand join in Greenbelt development protest (Rochdale Online), 02 January 2017

Campaigners step up opposition to plans to build on green belt land (Rochdale Online, 09 January 2017)

Hundreds turn out for 'Save Bamford' green belt ramble (Rochdale Online), 09 January 2017

The protest gatherings on the surrounding moorlands of our town and around Bury are highly redolent of honourable historical tradition of direct action peaceful protest going back to the Chartists gatherings on the Lancashire and Pennine moors during the 1840's, the 1932 mass trespass onto Kinder Scout, in the Peak District, or the Road and Anti-Poll Tax Protests of the 1990s.

In Bury angry protestors erupted in calls for the resignation of the Council Leader: 'calling on Cllr Shori to resign as leader of the council following concerns over the “shambolic” consultation process.'

'He said: “I want the of leader of Bury Council, Cllr Shori, to resign as you have been elected as a public servant for our great town, for which you have no regard or respect for the people who you are meant to represent.''

“We need a new leader and I urge a referendum to find the right person for the job.”
'Hundreds of residents cheered Mr Booth’s suggestion, before Cllr Shori admitted the whole process could have been improved.'

'He said: “This has been a process that has certainly been in the public eye, although I’m not saying this has been a brilliant consultation.' - I think we can all agree on that Cllr Shori!

'Outraged residents call for council leader to resign at meeting over plans to build houses on green belt land' (Bury Times), 10 January 2017

Whilst in Oldham and Shaw we read of...

'Hundreds of concerned campaigners have criticised plans to build thousands of homes on Oldham's greenbelt, labelling it "an environmental disaster" and "dangerous" for the area.'

Seeing red over greenbelt plan (Oldham Chronicle), 7 December 2016

And of...

'A petition to save green land in Shaw has gained more than 850 signatures and campaigners are encouraging people to continue to have their say on planning proposals.'

'Campaign group Keep Cowlishaw Green are encouraging residents to have their voices heard after the area was named as a potential housing development site in the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework draft plans.'

Hundreds back petition against 'unfair' housing' (Oldham Chronicle), 5 January 2017

Given the fury of thousands of our fellow citizens over the failed sell off of UK forests, the riding roughshod over local people’s democratic opinion in opposition to shale gas exploitation, or 'fracking' , dangerous and frequent choking air pollution breaches and now the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework (GMSF), David Cameron's promise that the Conservatives would be known as 'the greenest government ever' seems a very, very long time ago doesn't it?

The local planning system is deeply flawed and biased. So much so that even local councillors agree.

This week ahead of the government’s white paper on housing, the Local Government Information Unit (LGiU) and the National Trust asked 1,200 English ward councillors for their views on the planning system in their areas.

The key findings show significant dissatisfaction with the way planning decisions are made, and the impacts they have on local communities. 

  • 72 per cent of councillors said that the system is too weighted in favour of developers at the expense of local communities
  • Half of councillors say sites that are not in line with the local plan are being approved for new housing
  • Half of councillors believe planning departments are not adequately resourced
  • 58 per cent of councillors with green belt in their area think that their council will allocate green belt land for housing in the next five years

Jonathan Carr-West of the LGiU commented: ‘The planning system is one of the fundamental pillars of local democracy, allowing communities to help shape the physical structure of the places they live,’ He warned that many councillors, the most important link between communities and the system, ‘feel this democratic tool is being undermined.’ National Trust and LGiU survey shows lack of democracy in local planning system, (National Trust Press Office Blog), 11 January 2017.

The LGiU and National Trust as well as campaigners fear that the housing white paper, expected later this month, could fail to take account of greet belts, areas of outstanding natural beauty and other local concerns.

It is surprising to many that despite such popular opposition to building on greenbelt so many of our local councillors remain dumbstruck and reticent to voice their own opinions on the pro's and cons of this important issue to so many of their constituents.

Can I ask for example how many of Rochdale Council councillors agree with 72 per cent of their councillor’s colleagues nationally who said that the system is too weighted in favour of developers at the expense of local communities?

For those councillors who do agree with that 72% could I urge them to take this highly opportune moment to publicly voice their opinion in solidarity with the thousands of their constituents currently campaigning to protect our townships green belt.

Do our councillors, for example, agree with the 2014 Friends of the Earth briefing 'An environmental and socially just agenda for housing’, (October 2014)?
That suggests of meeting the UK's desperate housing need:

'Providing these people with homes will require using existing homes and properties more efficiently, as well as building millions of new build homes. We believe that the new-build homes need to be predominantly built in our existing towns and cities. According to the former Commission on Architecture and the Built Environment (CABE) the average density in London is around 42 homes per hectare with 168 people, whereas a “sustainable urban density” is 69 homes per hectare and 275 people. They provide guidance on how this density can and is being delivered to very high standard in the UK and overseas in much sought-after developments. This implies many more people can fit into our towns and cities. The winners of the Wolfson Prize (‘Uxcester’ by Urbed) suggested that 3-3.6 million new homes could/should go in existing urban areas.'

'The population is forecast to increase by 10 million over the next 30 years, implying that, if this forecast is accurate, at least some homes will in the future need to be built outside of existing towns and cities. However, we suggest that, at least over the next 10-15 years, the vast majority of new homes should be within existing towns and cities, but to high design standard as described by CABE, not shoddy urban cramming.'

Yes, we desperately need new houses, but we also need to protect our environment for ourselves and for our grandchildren.

No one with an ounce of sense wants to see our country concreted over. Just as no one with a social conscience or an ounce of compassion wants to see the misery of homelessness or overcrowding continue without sensible resolution.

Yes, agreed we are in the midst of a housing crisis, but the natural environment should not be sacrificed in a 'quick fix' smokescreen to mask the absolute failures of succeeding generations of politicians to get to grips with one of the basic requirements of competent government, namely , putting roofs over their citizens heads. There are other sustainable alternatives to ripping up our green lungs for to make a 'fast buck' for multi-millionaire property developers & their shareholders that can be deployed given the political will to do so.

Those houses need to be affordable, environmentally sustainable and built in response to genuine community consultation to meet local need not with the profit motive of Property

Developers as the primary directive.

What do our local councillors think?


Andrew Wastling

The views expressed are those of the author of the letter and not those of Rochdale Online.

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