Leaders recommend GM Spatial Framework masterplan for approval – despite claim it would ‘wave the white flag’ to developers

Date published: 20 November 2020

Rochdale Council cabinet has recommended the latest version of the region’s long-term development masterplan for approval.

The unanimous decision was made by cabinet members at a meeting on Thursday (19 November).

An extraordinary meeting of the full council is now due to vote on the controversial Greater Manchester Spatial Framework next week.

The much-delayed blueprint sets out where homes and businesses can be built over the coming 17 years – including a number of highly contentious green belt sites.

The council has a huge Labour majority, and the plan is expected to pass – unlike Stockport where crisis talks are ongoing following a decision to adjourn its vote on Tuesday night.

Council leader Allen Brett has long-championed the plan, saying it essential for the borough’s future prosperity - and will prevent developers from ‘picking off’ green belt sites.

However, getting the vote through may not be quite as easy as may have been assumed.

The Conservative group and Liberal Democrats look set to vote against the proposals – but this would not be enough to block the plan in a council where Labour holds 44 of the 60 seats.

Some Labour councillors have recently indicated they may not back the plan at next week’s crunch vote, but whether there will be enough Labour dissenters to swing the balance remains to be seen – although it would be a huge shock if Rochdale were unable to get the vote through.

At last night’s cabinet meeting Councillor Brett made the case for backing the spatial framework.

He said: “Getting rid of the spatial framework will not stop building on the green belt – on the contrary it would be the complete opposite.

“It will make it easier for developers to pick and choose which sites they build on and making it harder for councils and local people to oppose building on the green belt. 

“The spatial framework is our chance to limit impact on the green belt. We’ve built on many brownfield sites over the last few years and it’s always our preference. But there’s just not enough brownfield sites to create all the jobs and homes we will need to transform our economy.”

Conservative councillor Ashely Dearnley – who contributes to cabinet as leader of the largest opposition group – said adopting the plan would be tantamount to ‘waving the white flag’ to developers and leave the planning committee virtually redundant.

He said: “It’s fine to say we need to find places to develop. We are blighting those pieces of land for many years to come by approving the plan with the green belt in.

“I think – like Stockport are looking to get pieces of land removed from the green belt – we should be looking again to find more brownfield sites to develop and not develop the green belt sites.”

Councillor Dearnley cannot vote at cabinet meetings as an opposition member.

Several cabinet members, including Councillors Neil Emmott, Kieran Heakin and Daalat Ali all spoke strongly in favour of the plans – the latter calling it a ‘lifetime opportunity’.

However, there are still rumblings of discontent among the Labour ranks.

Councillor Janet Emsley, who represents her home ward of Littleborough Lakeside, said some of the plan ‘goes against what I feel about the place I live in’.

She said: “I find it difficult to agree with the GMSF, although I know, ultimately, it is about us progressing as a borough.

Councillor Emsley added that she was ‘saddened’ that people’s voices didn’t appear to have been listened to and stressed the need for infrastructure to support development.

At the previous evening’s scrutiny committee two Labour councillors also spoke of their unease over the plans.

Councillor Tom Besford said he had ‘real concerns’ about the two sites in Littleborough – and while he accepted the need for a plan – felt he could not support the GMSF in its current form.

And North Heywood councillor, Ray Dutton said it was a ‘vote of conscience’ and he was split over supporting the ‘Junction 19’ development but being opposed to the plans for Crimble Mill.

But at the cabinet meeting, Councillor John Blundell – cabinet member for thriving economy – said councillors should not lose site of the ‘ambition’ for a more prosperous borough,

He said: “At the end of the day we want our borough to grow. This is what our plan essentially sets out – it is a growth plan – and we should be 100% behind it.”

Despite the uncertainty hanging over plans for Stockport, Rochdale’s vote on the GMSF will take place as scheduled next week.

The virtual extraordinary meeting of the full council will be held from 6pm on Wednesday 25 November.

It will be streamed via the Rochdale Borough Council You Tube channel.

Nick Statham, Local Democracy Reporter

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