When Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) published its Places for Everyone, 9-District Spatial Plan, it was keen to point out that the impact on the Green Belt had been reduced by the designation of some existing green spaces as Green Belt. While we welcomed the increased protection for those spaces, we noted that because the GMCA emphasised the net Green Belt loss, this tended to disguise the extent of loss.
“…some changes to the Green Belt boundaries are necessary, but these have been minimised as far as possible, having regard in particular to the need to promote sustainable patterns of development. This will result in a net reduction in the Plan area’s designated Green Belt of 1,754 hectares …”
Places for Everyone, p. 165
However, the actual loss, adding together the quoted net loss and the additions (which had been subtracted from the area slated for development), was to be 2,429 hectares. That does not include an additional 1,090 ha. of non-Green Belt green space loss.
Yesterday, however, at the ongoing Planning Inspectorate hearings about the plan, the GMCA sprung another surprise: what had been a total of 675.4 Green Belt additions will now only be 153.9 hectares of proposed new Green Belt.
Mr C Katkowski, the King’s Counsel appointed by GMCA to front the authority at the hearings, referred to the 2014 legal ruling of Gallagher v Solihull (at which he had unsuccessfully represented that authority which proposed to extend the Green Belt). This ruling mandates what is described as “a very stringent test” for establishing new Green Belt. That ruling cited a definition of the test (from the NPPF) but it is decidedly vague, “circumstances are not exceptional unless they do necessitate a revision of the boundary”. One might argue that taking 2,429 ha out of the Green Belt would indeed necessitate the remaining boundary. Presumably the GMCA believes it can make such a case for the remaining hectares 153.9 ha but not for the rest. We also wonder why this old ruling has suddenly been resurrected by the same lawyer who was knocked back by it all those years ago.
Be that as it may, another veil has been cast aside. The net loss has become closer to the gross loss, weakening the green claims of GMCA yet again. That follows the weakening of policies on net zero emissions from buildings and the priority of building on brownfields.
Moreover, the change seriously undermines the validity of the already flawed public consultation, since that was conducted on the basis of the massaged “net loss” figure and the improved protection for those 675.4 hectares of green space. This must challenge the soundness of the plan.
Places for Everyone is an ecologically destructive plan with inflated projections for all types of building, far in excess of demonstrated need. That reality cannot be disguised with a sprinkling of sustainability policies.
We are grateful to Jackie Copley, Planning Director of CPRE, for alerting us to this development. The post was amended ,11 March, to note the date of the Gallagher-Solihull ruling.