Greater Manchester Spatial Framework: another strategy flawed by “growth”

GM Spatial Framework logoGMCA Spatial Framework logoWe have commented, just in time for the consultation deadline, on Greater Manchester Combined Authority’s Draft Spatial Framework.  The Spatial Framework is a strategy document that concerns land-use, and in this case it is concerned largely with housing and industrial uses.  You might recall us making a response on this a little more than a year ago.  Well, production of this strategy is a lengthy process, which would be a good thing if we could be confident that there was much listening going on (and we are disappointed by the ruling out, in advance, of approaches that do not assume high “growth” rates), and that all the key issues were being considered.  But again, this is a document that makes heroic assumptions (called without irony “objectively assessed need”) about both the feasibility of economic “growth” and its likelihood of being sustained at rates as high as 3.3 per cent over the next 20 years.  It also fails to consider some of the issues that might be expected in a spatial framework, notably the need for greater food security in the region in the face of likely climactic and geo-political shocks.

In what follows we have reproduced our submission, tidied up slightly from what we put on the web-forms, with a few added hyperlinks, to aid readability.   You can also download the pdf generated by the GMCA website from our submission.

Overall comment

The proposed Greater Manchester Spatial Framework represents the complete antithesis of what we have called a “Viable Economy” (see ). The strategic objective of the spatial framework is to ‘create conditions for growth’, which is code for so-called economic “growth”, i.e. growth in GM’s GVA.  Although there is recognition of the challenge of creating a low carbon economy and of climate change, there is no recognition of the impossibility of realising these goals while the economy is growing, let alone under the fantasy accelerated growth scenario of the document.   Moreover there is no recognition of the social and economic diseconomies of “growth”, and the failure of the trickle down model to make any dent in the economic and social disadvantage experienced by a large proportion of GM’s population.

The strategic options presented have been developed around an ‘Accelerated Growth Scenario’ which reflects government policies, including the devolution deals under the Northern Powerhouse. Essentially this refers to economic “growth”, but as a result this also means demographic growth and physical growth of the city.  We regard all three of these as undesirable, likely to make the city less liveable, and increase its vulnerability to climactic and geopolitico-economic shocks.

Strategies which suggest constraining “growth” are rejected outright as it is considered that they would effectively mean ‘going backwards’. The document repeatedly states that the city must continuously improve its attractiveness to businesses, investors and skilled workers (for example in 3.6) and also must compete with other locations in the UK to attract investment and skilled workers. We contest this dismal zero-sum emphasis on competition and call for a co-operative inter-regionalism and internationalism, recognising that a) for there to be winners there have to be losers, and that b) GM is by no means a winner, and it is likely that this situation will persist so long as it holds to this narrow competitive approach.

The GMSF makes huge implicit assumptions regarding the national and global economy over the next 20 years, and about decoupling GHG emissions from economic growth (3.34).   Both these can be challenged.  Forecasting is very uncertain, especially in an increasingly chaotic international and globalised context.  There is no evidence that carbon emissions can be decoupled from economic “growth”, as we have demonstrated repeatedly in our publications in Manchester and internationally. See

Have we identified the scope of the GMSF appropriately?


If not, what do you think should be included and/or excluded?

Alternative model of a viable economy, relatively de-linked and protected from the global economy and its turbulent uncertainties.

Delete reference to economic “growth” and replace with a focus on decent jobs and sustainable incomes, economic, social and ecological resilience, and a relatively re-localised economy that keeps wealth circulating locally rather than leeching out.

Carbon sequestration and water management through appropriate land management.

Food production within the conurbation and its hinterland.

Replace “welfare reform” with a commitment to social justice and equity.

Remove reference to independence and replace with one that values interdependence and social risk sharing.

Do you agree with the Greater Manchester Vision and Ambition?


If you do not agree could you tell us why?

For the reasons already stated.

Specifically with regard to housing, we note the lack of commitment to, indeed mention of, social housing . It is as if GMCA thought that GM has the wrong kind of people so plans to make it difficult for them to live here while attracting those who can participate in the private housing market.

We also note that despite our previous submission, there is no mention of food production and processing in the whole document.   Here is what we said before:

Secondly, in the face of climate change, expected global food price rises and the need for sustainable, affordable food for the region’s population, we propose that the Spatial Framework should include land for food production . This would include land (and floorspace) for commercial and social enterprises which would provide jobs, as well as land within housing areas for communities and families to grow their own food.

Why has this critical issue for resilience been ignored?

Have we identified the key economic issues the GMSF should address?

  • No

Remove the negligent and reckless proposal to double the number of passengers going through Manchester Airport.  Aviation is particularly damaging to thhe atmosphere, a major contributor to global warming.  Continuation on this path will cancel out any reductions in emissions made elsewhere (and we note that aviation emissions are not counted in official figures and targets – that makes no difference to our point).  Furthermore, the use of aviation is disproportionately distributed across the population.  A minority of such travel is for business and richer people make more flights than pooorer people: an equitable society and viable economy would radically reduce aviation.   Manchester needs to kick its aviation dependency.

Evidence on High Speed Rail does not support the proposition that it necessarily contributes to the prosperity of second cities.

However we do support assertive targets to ensure a modal shift in transport towards human powered and public transport.  Improved links within the region are also likely to be, on balance, beneficial, if not so magically beneficial as assumed here.
There should be a moratorium on airport expansion, new road building and car parking provision in city centres.

We dispute your assumptions about key economic sectors and refer you to the work of hte Manchester Business School on the Foundational Economy:

Are there any other key strategic issues we should consider?


If yes what issues should be considered?

Land use as carbon sink, climate adaptation and for water and flood management.

Land use in relation to food security.

Are there any other growth options that you think we should consider?

  • Yes

As explained in our overall comments, we reject the idea of increasing the size of the GM or NorthWest economy on ecological, social and economic grounds.  We also note that the projected growth rates are in excess of those actually achieved in Western economies over the last decade.

We remind you that an economy growing at 2.5% p.a. (your option 1) will double in 29 years.  As University of Manchester climate scientists Aderson and Bows have shown, ” continuing with economic growth over the coming two decades is incompatible with meeting our international obligations on climate change” ( ).  Your colleagues at the Greater Manchester Low Carbon Hub are well aware of this research.
The reason is that growth at even 2% requires reductions in carbon intensity of 6% p.a.  Yet even the Stern review found that, outside recessions, the largest annual reductions obtained have been no more than 1%.  Much of those reductions have been dependent on the outsourcing of emissions to emerging economies and also, in the UK, one-off windfalls from the switch to gas for power generation..  This fact is noted in the GM Draft Climate Change Strategy. [see our response HERE].

There is therefore a need to adopt a radically different approach, one that we have set out in our 2012 report In Place of Growth ( ), currently being updated.  This would emphasise improved income equality, re-localisation of the economy, financial interventions to promote local job-rich but carbon-lean business, investment in energy efficiency, and the reduction of dependency on aviation and the motor car, among other priorities.

Once such an approach has been adopted, then a new assessment can be made of the spatial dimensions, with reference to housing, industry, distribution and ecological land use.

We do support the idea of increasing the population density of the urban area, since this brings energy efficiencies, and we commend the idea of a new model of the Garden City, as a re-working of the entirety of the Greater Manchester land-space.  In this the principle of zonal subsidiarity is central: all functions should be served at the most local level that is feasible, but that still allows for sub-regional, regional, national and even international specialisation.
In that vision, localities would have the most-used facilities (schools, food shops, post office, etc.) close by, together with green amenity including community food gardens and orchards and recreational space. The next tier of resources in terms of intensity of use would be at the next scalar level, and so on.  The effort would be made to develop employment options as locally as possible, and travel across the region would be reduced, thereby reducing demand and congestion, for example by facilitating job-swaps.  None of this means a retreat to a utopian local self-sufficiency model, but rather a relative shift of model that is at once more convivial, secure and energy efficient.  To achieve this policy would be asset-based, building up from the current strengths of localities.

Have we identified the key place based issues the GMSF should address?

  • Yes

This section is the strongest of the draft Strategy.  However, its component parts lack cohesion, in large part because of the emphasis on promoting impossible economic “growth”.

It is encouraging to see the treatment of climate change, and some of the key issues have been identified, including the need to reduce travel and to increase population density.  However, as noted elsewhere in our response this is at odds with the overall emphasis not only on economic “growth” but on the fantastic notion of accelerating “growth”.

We endorse the idea of intervening beyond the GMCA territory – here in relation to flood risk.  We have argued elsewhere that the definition of region in the DevoManc deal is flawed, and that it is more appropriate to focus on the eco-region, that includes more of the rural hinterland, for example based on the Mersey river catchment / watersheds.  Naturally, this will require collaboration with neighbouring authorities and relevant agencies.

Moreover we endorse the emphasis on making the best use of existing buildings and previously “developed” land: further encroachment on the green belt (already happening with the flawed “airport city” development) should be resisted.

Mark Burton, Charlotte Allen

Steady State Manchester collective.

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3 Responses to Greater Manchester Spatial Framework: another strategy flawed by “growth”

  1. Pingback: Greater Manchester Spatial Framework – our response. | Steady State Manchester

  2. Pingback: Concerns raised for Manchester’s green spaces in ‘Places for Everyone’ proposals – Climate Emergency Manchester

  3. Pingback: Throwback Thursdays: Manchester City Council’s Local Plan – Climate Emergency Manchester

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