Following the publication of their open letter to GM Mayor Andy Burnham, Stockport Council Liberal Democrat leaders were invited to a high level summit meeting on Monday for a discussion of their red lines with respect to the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework (GMSF), the now much-overdue 17 year plan for housing.
Moved forward from Tuesday, the meeting included Mayor Burnham, Cllr Wilson, the Labour Leader of Stockport Council, and Mayor Dennett, Salford City Council’s leader and the main architect of the current version of GMSF.
Speaking after the meeting, Cllr Mark Hunter, Leader of the Lib Dems at Stockport Town Hall, said: “We were invited to a meeting having made clear our concerns about GMSF – the use of outdated and inflated housing need figures and too much development on Green Belt, and with absolutely no guarantee of any public transport or other improvements needed to make the proposals practicable.
“This was a very cordial meeting and we acknowledged that the current version of GMSF was better than previous drafts, and the further changes now being suggested are a marked improvement over what was described only a week ago as ‘as good as it can be’. We believe this is because Lib Dems, community groups and local residents have held out and kept the pressure up rather than just accepting the initial proposals.
“We do remain disappointed, however, that at this late stage there is apparently no willingness on Labour’s part to go further.”
Deputy Leader, Cllr Lisa Smart, added: “Some limited concessions have clearly been made in some tightly defined areas but we aren’t prepared to throw the rest of the borough under a bus for those. For all its improvements, we believe the public want us to continue to resist this inadequate plan and to continue to fight for the best deal for our borough.”
Following the adjournment of last night’s meeting, which was expected to vote down the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework (GMSF), Andy Burnham invited Groups willing to be cooperative to make contact with him to try to find a way forward.
Cllr Mark Hunter, Leader of the Lib Dems at Stockport Town Hall, said: “Though some might see this as a desperate stop-gap measure whilst Labour scratch together a deal with the Tories, we have decided to take Andy Burnham at his word and we have set out what we believe needs to change for us to be able to support a revised version of GMSF.
“The first priority has to be protecting the Green Belt for everyone to enjoy. Next, we need assurance that public transport and other infrastructure improvements needed for any site will be guaranteed as an integral part of the overall package. Finally, we want to see housing need to be based on more realistic figures than those from 2014.
“I hope that the offer to discuss a way forward was sincere and I look forward to hearing back from the GM Mayor.”
The letter can be read below.
At tonight’s Extraordinary Meeting of Stockport Council to have the crunch vote on the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework (GMSF) the extraordinary happened.
With no prior consultation or advance warning, the Labour Leader of the Council proposed an adjournment of “two to three weeks” to have further behind the scenes discussions to try to cobble together enough votes to save GMSF.
Speaking after the meeting, Cllr Mark Hunter, Leader of the Lib Dems at Stockport Town Hall, said: “Once again Labour, propped up by the Tories, have dodged a vote they were going to lose on whether Stockport remains in GMSF or pursues its own Local Plan. GMSF has already been voted on at other Local Authorities and yet their decisions will be meaningless if GMSF is changed.
“Hearing a prepared speech in response by the Tory Leader, it was clear that yet another stitch up has happened, showing nothing but contempt for councillors and, more importantly, for residents who have had the threat to their green spaces hanging over them for years now and thought this would come to an end tonight. There have been many years for them to have these talks and, if they were serious about building a broad coalition rather than a grubby deal, we would have been told in advance what was planned.
“Liberal Democrats remain committed to oppose GMSF because of the continued threat to the Green Belt and we will do so again whenever Labour and the Tories see fit to allow the vote to happen.”
Next Tuesday evening sees the much anticipated and long overdue crunch vote on the GM Spatial Framework (GMSF), Greater Manchester’s plan for housing for the next 17 years.
Speaking ahead of the meeting, Cllr Mark Hunter, Leader of the Liberal Democrats at Stockport Town Hall, said:
“Next Tuesday will be an important moment for residents across Stockport as we will see whether the council decides to press ahead with GMSF, Labour’s centralised plan, or finally decides to support Lib Dem calls for local control and to press ahead instead with Stockport’s own Local Plan.
“It should be no surprise that Liberal Democrats in Stockport will vote against this plan for what will be the fourth time in as many years. GMSF has been flawed from the outset. It would allow developers to cherry-pick prime sites and concrete over our green spaces, including swathes of our precious green belt, whilst only promising “jam tomorrow” when it comes to providing any additional transport capacity, school places or other local facilities.
“We are told by Labour that a vote against GMSF will be a vote against funding for ‘brownfield’ site development and against Metrolink coming to Stockport. Frankly, this is just the latest excuse. There are no guarantees of any funding for anything even if we did vote for GMSF.
“Right from the start we have made consistent arguments. I hope this time the majority of councillors will listen to public opinion and vote to use the three years we now have left to get on and finish our own Local Plan.”
At last night’s meeting of the full council, Stockport councillors voted overwhelmingly to support a Liberal Democrat motion calling for Stockport Central Library to re-open as soon as social distancing restrictions have been removed and not to permanently close or remove library services unless and until there has been a proper consultation on any alternative plans.
In a planned attempt to wreck this motion, Labour proposed an amendment which sought to allow Central Library to remain closed even once COVID restrictions no longer apply. This would be a silent, permanent closure of the much-loved library without proper public consultation.
Speaking after the meeting, Iain Roberts, Lib Dem Councillor for Cheadle and Gatley Ward and mover of the motion, said: “I’m very pleased our motion on Stockport Library passed last night in the face of an attempted wrecking amendment by Labour. In their amendment Labour showed their true colours – they clearly want to close the Central Library and move it elsewhere if they win funding from the Future High Streets fund. This means they have a plan that they are not sharing with councillors or residents.
“Whilst they do not have to do what we asked, over 4,000 people signed a petition submitted to the meeting on this and the majority of councillors supported our call for openness and transparency, so I hope they do the right thing by publishing their plans and engaging with our residents.”
Louise Ankers, Lib Dem Councillor for Hazel Grove Ward and seconder of the motion, said: “At the meeting I explained the importance to me of the Carnegie Libraries, having used the one in Dunfermline during a large part of my childhood and having used the Central Library here to study for my Open University degree.
“I’m glad we had the opportunity to highlight this important issue and to save the Central Library from a silent closure. The Cabinet should not rush into decisions like this in reaction to short-term pressures and they should now be honest about their plans and the way forward. It may be that providing library services elsewhere in the town centre is a better answer, but residents need to be involved in this decision in a meaningful way and not just be presented with a fait accompli.”
Following the publication earlier today of the final proposals for the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework, Liberal Democrat councillors at Stockport Town Hall have re-stated their determination to vote against the plans when they are put before a special meeting of the Council in November.
The Liberal Democrats, with 26 councillors – exactly the same number as the minority Labour administration, have consistently opposed the plan because of the damage they fear it will do to the Green Belt. Instead, the Lib Dems have been strong advocates of Stockport’s own Local Plan which, they say, could facilitate new homes where they are needed and protect valuable green spaces at the same time.
Cllr Mark Hunter, Leader of the Liberal Democrat Group, “We have always argued that these proposals were fundamentally flawed from the very start. They amount to nothing less than a gilt edged invitation to developers to come and cherry pick the most valuable sites in our area. We recognise the need for new homes, but they must be must be in the right places. Green Belt is a special resource and once the Council allow developers to build on it, it is gone for good – we ought to be protecting it for future generations to enjoy”.
Stockport Council will host a special meeting on November 17th to decide it’s position on GMSF. The current composition of the Council is Labour 26, Liberal Democrat 26, Conservatives 8 and Independent Ratepayers 3.