“Leave GMSF now”, say Stockport Liberal Democrats

green-belt-mapjpgThe Liberal Democrats are calling for Stockport to withdraw from the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework and are inviting the other parties to support a Lib Dem motion coming to Full Council.

In December, in a motion proposed by Cllr Mark Hunter, Deputy Leader of the Lib Dem Group, the Lib Dems tried to pull Stockport out of the plan, which will see thousands of houses built on the greenbelt. That attempt was blocked by the Labour and Conservative councillors who not only voted it down but even blocked debate on the issue.

Now they are trying again, with a motion to Stockport Full Council on 19th January.

“The GMSF is a top-down plan that will see thousands of houses built on the greenbelt with no plan to deal with the problems it will cause. It is very clear that the people of Stockport disagree with the proposals,” said Cllr Hunter.

“The right approach is to pull out of the GMSF and start work on a plan for Stockport, with Stockport people involved from day one,” Mark added.

The Liberal Democrats want Stockport to develop a 15-year Local Plan, as many other councils are doing. The GMSF is a 20-year plan, which means a third more houses.

“This is about the future of our area for decades to come,” said Cllr Lisa Smart. “Our future should be decided by our local communities, and that won’t happen if the GMSF goes ahead. We should leave it now and get on with developing a plan that’s right for Stockport.”

On whether the other parties would support the motion, Lib Dem leader Cllr Iain Roberts said “I’ve been told that we can’t do this in case we upset other leaders across Greater Manchester. I say we have to do this because it’s the right thing for Stockport. I hope the other parties will reconsider their positions and support our motion.”

Below is a briefing note we have prepared setting out the Stockport Lib Dem position on this issue.


Why the Liberal Democrats want Stockport to withdraw from the GMSF

A briefing document from Stockport Liberal Democrats, January 2017

The ten Greater Manchester authorities and the Combined Authority are jointly pursuing the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework (GMSF) to identify land for housing, offices and industrial use over the next twenty years. The requirement for a local plan comes from the Government.

The Liberal Democrats want Stockport to withdraw from the GMSF and instead start work on its own Local Plan.

We proposed this in December but the proposal was rejected by Labour and Conservative councillors who not only voted us down but refused to even allow the issue to be debated. However, we think this is too important to drop so we are proposing it again this month and we are urging councillors from the other groups to support us.

20 years is too long

Most councils across the country are producing 15 year local plans. Greater Manchester’s plan is over 20 years, which means a third more housing is required. But a lot can change in 15 years. The Liberal Democrats believe a 15 year plan would be more appropriate, and it would also greatly reduce the pressure on the greenbelt.

Look again at brownfield sites

If the GMSF goes through, the result will be large-scale building on the greenbelt while numerous brownfield sites in our towns remain empty and derelict. That’s largely a Government policy failure. The Government has cut funding available to develop those brownfield sites which means they are not viable. The Liberal Democrats want to see more done to use the existing brownfield sites, and to ensure that greenbelt is not developed while brownfield remains unused.

GMSF is a bad solution

The GMSF plans for Stockport are badly flawed. Sites are being proposed which will have a huge environmental effect, for which there is no transport infrastructure plan and little chance of getting the money to deliver to sort of plan that would be needed. We have concerns about many other issues including pollution, pressure on the NHS, schools and flooding. Taken with Cheshire East’s proposals, the thousands of additional houses near High Lane and clustered around the A34 are simply unworkable. We do not believe this can be fixed by tweaking – we need to rethink from first principles what we are trying to achieve.

Bottom-up, not top-down

The GMSF plan has been produced by Greater Manchester council officers and a small number of politicians. Former Lib Dem leader Sue Derbyshire never saw the proposals: they were developed when she was no longer leader. Stockport councillors, and the public, didn’t even get to see the plan until it was fully-formed. That’s no way to make such an important decision that will affect our communities for decades or even centuries to come. The Liberal Democrats want a plan built by communities. It should start with a discussion about what we want for Stockport, and then neighbourhoods can work on how to deliver it.

An end to secrecy

Greater Manchester will soon be electing a Mayor, but the Combined Authority is too secretive. The GMSF is just one example, but it’s an important one. Just as with the Congestion Charge back in 2008, this is an opportunity for local people to say “enough is enough – don’t take important decisions without involving us from the start”.

In line with the traditions of the Greater Manchester Combined Authority

The ten councils across Greater Manchester have a long tradition of working together effectively where they agree, and doing thing in other ways where they disagree. The councils have almost never tried to force everyone to go along a particular path against their will (the congestion charge is a rare exception). The Liberal Democrats strongly support the Combined Authority, but do not believe that this work is best done at a Greater Manchester level – it is just too remote from the local communities that will be affected.

We must use the GMSF consultation data

It is absolutely clear that Stockport residents strongly oppose the level of greenbelt building being proposed. But the responses to the GMSF over the last months will have a great deal more important information. That should be fed into Stockport’s Local Plan to help inform it.

What happens if Stockport leaves the GMSF

The GMSF is based on all ten councils working together, so if one leaves then the GMSF falls. It will then be up to the individual councils to decide how to develop plans: they may choose to do so individually or in partnership with one or more other councils, as happens with other issues.

Why leave now and not wait

Government rules means councils are racing against the clock. The Government is saying to councils “If you don’t have a plan, we’re going to let developers build houses pretty much wherever they want”. The Liberal Democrats do not want that to happen.

We do not believe the GMSF can produce a final proposal that’s acceptable to Stockport residents, for the reasons we’ve given above. If we wait to go through the whole process, one of two things can happen: either the GMSF will be approved, and Stockport’s greenbelt will be decimated, or it will be rejected, leaving all ten councils vulnerable to predatory developers.

Stockport currently has a compliant local plan, but it is getting old and needs replacing soon. To protect our greenbelt from the GMSF and from developers, the best option is to leave now and develop a Local Plan for Stockport.

Stockport Lib Dems respond to Greater Manchester Spatial Framework consultation

The consultation for the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework is underway, and the closing date has now been extended to 16th January.

We encourage you to have your say by emailing GMSF@agma.gov.uk – below you will find the response made by the Stockport Council Liberal Democrat Group.


Stockport Liberal Democrats believe the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework (GMSF) process is not right for Stockport and have already formally called for the borough to withdraw from the GMSF and to focus on developing its own Local Plan instead, taking into account the concerns with GMSF that we have raised.

As the Labour and Conservative Groups on Stockport Council blocked our attempt at the Council Meeting on 1st December 2016, we submit below our constructive response to the current consultation on the basis that we would prefer that Stockport plays no further part in GMSF.


Greenbelt release
We believe that: 

  • The scale and location of the Greenbelt release in Stockport and the scale of development on those sites in the proposed GMSF is completely inappropriate.
  • Stockport is being targeted by developers due to its popularity and too large a share of the housing across the conurbation is proposed here. Fully 20% of the potential sites identified in the “call for sites” earlier this year are in Stockport. The GMSF allows for a potential 12,000 new houses to be built on Greenbelt in our Borough.
  • Developers will target building larger properties in current Greenbelt areas first rather than tackle the remediation issues of Brownfield sites.
  • The growth targets for Greater Manchester are too high and result in too much proposed development. Attempting to identify a 20-year land supply for housing is too much – too many things may change during this time. A 15-year land supply would avoid most of the proposed Greenbelt release and give time for alternatives to be developed.
  • There are parts of Greater Manchester – in the centre of the larger towns in particular – where higher density housing may be appropriate and would allow a revised GMSF to reduce the pressure on the Greenbelt.


Unlocking Brownfield Sites
We need a firm commitment to infrastructure with a detailed plan and sufficient money identified to support it prior to any significant additional building being possible across the Borough. Vague promises are not sufficient.

We believe the significant numbers of Brownfield sites should be built on and exhausted before any of the Greenbelt is built on.

More work needs to be done on ways to unlock Brownfield sites, such as funding being secured to handle sites needing decontamination or old mills that can be expensive to convert.

While the development cost is higher for these sites than on Greenfield, the overall cost may not be much different, as far more of the infrastructure is already in place.


“Opportunity sites”
Among the so-called “opportunity sites”, the “High Lane” site sits inside already heavily congested infrastructure and would see the merger of south Marple with north High Lane conurbations, violating one of the original reasons for having Greenbelt.

The “Land off A34” and “Heald Green” (both neighbouring Cheadle Hulme) would see massive overdevelopment alongside Cheshire East’s proposed “growth village” on already overstretched A34, which will not be alleviated to the extent needed by the A6 to Manchester Airport Relief Road.

The “Woodford” site shares the same general infrastructure as the sites above. The new development currently in progress alongside the GMSF proposal would see the existing village completely dominated by new housing.

When taken together with Cheshire East’s plans the proposals for Heald Green, Cheadle Hulme and Woodford create a huge, contiguous area of thousands of new houses. There is currently no plan to deal with the additional journeys the developments around the A34 would generate, and there is not even any idea of what such a plan might look like.


Housing mix
The need in Stockport is for a mixture of housing types and tenures. Our concern is that, developers will naturally seek to provide larger, more expensive properties for sale on the current Greenbelt. There is a great need for affordable housing (both to buy, part-buy and to rent) and social housing, particularly for smaller families as well as for single people and couples.


Stockport Liberal Democrat Group do not agree with the approach taken by the GM Spatial Framework.

We believe the Greenbelt release proposed is unacceptable. We do not accept the growth assumptions made nor do we agree with trying to identify a 20-year land supply.

We are concerned not enough will be done to unlock Brownfield sites or to ensure the correct housing mix is delivered in our Borough.

For these reasons we continue to call for Stockport to withdraw from this Spatial Framework and to pursue instead our own Local Plan.

Stockport Lib Dems highlight Tory hypocrisy over GM Spatial Framework

green-belt-mapjpgAt the last Full Council meeting (1st December), the Liberal Democrat Group moved an amendment to a report which would have seen Stockport opt out of the GM Spatial Framework because of the inappropriate allocation of Green Belt land for up to 12,000 houses contained within the draft proposals. This was the first opportunity that councillors had to express their collective view on this issue.

Local Conservative councillors and MPs are making much of their opposition to the Green Belt proposals, yet they fell in line with the Labour administration and blocked the Liberal Democrat amendment, which sought to protect the Green Belt and remove the worry and uncertainty our residents now face as the GM Spatial Framework continues.

Speaking about this Councillor Mark Hunter, Lib Dem spokesperson for Housing, said:

“Whichever way they try to spin it now, the facts are clear. The Tories had an opportunity to stop this and they failed to do so. The Liberal Democrats proposed an amendment to withdraw Stockport from the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework and to pursue the Local Plan instead. The Tories backed the Labour administration in blocking this.

“Liberal Democrats will continue to oppose the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework and the huge developments on Green Belt it proposes. We have and will champion instead the development of a standalone Local Plan to ensure that we are able to robustly defend our greenspaces from developers targeting this borough.”

Lisa Smart, Liberal Democrat Councillor for Bredbury Green & Romiley added, “It is vital that the voices of Stockport residents are heard while this plan to build a huge amount of homes on the green belt is still on the table. We are encouraging everyone in Stockport to join in with the consultation and share their comments. We need the right homes in the right places for our communities.”

Lib Dems declare victory on Labour black bins plan

At the Full Council Meeting on Thursday 1st December, Stockport Liberal Democrat councillors declared victory following the Labour administration’s u-turn over black bin collection.

Instead of throwing away the existing bins and borrowing heavily to buy slightly larger bins which were to be collected only every three weeks, Labour have decided to follow the advice given by Cllr Mark Hunter, Liberal Democrat spokesperson for services including waste collection, to invest instead in public engagement to drive up recycling rates and save money.

Speaking in response to a public question on this issue, Cllr Hunter said: “This is a very welcome and substantial u-turn by the Labour administration and I am sure all Stockport residents will be pleased by this victory for common sense.

“However, despite the councillor responsible having previously indicated to the media that the Labour administration were set to drop the proposal, she chose not to confirm that at the Council Meeting, insisting that the announcement would be made at the end of the consultation, just before Christmas.”

Liberal Democrats take NHS concerns to no.10


Stockport’s Liberal Democrats have increased the pressure on central government to tackle the funding crisis facing Stepping Hill hospital. Last week councillors Lisa Smart and Mark Hunter presented a petition, containing well over 5,000 names, to number 10 Downing Street to demonstrate local concerns over the future of the NHS. This follows Lib Dem demands a week ago that KPMG, the consultancy appointed to help turn around Stepping Hill’s fortunes, return their £2million fee after failing to see any significant improvement.

Stepping Hill hospital has been in turmoil since plans were announced – without warning – to close a ward and reduce staff numbers by up to 350 posts earlier this summer. In addition, it is believed that the NHS Trust that is responsible for the hospital has plans to sell off a large part of their current site for housing development in order to raise more money.

The Lib Dem petition calls for urgent central government action to tackle the financial crisis facing the hospital and claims Stepping Hill is a vital resource for our area. Commenting outside 10 Downing Street, Cllr Mark Hunter said “Our demands are quite simple, we want the Conservatives to fulfil their election promises and ensure that our local NHS receives adequate funding. At present this is just not happening, and all indications are that things will get worse before they get better – unless there is urgent central government intervention. Local people deserve nothing less”.

Cllr Lisa Smart added “We are determined to keep up the pressure on this important campaign – local health services are just too important for us to stand by and let the Tories starve them of adequate funding. We need to see action taken now to safeguard the future of our local NHS”.

New thinking needed to save our greenbelt

iain-mail-greenbeltStockport’s Lib Dem leader Cllr Iain Roberts writes for the Stockport Mail

What do you do when the Government says you’ve got to build 20,000 new homes, and if you don’t come up with a plan they’ll just let developers build pretty much wherever they like? The answer is that you come up with a plan!

The ten councils across Greater Manchester have been working together and they have a plan, but it’s deeply worrying. They propose building thousands of houses on greenbelt land near Heald Green, Cheadle Hulme, Woodford and High Lane.

I say we need to protect our greenbelt.

Stockport is being targeted by developers and, when you add it together with Cheshire East’s housebuilding plans, this would see an area of green fields the size of Heald Green concreted over. All those new houses will mean more cars on our busy roads, more children needing school places, more medical centres, shops and all the rest of it.

What can we do?

We do need more homes for people. Stockport is a popular, growing area to live and we need new homes for our children and grandchildren. But those homes should be built in our towns first.

Before we open up the greenbelt for development we must bring every empty home back into use, develop every old mill building, empty warehouse, factory and derelict piece of land. Only when all that is truly done should we move onto the greenbelt.

And we need to be sure we can deal with the extra traffic and school places. Right now we are being given warm words about how important that infrastructure is. Words are all very well, but we need firm plans and we need the money to deliver them – and they won’t be cheap.

Have your say. Go to the website, www.greatermanchester-ca.gov.uk/gmsf, before the consultation finishes in December. We can get this right. We can build the homes we need without concreting over the greenbelt. But to do it we need some new thinking from both the Government and the Greater Manchester councils, so we have to make our voices heard.