When is a “target” not a “target”?

There are so many reasons why we should not be looking to reduce the land designated as green belt – anywhere in the country – not just in Greater Manchester, and especially not in Trafford.  We already mentioned in our previous blog that, in Trafford, we have the lowest proportion of land designated as green belt in the whole of Greater Manchester (with the exception of the city areas of Manchester and Salford).   So why are we even considering reducing the land designated as green belt?  Well it is the choice of our politicians folks! 

We have a developer-led national policy and associated methodology defined by the Government and a developer-led regional policy and spatial framework determined by the 10 Councils across Greater Manchester.  Both are driving all the wrong behaviours and are certainly not addressing the housing crisis in any way, shape or form!

Let us consider a few examples of what is happening out there in Greater Manchester!

We have huge numbers of apartments being built in the centre of Manchester that are focused on the non-UK market (ie on buyers from other countries).  How does that help our housing crisis???

The world of business is changing.  Many people now work from home.  For many organisations, premises are a luxury not an essential.  Yet offices are still being built in our towns and city centres, and they lie empty.  How does that help our housing crisis???

Land which already has approval for development is “banked”.  Why is this even allowed and how does it help our housing crisis???

We will pick up on the use of brownfield land in a future blog, but for now let’s just mention that the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England (CPRE) highlight in their annual State of Brownfield report (https://www.cpre.org.uk/resources/housing-and-planning/planning/item/5086-state-of-brownfield-2019) that “there is enough suitable brownfield land available in England for more than 1 million homes across over 18,000 sites and over 26,000 hectares”.

Then, of course, we have this little thing called Brexit going on (and on and on and on).  Much of our green belt land is agricultural, certainly in Carrington it is grade 2 which makes it ideal for growing crops.  We should not even be considering building on land that we may need for food production in the future.

So something needs to change otherwise our green belt will continue to be decimated and our housing crisis will not improve. 

What we really need is a target that is focused on the actual housing crisis, underpinned by a strategy and associated policies that drive achievement of that target. 

“Isn’t the housing need target already focused on the housing crisis then”?  I hear you ask!  Errrrrr NO!

It is currently based on the household projections (which are calculated by the Office for National Statistics).  We will talk about the difference between the 2014 ONS projections and the 2016 ONS projections in a future blog, suffice to say for now that the difference between the two adds yet another uncertainty into the housing need figures.  Those ONS household projections are uplifted for an “affordability ratio”, which, in Trafford is very high (8.94% against a regional average of 6.13%).   This “affordability ratio” aims to flood an area with new homes to bring down the prices in that area (due to oversupply) and, therefore, make it more affordable to live in that location.   This might work elsewhere but we all know that in Trafford, many people from outside the borough will be looking to move here because of our selective schools system. 

So, in essence, what this means is that the Government’s standard methodology calculates a housing need target for Trafford of 25,000 homes.

Yes, 25,000 homes!  

How does that compare to actual housing need (ie people without a home) in Trafford?  Well the Trafford Local Plan was issued for consultation last Summer (2018).  It stated, in relation to Unmet Affordable Housing Need, that Trafford had a “shortfall of 1,096 dwellings”.   In the same set of documents, the number of empty homes in Trafford was over 2,300, with over 700 properties being classified as long term empty.  Trafford’s Housing Strategy 2018-2023, states that Trafford’s Housing Register has a waiting list of 3,325 people. 

Even assuming the waiting list has gone up a little, and that there are no empty homes that can be brought back into use, there is a phenomenal difference between that waiting list figure and the 25,000 homes we are targeted to build!.

In Greater Manchester as a whole, the GMSF states that there are 85,000 households on the waiting list for a home.  Yet there are NO policies in the GMSF that prioritise those homes for build in the first three to five years.  Why not?  After all, this waiting list figure IS the housing crisis. 

We are not suggesting that no other homes are built at all.  What we are saying is that the Government’s housing target should be focused on real housing need – not on the homes the developers want to build!  

Assuming you are still awake and want to continue reading, let’s just go back to that figure of 25,000 homes calculated by the Government’s methodology for Trafford.  In the current iteration of the GMSF, the Trafford allocation “target” is 19,000 homes because neighbouring authorities have agreed to build 6,000 of our homes.  If we remove the planned builds on green belt (Carrington Moss and Timperley Wedge), Trafford still has plans to build between 6,600 and 10,500 homes (not on green belt) in unspecified developments.  These other, non-specified builds will more than satisfy Trafford’s actual housing NEED and those builds should be focused on reducing the waiting list for homes in Trafford!

Trafford’s allocation in the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework (GMSF)

Finally, there is significant confusion about the status of the housing need target, which officials regionally (Greater Manchester Combined Authority) and locally (Trafford) seem to believe is an absolute requirement, yet Ministers nationally have now confirmed is not actually a target at all.  We have received letters (via correspondence through Sir Graham Brady, MP) from Jake Berry MP, Kit Malthouse MP and officers from the Ministry of Housing’s Planning Policy and Reform Division, which confirm this.

Additionally, the letters specifically state that the green belt boundary should only be altered in exceptional circumstances.  We cannot have “exceptional” circumstances in Trafford (or Greater Manchester) when, just by revising the GMSF to a 15 year plan would mean that NO builds on green belt would be required anywhere in Greater Manchester!

Excerpt from Kit Malthouse MP letter dated 4th April 2019

We’ll talk about the 15 year plan in a future blog, but given all the uncertainties, the lack of an appropriate national strategy and associated policies, and the general confusion about whether the housing need target is a target, we proposed a 15 year plan in our response to the GMSF.  We also suggested that the strategy should be focused on real housing need and await the outcome of the consultation with interest. 

Here in Trafford, we hope to persuade our politicians that our builds should be focused on reducing the waiting list for homes, not on reducing the land designated as green belt! 

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