GM Mayor Andy Burnham has called on the Government to clarify its position on housing following a debate in Parliament last week.
During the Westminster Hall discussion on the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework on 21 February, the mayor says housing and planning minister Kit Malthouse appeared to contradict Government policy.
In a statement issued over the weekend, Burnham said the minister’s comments “came as a surprise” and give a “very different impression to the one offered in private by civil servants”
“Under pressure from Conservative backbenchers, it would appear that the Government is trying to soften its line on housing numbers and greenbelt and deflect blame towards councils. We see this same tactic with council tax rises. It is unfair and dishonest,” Burnham added.
Malthouse refrained from commenting directly on the contents or merit of the framework, which is currently out for consultation until 18 March, as this “could be seen to prejudice the Secretary of State’s position later in the planning process”, but in the general discussion he has clearly left civic leaders in Greater Manchester scratching their heads.
Among his comments during the discussion, Malthouse said: “We must not let local authority leaders off the hook in relation to taking the sometimes difficult decisions—they are difficult; I have been a councillor myself—to build and develop the right types of houses in the right places for the next generation.”
But Burnham has taken issue with the minister’s impression that the city region has greater discretion over housing need than his contribution to the debate appears to suggest.
“There are two clear reasons why Greater Manchester does not believe it has the discretion over housing numbers,” Burnham added “Firstly, the Government’s own planning guidance says that local authorities are ‘expected’ to use the Government methodology to calculate local housing need and will be required to demonstrate exceptional circumstances to deviate from it.
“The guidance also states that the standard methodology ‘identifies the minimum number of houses expected to be planned for’. In Greater Manchester’s case, we have opted for a target which is close to the Local Housing Need target.
“When local authorities have sought guidance on this from civil servants, they have confirmed this as the right approach rather than the more flexible interpretation which appeared to be offered by the Minister in the House.
“We are particularly interested in what flexibility the Minister considers to exist in relation to the use of the 2016 Household Projections as the recent consultation and Government response, published only on Tuesday last week, appeared to be conclusive that this was not appropriate.”
What’s more, the Mayor said by not mentioning the Government’s policy on Housing Deals, Malthouse was “only providing half the picture”.
“To access funding to clean up brownfield land — and thereby reduce the call on the greenbelt — areas like Greater Manchester are currently being told that we must set an even higher target for new homes than the one determined by the Government’s formula,” Burnham said.
“So, for these reasons, Greater Manchester does not believe it has been offered the flexibility over housing numbers as claimed by the minister. His comments were at best partial and at worst misleading.
“Given that we are in the middle of a consultation, and endeavouring to give the public the most honest, up-to-date information we can, I will be asking the Minister for an urgent meeting, together with the City Mayor of Salford, to clear these matters up.”