Photo: Adam Pester

Greater Manchester Metro Mayor Andy Burnham today revealed his long-awaited grand plan for the future of the city region over the next few decades at a special event in the city centre.

After several delays and a reported “stand off” between the mayor and leaders of Greater Manchester’s ten local councils, he was fulfilling his manifesto pledge to rip up and revise the controversial so-called Greater Manchester “spatial framework” which had ignited widespread protests over threats to green belt.

Though provision of 201,000 new homes – down from 227,000 in the original plan – a quarter of them “affordable”, remains the centrepiece of the revised plan, its wide ranging content includes extensions to the Metrolink network among 65 transport improvement projects and a new approach to regenerating town centres.

Confirmation of a ban on fracking in Greater Manchester – trailed last week – seems certain to set the city region authorities on collision course with the government.

Future plans for housing across the city region, which had triggered protests and demonstrations, have been radically changed. Mr Burnham has placed greater emphasis on making the most of Greater Manchester’s brownfield sites in town centres and “other sustainable locations”.

It will also, he claimed, help to address the “housing crisis” with a minimum target of 50,000 additional affordable homes, 30,000 of which will be social housing while at the same time reducing the net loss of precious green belt by more than a half.

In the final analysis, however, much will depend upon where housing developers want to invest and build their houses.

For the first time in the UK, Mr Burnham has pledged to use his executive mayoral powers to regenerate a major town centre. He will work with Stockport Council to consult on bringing forward a Mayoral Development Corporation (MDC) for the town.

At the same time, Mr Burnham and his deputies, Sir Richard Leese, leader of Manchester city council and Baroness Bev Hughes of Stretford were outlining plans for better transport links, measures to improve the environment by tackling air pollution and provision of new opportunites for people to access jobs by attracting best companies and improving skills.

The Mayor said: “In this time of national social and economic uncertainty, and with politics in Westminster paralysed by Brexit, Greater Manchester is taking the initiative and setting out an innovative blueprint to give people, communities and businesses hope and confidence for the future.

“When we consulted people on the first spatial framework, they were clear that we hadn’t got the balance right. We listened, reflected, and can now present a radical re-write as promised. It also lays the foundations for radical reform in other policy areas such as housing, the environment and transport.

“Together, we are harnessing the full power of the most advanced devolution deal of any city-region in England for the benefit of our three million residents. And we are putting together the pieces of the jigsaw to reveal the big picture – a Greater Manchester where prosperity, opportunity, health, hope and happiness are widely and fairly shared across all our people and places.”

As demonstrated over Christmas, towns across the country are struggling under an old model as hotspots for shopping and commerce with footfall declining and consumers instead opting to shop online. Greater Manchester’s planned reinvention of well-developed and well-connected town centres would usher in a bold new era for swathes of the city-region.

“The shift towards redeveloping our towns not only breathes new life into them but also relieves pressure to build on the city-region’s green belt,” Mr Burnham added..

“It is a tough time for the high-street, but with Greater Manchester’s bold vision we can make our proud towns a success story once again.”

Plans for transport identify more than 65 projects to be completed within the next five years, including: Metrolink’s Trafford Park Line; the purchase of 27 new trams; an upgrade of Salford Central railway station; a £160m new walking and cycling infrastructure across all 10 districts; expanding the city-region’s electric vehicle charging network; and new interchanges in Tameside and Stockport.

Planned extensions to the Metrolink network will see trams running into Stalybridge, Middleton and Port Salford post 2040.

Constructing additional through platforms at Manchester Piccadilly station – part of the shelved “Northern Hub” considered vital to alleviate the worst rail bottleneck in the north of England – is not mentioned in the report despite the mayor’s recent “ultimatum” to the rail industry that: “The time for excuses is over. 2019 must be a year of rapid and measurable improvement on the railways in the North of England.”

Greater Manchester’s vision is that by 2040, half of all daily trips in Greater Manchester will be made by public transport, cycling and walking, especially those shorter journeys around local neighbourhoods. This will mean a million more trips each day using sustainable modes of travel.

Mr Burnham added: “As we outline the city-region’s new plans for homes and jobs, transport infrastructure, clean air and the environment, I want to highlight Greater Manchester’s commitment to putting people at the heart of everything we do. We are a city-region with a radical spirit in our DNA – we have always delivered industrial innovations whilst never forgetting the people that power that economy.”

The Future of Greater Manchester report will be presented to the Greater Manchester Combined Authority meeting on 11th January.

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