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Merseyside takes over from Manchester

As the consultation on the Revised Draft Greater Manchester Spatial Framework (GMSF) closed at midnight on 18 March, it emerged that MHCLG had written to Andy Burnham confirming that £68 million of the agreed Outline Housing Package is unlikely to be made available to the Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA). This is due to the reduction of the housing requirement to approximately 201,000 new homes, which represents a 7% reduction on the target agreed with Government as a basis for the Housing Package of 227,000.

Looking on with interest will be Liverpool City Region Combined Authority (LCRCA) which is currently seeking to progress a city region-wide Spatial Development Strategy (SDS). This will cover the six boroughs of Halton, Knowsley, Liverpool, St. Helens, Sefton and Wirral.

It was in 2015 that the Liverpool City Region Devolution Agreement was confirmed, establishing that control of a £900 million budget would be provided to LCRCA, to unlock the economic potential of the area.

The funding is dependent on the preparation of a framework for the city-region. This would exercise strategic planning powers to accelerate economic growth and new housing development throughout the area.

Despite this legally binding requirement there has been limited progress on the plan to date, other than preparation and publication of a draft Strategic Housing and Employment Land Market Assessment (SHELMA) in the summer of 2017. This document sought to identify the appropriate Objectively-Assessed Housing Need for each of the districts, and assess the anticipated demand for large-scale logistics (B8) uses up to 2037.

Any progress made by the SHELMA on housing numbers was somewhat overtaken by the introduction of the standard method for calculating local housing need, which was published in draft around the same time. In all but three of the eight authorities (Sefton, St. Helens and Wirral), the standard method housing figure was less than identified by the SHELMA.

Despite these delays it appears that significant progress is currently being made on strategic planning matters in LCRCA. Lead Planner, Mark Dickens, recently confirmed that a spatial development strategy (SDS) for the city region is being prepared and will be complete within two years. The SDS will establish strategic policies which seek to address matters including housing, climate change, environment, employment, health and retail.

This will be preceded by an updated SHELMA, which will identify areas of search for large scale logistics sites to meet the jobs growth requirement set out in the first document. This was expected in March 2019 but will now be published after the May elections. In light of the introduction of the standard method, the second SHELMA will not include any reference to housing numbers.

The SDS process will then begin with a scoping and visioning consultation in summer 2019, which will define the general direction of policy. This will be the first of two stages of engagement and comprises an informal consultation where the public will be asked to comment on key issues and to suggest high level policy options. The consultation is to be supported by an Integrated Impact Assessment.

The second and only statutory consultation is due to take place in the summer 2020, after the mayoral elections. This will comprise the fully formed pre-submission version of the SDS, and will be supported by evidence base documents including a Sustainability Appraisal and Viability Assessment.

It has been confirmed that the SDS will not include housing allocations. This is because the Combined Authority does not believe that the current SDS regulations – which are different to those of a typical Development Plan – allow them to do so. However, it will address matters of housing distribution. At this stage it is thought that each of the boroughs will meet its own minimum needs, with selected districts identifying an additional layer of ‘pro-growth’ development.

This is a different approach to GM where the latest draft of the strategy established that half of the ten councils will not meet their minimum needs, with the shortfall distributed amongst the other five (principally Manchester and Salford).

The lack of residential allocations within the LCR SDS raises significant questions for housebuilders as to the relevance of the process for them. The majority of key decisions on housing are likely to be made locally as part of the Local Plan process, and this could lead to a lack of engagement and crucial buy-in from key stakeholders for the LCR SDS process.

The Issues and Options consultation represents a key opportunity for developers to argue for an increase in the remit of the SDS, beyond matters largely aimed at social and environmental issues. Planners at the GMCA are consulting with MHCLG to change the regulations to allow housing allocations to be made through the SDS process. Developers may wish to take this opportunity to lobby LCR to also take similar action. Representations should also continue to make the case for higher levels of growth in Liverpool, beyond the statutory minimum figures, given the likely reduction in Government funding for the GM region.

For more information please contact Mike O'Brien.

15 April 2019