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GREATER LEEWAY: Stockport’s long-term housing plan delayed

GREATER LEEWAY: Stockport’s long-term housing plan delayed

High Lane, Image: Google Maps

Stockport’s long-term housing masterplan has been delayed after the government hinted councils could soon have ‘greater leeway’ over the number of homes they need to build.

It is the only borough in Greater Manchester not involved in the joint ‘Places for Everyone’ strategy, after pulling out of its predecessor – the GMSF – last year.

Instead, the Labour-led authority was looking to consult on a draft local plan this autumn – with a view to it ultimately being adopted in around 12 months time.

But the draft will now not be brought to full council or cabinet prior to Christmas – with bosses aiming to go out to consultation in summer or early autumn next year.

The change of tack has been brought about after the government indicated it could alter how it calculates ‘local housing need (LHN’) and – crucially – that the 2023 deadline for adoption may not be set in stone.

Councillor David Meller, cabinet member for economy and regeneration, has explained the thinking behind the decision.

He said: “We want to be sure we gather as much evidence as possible that will help us create a local plan that is right for Stockport.

“We have received some very useful comments from residents and elected members and these are helping shape our work.

“We have received some very useful comments from residents and elected members and these are helping shape our work.

“We want to ensure we use as much viable brownfield land as possible, build the sustainable affordable homes we need and mitigate the use of any green spaces where possible.”

Earlier this month housing minister Michael Gove spoke in Parliament about giving local authorities more ‘leeway’ over government set housing targets, adding that the way it is currently calculated is likely ‘out of date’.

The council has also been advised that the timeline could be more flexible previously acknowledged – provided it can demonstrate good progress is being made.

A report to a full council meeting earlier this year said the borough would need to build more than 18,000 homes between now and 2038 –  albeit this was a ‘working figure’ subject to further analysis.

Opposition groups wanted to see this number reduced, particularly in light of the housing minister insisting that the method for calculating housing need gave councils a ‘starting point’, rather than a target.

But legal advice to the council says there would be ‘significant challenges’  to going 20pc below LHN – including the risk that it would thrown out by the planning inspector.

Town hall bosses have been told there are no examples of local authorities having successfully done this.

However, given the current uncertainty, the council now intends to run a ‘hybrid consultation’, including a number of different options.

It  ‘lead with the least risk option’ of meeting the LHN in full, but also presents alternatives for consideration.

This, according to council papers, will give the authority ‘time to develop the options and supporting evidence base’.

Coun Meller added: “The recent comments from the Housing Secretary at the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee suggest changes on how housing need is calculated could be on the way.

“Therefore it is right we maximise our time to gather our evidence, while bearing in mind any significant policy changes that could follow from government, which would impact on any proposed Local Plan for the borough.”

Councillor Mike Hurleston, leader of the council’s Conservative group, has backed the move, describing it as ‘sensible’.

He said: “There’s no point putting through a plan hastily without providing the evidence to back it up.

“Yes, there is a risk that the government steps in, but that risk is perceived to be low by us as we are cracking on with – it’s not as if we are doing nothing.

“It’s better to take more time and provide more evidence than it is to go too early and the inspector rejects the plan.”

Lib Dem group leader Mark Hunter said it was probably ‘the only option left’ to council bosses, claiming not enough work had been done on the local plan in parallel with the now abandoned GMSF.

He said: “I’m not surprised frankly, we said throughout the whole of the GMSF wrangle, several times at council, that it was important work on the local plan continued in parallel.

“We were assured that was going on at the same time in parallel with the GMSF when it’s clear that it wasn’t to any great extent.”

Coun Hunter added: “That’s why I’m not surprised it’s been kicked into the long grass. It’s so controversial it’s probably the only option left to them now.”

Under the new timeline the council is looking to move its consultation to late summer/early autumn next year, with a view to ultimately adopting the plan in Autumn 2024.

More information on Stockport’s local plan can be found here: https://www.stockport.gov.uk/showcase/stockport-local-plan

 

Words: Nick Statham, Local Democracy Reporter


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