Proposed green belt developments near Oldham have attracted strong opposition from local campaign groups and Liberal Democrat councillors. The protests follow the publication of the latest consultation on the draft 2019 Greater Manchester spatial framework.
Following devolution in 2014, the plan is the first Spatial Development Strategy prepared outside London. Covering the period until 2037, its stated aims are to improve transport links, better connect people to employment opportunities, increase the supply of homes, make the most of parks and green spaces and regenerate town and city centres.
A consultation on the draft plan in 2016 attracted more than 27,000 responses, indicating concern about the loss of green belt around Greater Manchester and leading to public protests in Oldham, Rochdale and Bury. The foreword to the latest consultation states: "We have reduced the net loss of green belt by more than half by reducing the number of proposed sites and proposing additions to the green belt."
It continues: "The Greater Manchester green belt currently accounts for 47% of Greater Manchester’s land area. The reduction in the size of the green belt in the new spatial plan would be 4.1%, compared to 8.2% in 2016." Focusing on brownfield sites and prioritising redevelopment of town centres, it sets a minimum target of 50,000 additional affordable homes – 30,000 of which will be social housing. Following mayor Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham’s green summit in March 2018, the plan covers managing flood risk. It also opposes fracking in the Greater Manchester area. There will now be a "presumption against" granting planning permission for test sites in the 10 council areas.
For Oldham, the strategy sets projects approximately 14,290 homes between now and 2037, an increase of 509 dwellings on the previous plan. It reduces the reduction of green belt by 0.5% to 2.6% compared to the 2016 plan, with a proposal to build hundreds of home on the green belt in Flixton and to bulldoze a golf course now scrapped. But the strategy still includes two large commercial and housing developments at the Oldham and Rochdale border, at Stakehill and Kingsway South.
Natalie Yates-Bolton, coordinator from the Save Chadderton Green Belt group, said that local green belt protection groups were preparing to fight the latest plans: "We are very disappointed that they have just ignored the advice of Andy Burnham and the protest groups, and the population of Oldham."
Noel Mahon, from the Save Royton Greenbelt group, said that protests in 2016 involving more than 3,000 people objecting to development in Tandle Hill could be repeated. Citing concerns about traffic, noise and air pollution, he said: "We are upset and angry that Oldham council have ignored so many available brownfield sites that exist in the region. There are thousands of acres of derelict mills and wasteland laid empty across the borough that could be used for housing projects or commercial uses."
Howard Sykes, leader of the Liberal Democrat opposition in Oldham argued that the number of new home would overload the local road network and infrastructure and that the party’s calls for the green belt not to be encroached had been "ignored".
He said: "The Liberal Democrats recognise that we shall need more homes, including affordable housing for first-time buyers and renters. But our green belt is irreplaceable so we will continue to oppose any plans to build there when there are unused brownfield sites that can be built on and empty mills which can be converted into residential accommodation. Without more investment in our transport infrastructure and better public facilities we simply cannot cope with any more people."
Sean Fielding, Labour council leader, commented: "If we want to meet the housing demands and people's expectations for Oldham, and if we want to be a successful borough that's part of the wider Greater Manchester economy, not the one that's been left behind as we have been then we do have to take difficult decisions. Green belt is a very emotive phrase but within the sites that we've allocated there is some land that is not the kind of lush green fields that people walk their dogs in that you associate with that phrase."