Jim McMahon (Oldham West and Royton) (Lab/Co-op)
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Nokes. I congratulate the hon. Member for Bury North (James Daly) on securing the debate. It might seem like a very localised matter, but it will affect 2.5 million people in Greater Manchester, and it is a huge issue for the Members of Parliament who represent them. It has been all-consuming for a few years now. I should probably declare my constituency position on this, which is that I do not support the spatial framework in its current form. The weight of responsibility for housing development is not evenly spread, either across Greater Manchester or within boroughs, and the process has led to mistrust. When I say that, I am just being honest about the weight of feedback that I get from local people.
The principle of a spatial framework is critical, and it was hard-wired into the Greater Manchester devolution deal: it was about Greater Manchester deciding for itself how it wanted to see its future. As to the idea that after being given that responsibility and power Greater Manchester should suddenly say to Government, “Actually, we don’t want to play anymore on this, because it is just too difficult,” I am afraid that that is not a mature way to do politics. We have to take responsibility for finding a way through. Ultimately, when housing development need is identified, it will affect our constituents, and we have a responsibility to ensure that the next generation will be provided for. We need to provide for the right type of housing in the right place in the future. There are no easy answers in this situation, but I think there may be an easier way to get where we want to go than the journey we have taken so far.
I have heard the politicisation of the issue, in terms of Greater Manchester having a Labour Mayor, among other things, but it does not matter what party the Mayor represents. There is a legal responsibility, passed down by central Government, to produce a spatial framework covering the whole of Greater Manchester —and, by the way, without a spatial framework the responsibility would fall on each of the 10 local authorities individually to create a new local plan, which would have a worse impact on most places, in terms of the distribution of development, and probably run a greater risk of a developers’ free-for-all if the plan was not in place at the right time. It is in our collective interest to try to find a way through.
My boss, my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Gwynne), should have been here today, but he is self-isolating. He has been clear from the outset about the balance between making the mature response and planning ahead, because that is the right thing to do, and giving voice to constituents. There are proposals to extend the Bredbury Park industrial estate into the Tame valley but he and local people have worked out that that could be accommodated at Ashton Moss. We have to find a different way of engaging the public, so that together we co-produce the future of Greater Manchester. We cannot have people believing that the future is being done to them or that the future of the places and communities where they live and grew up, and in which they have a stake, is being decided without them.
My first submission went to 70 pages. I have a quite geeky interest in some of the issues—and they are important. It was a call for the development of more neighbourhood plans. I would love people in my constituency to come together to co-produce the development of their area. The evidence from across the country is that when local people have the task of developing neighbourhood plans they come up with greater housing numbers than were originally proposed, because they know the infill sites that could be developed, and they know the community better. However, of course, for a geographical area as large as the one that the spatial framework covers, it is not possible to do those things within the timescale that has been announced.
I remember asking a previous notMinister in this Chamber whether the Government would give way and allow us to develop a new population evidence base. If we are not allowed to use the most up-to-date, bespoke evidence base for our population estimate, we will always provide more, because we will not believe the estimates are correct. I do not think that there is a single MP in the Chamber who believes that the current population estimates proposed by the Government are anywhere near the reality on the ground. They do not even take into account the impact of Brexit and the new immigration system, let alone other issues. There is also a general belief that even the employment land evidence base is not robust enough—and that is before getting on to the type of employment and the nature of the employment structure that we want in Greater Manchester. Time was, for a town such as Oldham, which was built on the mills, that tens of thousands of people came to work in the palaces of industry—to take a rose-tinted view of them. Now, square footage does not equal jobs. The rise of automation means that the huge factories and distribution centres that have been developed do not mean thousands of jobs. For a town such as Oldham, we want to be ambitious—realistic, yes—about the type of employment that we will get.
On infrastructure, as much as we talk about the need for schools, GP practices, hospitals, transport and all the rest, we should also talk about broadband and how the future world of work will be. What type of connectivity will people need? That is where Greater Manchester deserves great credit, because it is trying to connect the 2040 transport plan to ensure that we bring together how our conurbation will develop, in terms of planning, employment and physical development, and how people will get to work and share the area. There is no doubt that Greater Manchester cannot do that by itself.
Every Member of Parliament, regardless of which party we stand for—although I am afraid the weight falls on the Government—has to accept that if our shared belief is that “brownfield first” is a policy that we should pursue, we have to accept that a cost comes with that. It cannot be done on the cheap. It is not just about the cost of remediating a site that might be polluted; there is an issue in towns such as mine, where the end values are so low that the gap is even tighter. We need far more effort on that.
We also need a more radical plan to address the current housing stock, not just one that talks about building new stuff but ignores the substandard housing conditions that many people in Greater Manchester live in. The housing market renewal programme that was cancelled in 2010 intended to remove a lot of substandard accommodation—terraced streets in Oldham that were not fit for purpose—and replace them with decent quality family homes. When that money was taken away, nothing followed it. We have to address the poor quality that exists today and improve the standard across the board. Of course, we have to plan for the future, but that has to be done in partnership.
I genuinely hope that we will work together, not to pass the buck between Westminster and Greater Manchester, or between Conservative and Labour. The community expects us to be mature, to grow up and to work in partnership to find a solution. We need bespoke population data for Greater Manchester, in partnership with the Government and Greater Manchester, a more ambitious fund for brownfield sites in Greater Manchester, so the sites that we identify can be brought to market and developed in a reasonable timeframe, and far more ambition on the infrastructure investment that we need. I genuinely believe that if we work together, we can bring local people with us. But if local people continue to see debates such as this, where we pass the buck between different parties and from central Government to local government, I am afraid that will reflect badly on us all. Let today mark the change that our communities want, and let us begin to work together on it.