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Planning for Recovery: An Insight from Manchester

Published by Turley on 7th May 2020 -

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Manchester City Council has published papers in advance of its Executive meeting today (Wednesday 6 May) and, together with an update on the response to COVID-19, its focus is on planning for recovery. Whilst the virus continues to take its toll and we await the Government’s ‘roadmap’, the City Council is quite rightly considering and planning proactively for the future. This includes welcome attention paid to the importance of development and continued investment in the city.

A plan for plans

The ‘Forward Recovery Planning’ paper sets out broad intentions to be followed up with more detailed action planning and implementation. A ‘reset’ of the ‘Our Manchester Strategy’ is to be undertaken and completed within six months. This will cover multiple elements, but from an economic perspective an Economic Recovery Plan is to be developed which considers immediate, medium and longer term phases.

In the immediate phase the paper makes a commitment to sustaining confidence in the residential and commercial development market by continuing to encourage pre-planning discussions, progressing planning applications to decision, and concluding the necessary legal arrangements for projects that will drive growth objectives and have a demonstrable capacity to deliver quickly. This has been reflected in the council’s positive approach to keeping the planning system working over recent weeks, including through delegated decisions.

The paper also makes clear that the City Council will maintain continuity of messaging to investors and developers. Those areas of emphasis are said to be the quality of design and build of new development; the quality of public realm, spaces and amenity; the creation of ‘place’; and the commitment to delivering a zero carbon city.

This latter commitment features heavily in the paper, with recognition that the present crisis has led to an unprecedented reduction in CO2 emissions and a huge improvement in air quality. The challenge for the recovery phase, the paper explains, is how to urgently restart the city’s economy to protect the income and livelihoods of people, whilst striving to capitalise on some of the positive environmental benefits we have seen. The need for a refreshed transport strategy to underpin and support both the city’s recovery and its zero carbon ambition is recognised and will be advanced.

The paper also recognises the severe economic challenges the development industry will be facing, accepting that any ‘planning gain’ is far more likely to be secured through enhanced value over time rather than upfront via Section 106 Agreements. Specifically on residential development, the paper explains work is underway with Homes England and the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government on an enabling approach to delivery that recognises the scale of the challenges on the ground to deliver.

This new economic reality is to be reflected in the council’s planning policy, including in the new Manchester Local Plan. This will take some time to go through the plan-making process, but there is recognition of a new context and that the Local Plan will need to set a clear vision for the future and provide confidence to investors.

Manchester leading the way

Manchester is clearly ahead of many local authorities in outlining its approach to recovery and importantly, in recognising the key role the property sector and development industry must play in supporting the city’s economy and creating employment. There is more detail to come, but the positive determination of planning applications over recent weeks, coupled with very early recognition that viability will be challenged by the new circumstances, will doubtless give investors and developers greater confidence. The continued emphasis on quality and sustainability is to be welcomed, recognising that there may be some good arising from the current crisis. The City Council faces huge challenges, but it is already plotting a positive way forward.

6 May 2020

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Iona Stonehouse

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