Ah, Mancville in the ‘80s - the Hacienda, New Order & The Smiths, United with two FA Cup wins in 3 years - it were brilliyunt.
Brilliant, maybe, but relevant? Well, now we do seem to be regressing to the ‘80s, in the world of the Greater Manchester Combined Authority and its development ideas.
Their new ‘Greater Manchester Spatial Framework’ looks to have some signature 1980s elements: motorway junctions as the key locations for development….huge ‘strategic sites’, supposedly for “industry” to attract spec development (a sort of faith-based planning leading to enormous sheds to store white goods)…. and an overarching, outdated job creation myth: that you get employment growth by releasing land.
Worse, all this land release - for housing and for sheds - seems (1980s-style) to be without much thought for anything else: road-based transport in a region where every motorway is stuffed, climate change, the Green Belt, or what Greater Manchester’s real economy needs for 21st century growth.
We now have some sixty sites, eating up 12,000 acres of open land, all over the conurbation, and a lot of it within the Green Belt that the Government is supposedly committed to protecting.
Let’s look at one of these places. Out in the far west of Greater Manchester, where West Lancashire and Wigan are separated by a mile or so of open land either side of the M6, the Spatial Framework wants to take 180 acres of Green Belt right by Junction 26. This “M6 Corridor” will house 1.6 million square feet of sheds, 13 times the floorspace of the Asda down the road.
Local residents are, predictably, horrified. They’ll be losing a great tract of valued green space that defines the edge of their community: arable fields, dog-walking paths and woodland, grazing land, and - sacrilege! - the farm where Blackpool donkeys spend their Wigan winters.
And this is not just nonsense in terms of planning, economics and transport, like the overall strategy. It’s also coupled with a scandalous lack of integrity by the local council, who in 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015 published plans confirming this land wouldn’t need to be taken out of the Green Belt. No wonder people don’t trust the planning system.
Back in 1999, in his foreword to the influential Urban Task Force report, Richard Rogers said we were at a “fork in the road”, between the 20th century’s wasteful and unsustainable practice and a more intelligent and attractive urban future.
This isn’t just about housing and green fields. It’s also about how the modern economy really works. Cities and towns are where growth will happen, not suburban warehouses with less than one job for every 1000 square feet. The logic should flow from how the 21st economy generates jobs, through places and access, and only then on to land and space.
Greater Manchester need to withdraw their Framework and redo it. They need to turn a land development policy into an economic development policy. They need to plan around public transport, not fantasise about the motorways and keep loading cars and trucks on. And they need to think rigorously about quality of life, open space, and the green assets of the North West’s countryside.
They need, in short, to recognise that we’re well into the 21st century.
1980s Madchester, eh - we all had a great time, sure; but most of us have grown up.