Discover more from The Mill
Is Greater Manchester’s controversial housing deal on the brink of collapse?
Plus: Dogs now welcome on Metrolink - and the crisis in local hospitals
Good evening Millers — it’s the first Monday briefing of 2023! Welcome all, especially the members who have joined over the past week, ready to embark on a new year reading the best journalism in Greater Manchester. We now have 1,721 paying members and 29,389 Millers on our email list and you can help us add more by forwarding this email to friends – new people can sign up by clicking here.
Today, we’re taking a look at a very big political story that you might not have heard much about: the possible demise of a giant strategic plan that is supposed to decide where houses, offices and factories get built for the next few decades. The agreement, called Places for Everyone, is one of Andy Burnham’s signature projects and it has ignited years of rows over plans to build on the green belt — but is it about to collapse? Plus we’ve got news of a weather warning, unhappy doctors and a lovely Grade-II cottage in Saddleworth.
Over the weekend, we heard from five young people who want to make 2023 their year and who told us about their ambitions for the coming months. It’s one of a series of stories we are publishing this month about people who might influence life in Greater Manchester in the year ahead. Last week, we published a very popular report from Chorlton, where the growth of a local football club has divided the community - that one is members-only so join up for quotes like “They sing chants about being vegetarians and eating hummus”.
Ready for new ideas in 2023?
Today’s sponsor: For almost 250 years, the Manchester Lit & Phil have been at the centre of this city’s intellectual life, challenging people to think more deeply and helping them to understand how the world is changing. They’re pretty damn good at it too, which is why greats like Alan Turing and Ernest Rutherford have been Lit & Phil members in the past, and why hundreds of Millers are already part of their community. To spread the word, they are sponsoring today’s briefing and offering Millers a special 30% discount on monthly and annual memberships. Just click those links to get the discount or check out their brilliant line-up of upcoming talks.
Want this slot? If you fancy sponsoring future editions of The Mill and reaching our audience of 29,000 loyal Millers, please email email@example.com.
This week’s weather
Our forecast is from local weatherman Martin Miles, who says “the mild, wet and windy start to 2023 will continue this week as low pressure sweeps in from the Atlantic. There is a weather warning in place for rain on Tuesday and the Met office may issue further warnings during the week.”
Monday 🌦 Windy with heavy showers and infrequent bright spells. Max 8°c.
Tuesday ⚠️ Mild and windy with heavy rain. A yellow weather warning is in place for heavy rain. Max 11°c.
Wednesday 🌦 Windy with heavy showers and limited sunny spells. Cooler. Max 8°c
Thursday 🌧️ Mild, wet and windy as low pressure continues to dominate. Max 10°c.
Friday 🌦 Sunshine and heavy showers. Windy once again. Max 8°c.
Weekend 🌦 Remaining very unsettled with showers or longer spells of rain. Less mild, especially by Sunday.
You can find the latest forecast at Manchester Weather on Facebook — daily forecasts are published at 6.15am.
The big story: Is Greater Manchester’s controversial housing deal about to collapse?
Top line: Places for Everyone, Greater Manchester’s flagship plan for regional growth, is under threat. The government’s proposed relaxation of housing targets might lead to councils pulling out at the last minute to avoid development on the green belt, with Oldham looking the most likely to do so.
Step back: Places for Everyone is a long-term plan involving nine of the ten boroughs in Greater Manchester, plotting their development up to 2037. It covers housing, industry, transport and jobs. It’s a successor to the sexily named Greater Manchester Spatial Framework, which fell apart last year after Stockport pulled out with concerns over green belt development.
Last month, levelling up secretary Michael Gove said the government is planning to ditch top-down housing targets, meaning councils would decide how many homes to build rather than Whitehall: “It will be up to local authorities, working with their communities, to determine how many homes can actually be built,” Gove said, responding to pressure from his backbenches.
Simon Ricketts, a planning lawyer at London legal firm Town Legal, said: “It will be open season for authorities and/or local campaigners to press the case for lower numbers to be adopted.”
And he was right. MPs and councillors in Oldham and Bury are lobbying their councils to withdraw from Places for Everyone, a plan that has been years in the making and which was predicated on green belt land being “released” in order for Greater Manchester to hit its housing targets. Without the threat of those targets, it becomes harder for local leaders to justify the incursions into the green belt.
James Daly, Conservative MP for Bury North, has written to Gove and Bury council leader Eamonn O’Brien, saying “The new guidance would clearly require Bury Council to withdraw from ‘Places for Everyone’”. And Oldham Council leader Amanda Chadderton says she is working with council officers to see how the changes would affect green belt land in Oldham.
Place North West’s property newsletter The Subplot reported recently that the housing targets relaxation is “catastrophic” for Places for Everyone.
If Places for Everyone does collapse, it would mean each individual borough would have to create its own local plan. Green belt activists who have been fighting the Spatial Framework and Places for Everyone project for years — including several very vocal local Facebook groups devoted to the cause — would be delighted with that outcome.
Advocates of the plan, however, say it’s crucial to Greater Manchester working together to get homes, offices, factories and public transport in the right places. Richard Cook, Senior Director in Economics at Pegasus Group, a planning and economic development consultancy, told The Mill:
I think for Greater Manchester that [the collapse of Places for Everyone] would be a really bad thing. GM was the first area to have a devolution deal, so it's all about working in a combined way to support sustainable economic growth, and if they can't get Places for Everyone through, then I don't think that's a particularly good look.
But how likely is that? A senior council figure in Bury says the plan may survive, but the government’s announcement has changed the political dynamics. “It removes the cover we had. At the moment you've got the benefit of saying: ‘if we don't do it, they [central] government will do it to us anyway.’”
The crunch point: Everyone is looking at Oldham, where the council is already on the back foot politically (Mills passim) and where Labour is worried about losing control in May’s all-out elections after a torrid few years in which two council leaders have been deposed amidst baseless allegations about child grooming cover-ups. “Oldham is now the one that is most exposed,” says one senior Greater Manchester figure.
One scenario is that the borough might pull out of Places for Everyone before the elections, to stop it becoming a major issue at the polls.
Another is that Labour gets swept away by Conservative, Lib Dem and independent candidates in May and a new administration withdraws.
“Previously, the council has always maintained that it’s been forced to use these targets by government rules, and now it isn't. So why use them?” asks Howard Sykes, the Lib Dem leader in Oldham. “This is Greater Manchester doing what’s best for Greater Manchester, but it isn’t necessarily in Oldham’s interests, but that’s a bit of a pattern we’ve had for the past two or three years.”
Bottom line: Places for Everyone fits firmly into the “Boring but important” category of news. Very few people will have read its 468 pages of graphs and numbers, but it will have far reaching implications. Politically, it has always been a huge test not only of Andy Burnham’s leadership but also of the viability of the Greater Manchester project. If the ten boroughs (now down to nine after Stockport withdrew) can’t coordinate on major strategic plans like this, there is little hope for genuinely joined-up thinking when it comes to public transport and economic development. One of the promises of Places for Everyone was to spread the benefits of GM’s growth across the north of the region – it might be there that the plan gets undone.
To get well-informed Greater Manchester journalism in your inbox every week, join our email list now
Home of the week
A delightful Grade II listed cottage in Saddleworth, which is accessed via a magical pathway through the forest. It has three bedrooms and views of the Saddleworth Valley, and it’s on the market for £450,000.
Your Mill briefing
“This is a flagship project of international importance. It needs backing.” – that’s Andy Burnham talking to the Observer about Atom Valley, the massive expanse of land straddling Bury, Rochdale and Oldham where he wants to build a global manufacturing hub. It’s been proposed as a way to fix Greater Manchester’s own north-south divide, returning prosperity to the areas hardest hit by industrial decline: “I’ve always been clear since I came into this role that in the end Greater Manchester’s devolution will be judged by what it can do for Oldham and Rochdale,” says Burnham. “This is us levelling up Greater Manchester ourselves.”
The number of households in temporary homeless accommodation in Manchester is up 30% on 2021 figures, now standing at 3,189. Last year, the council opened 6,525 homeless applications, that’s more than any other council in the country. The homelessness directorate’s inability to find suitable accommodation for families means over 100 a month are being checked in to B&Bs which, as we have reported, tend to offer subpar living standards. Go deeper: Manchester has a homelessness crisis. But it's not the one you thought.
This morning, BBC Radio Manchester read an anonymous letter from a senior doctor working in Greater Manchester, detailing their experience of the current crisis in the NHS. They described patients waiting for days in A&E, and said: "We will find a way to treat you in amongst the chaos. Yet we need to be honest about the conditions right now. I worry, as a doctor, I will make a mistake that will lead to significant patient harm and be accountable. How is it possible to not make a mistake in these circumstances? And who's to blame when that happens?"
Salford City Council has acquired Eccles Shopping Centre with plans for a major regeneration of the area. Mayor Paul Dennett said: “It’s time to accept some hard truths, that the centre as it stands now isn’t working for the town or the community.” It follows other councils across Greater Manchester buying up dilapidated shopping malls, including in Wythenshawe, Stockport and Oldham. (We’re working on a piece about this trend — hit reply if you can help).
Victory for all local dogs, who are set to be able to travel on Metrolink at their leisure after a three-month trial that ended in October. A final decision will be made this week by councillors, with Transport for Greater Manchester bosses endorsing the idea.
And finally, the mighty West Didsbury and Chorlton AFC lost 5-3 over the weekend, playing away at AFC Liverpool. On Thursday, we chronicled the neighbourhood tensions that have resulted from the club’s burgeoning popularity. Local residents even demanded the club pay for a moth survey to prove their floodlights weren’t harming the local population (they weren’t). One Miller, responding to a quote from one WDCFC fan, wrote in the comments: “‘These people don't care about moths’ is not an accusation you can throw around lightly in Chorlton.”
Our favourite reads
How Manchester built a dream space to leave the world behind — The Guardian
If you’ve ever watched a play at the Royal Exchange, you’ve probably wondered how on earth the spaceship-like structure, nestled inside the old trading room, came to be. Greg Hersov, the former artistic director of the theatre, explains the history behind the space, through interviews with its founding members. From the “particular shade of green” chosen for the seating to the “rosebud” shaped theatre space, the design was meticulously thought out.
In this uplifting long read, Jack Rear speaks to members of Out In The City, a group of older LGBT people who were part of the first generation to come out. Meeting in Manchester’s Central Library, the group provides a support network for those who have not only been “dragged through the hedge backwards” by unsupportive family and friends, but now also face loneliness as older adults. “I’ve made more friends in the past few years than I’ve ever known”, said one member. “This group has saved my life.”
The secrets of Sale Sharks’ revival — The Times
Fancy dress, hip hop music and breathing exercises probably aren’t the first things that spring to mind when picturing a rugby training session. But for the Sale Sharks, they are all part and parcel of director of rugby Alex Sanderson’s leadership of the club. Encouraging players to come up with their own team mantras and incorporating mental health techniques, Sanderson has instilled a “renewed energy” in the Sharks, who have won seven of their first eight matches of the season.
Our to do list
📚 If you’re looking for a new journal to pen your 2023 goals, why not try making your own? The Costa craft club in Monton provides materials and tuition, all for £5. More here.
💃 Run, don’t walk, towards free dance lessons at ON BAR on Canal Street. Latin Bachata, a salsa-style dance which originated in the Dominican Republic, is suitable for all abilities and this four-week course welcomes beginners. Reserve a space here.
🎸 The best music talent in Manchester takes to Band on the Wall for the Sabotage Sessions, a showcase of the rising stars in the indie underground. Perhaps best of all? It’s free.
😆 On Portland Street, the classic pub The Old Monkey’s Trapdoor Comedy Club, hosted by MC Tony Basnett, is the perfect tonic to January blues. Tickets are £7.
🗣️ Head to Aunty Ji’s, a cosy restaurant in Levenshulme, for an evening of spoken word, poetry and sharing fiction. Tickets are free, but you have to register here.
🍸 Join like-minded work-from-homers and business owners for after work drinks in Cheadle Hulme, hosted by At The Kitchen. You can socialise, network, or just enjoy some delicious food. Tickets are £25.
For our glitteringly well-informed weekend to do list — which we send out every Thursday — hit the button below to join us as a member.