'Challenges to Assumptions Underlying Stockport MBC Development Proposals'

Below is a critique of GMSF sent to us by one resident of High Lane in November 2016 - a resident who is recognised economic expert.

Reflecting on the packed meeting on Saturday 12th November 2016, few seem to question the motivations and assumptions underpinning these appalling development proposals.  

At the top level, is it really national policy to follow China and India in development of mega-cities?  Countries offering better quality of life, such as Germany, have more dispersed population concentrations - large enough to be vibrant but usually not becoming dysfunctional.  Greater Manchester has already become dysfunctional, evidenced by a Times Higher Education survey of staff quality of life, showing Manchester and Glasgow competing for bottom place.  Looked at from this perspective, would it not be better for the overall economy and national quality of life to encourage positive development and vibrancy in areas with great potential but short on those characteristics?  The Potteries come to mind, situated only 90 minutes from London, with an abundance of brownfield sites, and some cultural and educational bases from which to grow.   Maybe we are suffering from the giant egos of Greater Manchester councillors and mayoral candidates, or becoming infatuated by the hollow rhetoric of the "Northern Powerhouse".

At borough level, it is equally dysfunctional to concentrate so much of the development in Stockport, which for reasons of its geography and historical neglect of infrastructure has some of the worst road congestion and rail infrastructure in Greater Manchester.   Quality of life for rail users took a huge step back in 1991, when the relatively smooth, clean and reliable electric service from Hazel Grove to Manchester then Altrincham was disconnected to create part of the first Metro line.   Our "services" now have some of the most polluting, noisy and unreliable trains on the network, yet they are packed at rush hours as the roads are even worse.   The new road will do very little to ease congestion, as critical A34 junctions including at Gatley are already saturated.   The huge developments already started around Woodford and other sites near the A34 will guarantee continued road chaos.

At site level, objections to such crass developments on green belt land have been well articulated and the proposals no doubt will be challenged, politically and legally.  It seems the green belt has become a green light for land grabbing developers, get-rich-quick land owners, and who knows the motives of the planners and local decision makers.  In the specific context of High Lane, the green belt also provides part of the visible boundary of present urbanisation, as these green foothills of the Pennines are visible from many points across the city and those landing at Manchester airport.  These development proposals threaten to destroy one of Manchester's natural aesthetics - its rim of mostly green hills on three sides.  Here comparisons with the unchecked growth of some of the ugliest Latin American cities come to mind.   

It is also questionable whether people seeking "affordable homes" are best served by being offered small houses or apartments at the very edge of Greater Manchester.  There is little employment in the immediate area, which will therefore necessitate many journeys in polluting cars or on expensive and sub-standard trains and bus services.  Furthermore, most people in this need category will be "millennials", many of whom prefer more trendy urban environments, often in mid-rise apartment blocks.  Salford has shown what can be created, even in the most challenging of environments.   Surely there must still be some hope for Stockport town centre, with its very good road and rail connections, and many brownfield sites within walking distance of the stations. It is also situated at the start of one of Britain’s most iconic rivers, albeit currently hidden in the town centre.  This is an opportunity to bring vibrancy to this town centre, which is only 10-12 minutes by very frequent trains to Piccadilly: a tram from Salford Quays to central Manchester takes longer.  

However, these approaches would require a positive approach to planning, rather than letting "the market" and developers dictate what is needed.  It is absurd to leave long term and environmentally damaging development to market forces, after such a long but unsustainable period of market distortion through "quantitative easing” and artificially low interest rates.  These have inflated the price bubble and affordability issues at the base of the market.  Another factor not yet in the equation is Brexit and its restrictions on permanent inward migration, plus its stimulus to outward migration as more jobs leave the UK.  As only 19% of millennials voted for Brexit, they will be strongly represented among the outward migrants.  However, property developers and land owners will not care about these issues, as long as today's approach allows them to turn the green belt to quick gains.  

It may soon be time to rewrite that song about England's green and pleasant land.  There is nothing green or pleasant about these proposed extensions of GM’s urban sprawl.