Stockport’s long-term housing strategy delayed again as council chiefs await ‘clarity’ from new PM

The council’s political leader says the turbulence at Westminster means the consultation should not go ahead right now, but the decision to delay has been criticised by the opposition.

Stockport’s long-term housing strategy has been delayed for a second time, with council bosses awaiting ‘clarity’ on planning policy once a new PM is in place.

The only borough in Greater Manchester not involved in the joint Places for Everyone masterplan, a public consultation on a draft Local Plan was due to be launched later this month.

This had already been pushed back by the former Labour administration, after the government hinted councils could soon have ‘greater leeway’ over the number of homes they need to build each year.

Now it has stalled again, with town hall bosses citing ‘turbulence’ at national government level and the pressures residents and businesses are facing due to the ‘cost of living crisis’.

What has the council leader said?

Councillor Mark Hunter, Lib Dem leader of the council, said: “Unfortunately, with a new Prime Minister due to be announced next week followed by the formation of a new government and no clarity about their intentions around planning matters, we have taken the difficult decision that this is not the time to launch such a consultation.

“We are advised that the consultation will cost in the region of £200k and could be rendered void by any changes to planning policy, forcing the council to reconsider the draft Local Plan and potentially have to repeat the exercise on a revised version.

“The same decision has been taken by other councils across the country and the political spectrum.”

Coun Hunter added: “At this time of great financial constraint, we feel the uncertainties are too great for this to be a sensible use of public funds and we are instead pausing this process whilst awaiting clarity from the new government. We will review the process in due course.”

What happened when Stockport pulled out of the Places for Everyone plan?

Stockport pulled out of the joint Places for Everyone masterplan – then called the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework (GMSF) – in December 2020, largely due to the Lib Dems voting to go it alone.

Labour argued the blueprint was the best way to protect the vast majority of green belt from ‘cherry picking’ by developers, while also delivering the homes and jobs Stockport needs.

But the Lib Dems said the plan was ‘flawed from the start’ – Coun Hunter adding that a recognition Stockport needed new homes did not justify giving developers ‘a licence to concrete over the countryside’.

It meant that Stockport would instead have to address its housing and employment needs via a local plan – which would need to be approved by the government and adopted by the end of 2023.

What has the opposition said?

Labour – the largest opposition group – has attacked the latest ‘eleventh hour’ delay, accusing the Lib Dems of ‘plunging’ the borough ‘into further uncertainty’.

They also point to the fact that the Conservative leadership election – which will determine the new Prime Minister – has been going on for nearly two months.

Coun David Meller, shadow cabinet member for economy and regeneration, said: “This has come as a real surprise. Under our leadership, we ensured work progressed on the Local Plan, cross-party, particularly considering the council decision made on the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework: a decision we respected, albeit reluctantly.

“Yet the decision reached on Wednesday, with no prior warning to any of the other political groups on the council, has run roughshod over earlier promises from the council leader to work cross-party on key issues for the good of Stockport.

“To put it bluntly, this is a dereliction of duty from this Lib Dem administration. It makes the council look like a laughing stock, damages our chances of further investment and tramples on their earlier promises of cross-party working.

“We have a zombie government in Westminster and a walking dead administration in Stockport Town Hall. It’s just not good enough.”