Words by Gary Carter
HOPES are rising that a controversial piece of green belt land may be spared from being developed.
Sidebottom Fold Farm, on the hills above Copley in Stalybridge, was on a list of sites drawn up as part of the initial Greater Manchester Spatial Framework document.
Up to 650 ‘executive style’ homes may have been built on the site, leading to protests and opposition voices to be raised.
However, Jonathan Reynolds MP hinted there may be a rethink when a new draft of the GMSF is published later this year.
Instead, there may be more focus on using existing brownfield sites – a new list of which has been collated, featuring seven sites in Stalybridge.
The former Pineapple Inn on Acres Lane, the car park on Castle Street, the former police station and what used to be the Wellington Inn on Caroline Street all feature.
Concerns over the effect such a development on Sidebottom Fold would have on traffic was one of the main arguments against the GMSF proposal.
Other include the loss of valuable green belt land that dominates the view above the school and recreation centre at Copley.
And floods in 2016 also highlighted how vital the loss of land can be when it comes to water running off the hills.
However, Mr Reynolds wrote: “It is expected that there will be some downward adjustment of the housing target for Greater Manchester when the Government publishes its standardised assessment figures, but not by much.
“Tameside will still need to look to build around 650 homes a year for the next 20 years.
“The Brownfield Register will help a lot and allow people to see the mixture of brown and green sites together.
“If there is sufficient viable brownfield land to meet our targets then that’s that what will be used.
“However no-one, not even the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England, has suggested that brownfield land alone will be sufficient to meet the target across Greater Manchester.
“The new draft will include the work that I’ve been doing with Andy Burnham (Mayor of Manchester) on town centre regeneration.
“Clearly, if we can make the land around Stalybridge station viable and increase residency in town centres that will make a considerable difference to the pressure on the green belt.
“I really hope we can do this – the key is getting a plan for development and the requisite land assembled that will bring in the investment to make a residential development stack up.
“Based on this latest information I think there is a real possibility for the next draft to remove the Sidebottom Fold site in Stalybridge by way of proposing the town centre development instead.”
Mr Reynolds met with elected Mayor of Salford, Paul Dennett, who has been charged with re-writing the GMSF, and believes four main points will be looked at:
• The use of viable brownfield land should be maximised before any green belt is released
• A way to fund infrastructure at the same time as new housing
• All developments should have a range of housing sizes and tenures to match different levels of affordability
• Planning development is a better approach than leaving it to developers. If a proper plan is not formulated this is what will happen.
Mr Reynolds said: “I know from my experience on this issue that some people are entirely opposed to any new sites being developed.
“I have always been clear this is neither practically possible under the Government’s development framework, nor fair on the next generation.
“I feel it was right to make that clear from the outset.
“I think the majority of people just want to know the principles above will be adhered to. That was certainly what I found during the many conversations I had on this issue during the election.
“It feels like this is going in the right direction, addressing the genuine need for new housing but regenerating as much brownfield land as possible and keeping any green belt release to the absolute minimum.
“Paul [Dennett], like me, is also committed to making sure any sites that are developed contain a mix of housing and include social and affordable properties too.”
Despite Mr Reynolds’ hopeful update, those opposed to the plans remain doubtful.
Debbie Phanjo, a key local campaigner to protect green belt land, said: “I have read his post and his GMSF submission.
“Comments like: ‘I think’, ‘real possibility’, ‘confirm in principle their commitment’, ‘undertaking a major study’, ‘must be possible’. I am not holding my breath.
“What is the saying? It’s not over until the fat lady sings.”
Find out more about the GMSF online: www.greatermanchester-ca.gov.uk/GMSF