The head of the Greater Manchester Combined Authority on driving regeneration while protecting green belt land

Eamonn Boylan

Residents of Greater Manchester had until 18 March to give their views on the city region’s latest draft routemap for development and growth to 2037. It is an important milestone for Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA), as it would be fair to say that the last draft of the spatial framework put out for consultation, in 2016, didn’t go down well. As a result, this one has been radically rewritten, just as Andy Burnham pledged when he was campaigning to become mayor of Greater Manchester.

While still focusing on the delicate balance of boosting housing, economy, jobs, environment and transport, the new framework responds to public concern at the potential loss of green belt land to development, by protecting more of it. It aims to make the most of the city region’s brownfield sites and drive regeneration and intensification of town centres, including advocating a mayoral development corporation for Stockport.

GMCA chief executive, Eamonn Boylan, understands the transformative power of regeneration. He spent his early career rising through council housing departments, serving as housing director at Manchester and Sheffield. Prior to joining GMCA he was chief executive of Stockport council, but his CV also includes roles as deputy chief executive of Homes England’s predecessor, the Homes and Communities Agency and, of course, Manchester council.

How has the draft spatial framework been received so far?

The reaction has been generally very positive. We have reduced the net loss of green belt by 50% with the new draft, but clearly, we will never convince those who don’t want green areas near them to be developed, and they have legitimate concerns. There has been a general acceptance that we’re in a better place now.

We will never convince those who don’t want green areas near them to be developed

The previous draft did not describe what individual districts could do in their town centres. The mayor’s town centre challenge [launched late last year] has initiated a programme, which the districts have risen to. Emerging plans are encapsulating the need not just for housing, but also for diversity.

What would help to deliver on your aspirations?

We need to take a place-based approach, but our concern is that the ability to intervene in that way is constrained. The government’s focus on housing numbers doesn’t allow us to focus on quality of places. It is short-sighted and could result in the creation of a generation of developments that are not sustainable.

The government’s focus on housing numbers doesn’t allow us to focus on quality of places

I praise the government for the resource being put into delivering housing, but 80% of the programmes are in areas of high affordability, basically London and the South-east. A blanket benefit-cost ratio is being applied, which makes it hard to do things in more deprived areas where land values are low but demand for housing is still significant. I’m not arguing with the calculation, but if you are going to build in sustainability and revitalise towns, then you need the ability to find a more strategic approach to sustainable development.

In the Ancoats and New Islington area of Manchester we’re seeing housebuilders of primarily apartments going great guns. That is because of the investment we had from English Partnerships [now Homes England] and government programmes in the public realm over the course of 20 years, which has enabled the place to fly. We need money to put in the quality social infrastructure to enable developers to come in and do what they do best. Some of the programmes of the past, like City Challenge, created a more sustainable platform.


The hoUSe concept by shedkm and Urban Splash in New Islington, Manchester, is a contemporary reinterpretation of the traditional terraced house

How are you linking housing and health?

Housing providers are integral to our ambitions around integrated health and social care, and the reshaping of public health. We have a changing population and an ageing demographic – as well as the drive to ensure sustainability of our health system – so that leads us to look to delivering care at or close to homes.

We’ll also be publishing what we’re calling a white paper, setting out the Greater Manchester approach to integrated public services. That will cover our work to create local hubs built around GP services, with housing, health and care professionals. Poor housing conditions are a key driver of poor health outcomes.

Our primary objective is to move from a system where we are dealing with consequences of failure to stopping it happening in the first place

Our primary objective is to move from a system where we are dealing with consequences of failure to stopping it happening in the first place. We’re recognising the dignity of our citizens.

What do you want from housebuilders and developers?

We want them to work with us to develop affordable and deliverable models, and a range of housing to meet the needs of our population. We’ve been accused of wanting executive homes in the green belt, but we want a proportion of homes to be genuinely affordable. We are looking to find ways of making this happen, but will need to work with Homes England and housing associations as well to do it.

We published a vision for housing alongside the framework, and there will be a housing strategy, coming soon. We are looking to define affordability, so that we know what people can afford. We are also targeting carbon neutrality for 2038, which will mean all new homes – and commercial and industrial buildings – will need to be net zero carbon by 2028. We are determined that we won’t compromise on quality.

Eamonn Boylan is chief executive of the Greater Manchester Combined Authority


Number of residents in Greater Manchester: 2.8 million, with an increase of more than 200,00 residents in the last decade

Number of additional homes to be provided under the draft framework: 201,000 by 2037

Affordable homes target: 50,000 homes, 30,000 of which should be on social tenure