When it comes to the devolution of fiscal and functional responsibilities to city regions, Greater Manchester continues to be well ahead of the curve. Additional functions for the Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) that have already been trailed in the recent series of devolution ‘deals’ have now been set out in a draft statutory instrument This is due to take full effect on 8 May 2017, shortly after the Greater Manchester Mayoral Elections, ensuring that the successful candidate will benefit from an extensive suite of powers on taking office.
Many of the powers to be conferred on the GMCA correspond to those currently exercised by the Mayor of London, notably his planning functions. The powers and duties of the Homes and Community Agency provide another blueprint for a raft of functions relating to housing, regeneration, land acquisition and infrastructure. Other miscellaneous powers included in the draft legislation include highways, education skills and training and culture – all of which are to be exercised concurrently with the constituent councils.
The political sensitivities which surround planning decisions at a city region level are reflected in the draft regulations. These provide that key decisions to promote a spatial development strategy must be supported by a unanimous vote in favour by all members of the GMCA appointed by the constituent councils. Similarly, any proposal to exercise the powers of compulsory acquisition (CPO) set out in the draft regulations requires the consent of all members of the GMCA appointed by the council whose land is affected. In the event that approval is given, both the promotion of the spatial development strategy and the use of CPO powers are functions of the GMCA that can subsequently exercised only by the Mayor.
The potency of the spatial development strategy as a material planning consideration is reinforced by a requirement in the draft regulations that the constituent councils must have regard to it when exercising any of their functions – including development management.
An initial review of the draft regulations raises a number of issues. On a more prosaic level, it is assumed that the final version of the regulations will make reference to the new power to override third party rights contained in section 203 of the Housing and Planning Act 2016 as opposed to the now defunct power in section 237 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990. Turning to the powers of compulsory acquisition, when will it be appropriate for the Mayor to exercise his/her CPO powers as opposed to the constituent authority? – and will the national CPO guidance be updated to provide guidance for the use of the powers? The fact that the GMCA is will be given separate CPO powers to support its planning and housing makes the case for some bespoke guidance for GMCA CPOs even more compelling.
So from May 2017 metro-mayors will have a significant role to play in the future success of city regions. Devolution continues to be a rapidly developing agenda and we will be covering this topic in one of our forthcoming seminars in the New Year.