Andy Burnham is right. The Greater Manchester Spatial Framework (GMSF) has been top down rather than bottom up. This dry sounding document is set to make serious inroads into the greenbelt in the county for housing development.

One needs to take into account the rampant opportunism that most politicians display ahead of elections; that said the dismay of three of the candidates standing for elected mayor of the Manchester City Region over the housing plan is notable.

There were widespread demonstrations as the consultation period closed with claims that people were unaware of what was being proposed.

There has been an opportunity to put viewpoints on line and there have been drop in sessions across Greater Manchester for people to state their case. However, many feel that the exercise was cosmetic and a product of the Combined Authority, a body mainly consisting of the ten leaders of the councils in the area.

Will the elected mayor change this perception? Will the new post herald an era where there is full democratic debate on issues like housing, the congestion charge and health? The jury is out but talk of making the elected mayor “the eleventh member of the family” suggests that Manchester City Council in particular will want to prevent the elected mayor being truly independent. The model is flawed. District council leaders sit on the Combined Authority with no direct mandate from the people. The Local Enterprise Partnerships are business organisations and strategic bodies like Transport For The North do not open their meetings to the public.

Real devolution requires politicians directly elected for the purpose of making big decisions on housing, transport, skills and health. We have Police Commissioner elections in an area of policy where there is little controversy. Why can’t debate over issues like greenbelt and hospitals be argued back and forth in election campaigns for a regional or sub regional assembly?

There need not be more politicians, the number of district councillors could be cut (Manchester has 96) and replaced with directly elected assembly people.


I went to the Fabian conference in London last week to see if there was any sign of the Greens, Lib Dems and the anti Corbyn forces getting their act together. I was once more disappointed as they continue to rearrange the deckchairs on the Titanic.

Amidst self indulgent in fighting, there were small signs that thinking is being done about local deals to allow the strongest of the opposition parties in a particular area to fight the Tories. But mostly people remained in their trenches with the Greens being attacked by Labour for standing a candidate in Copeland where the issue of nuclear power is a key one in the by election.

One red faced Labour purist, Luke Akehurst of Labour First claimed the Lib Dems should pay the price for many elections for going into coalition with the Tories in 2010 rather than support a rainbow coalition under Gordon Brown. Supporting him was Johanna Baxter of Scottish Labour saying she would never work with the SNP. It didn’t seem to occur to them that the rainbow coalition would have needed SNP support to make it remotely stable.

At the same conference, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn made a better speech. He’s hired John Prescott’s son apparently as a writer. Consequently, it had more North of England references than north London for a change. His theme that the system is rigged against ordinary people has potential.


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Manchester has firmly resisted the government’s backing for elected mayors, but that could be about to change. Tory sources at their conference in Birmingham were suggesting that in return for extra powers for the city region, Labour would concede the concept of an elected mayor for the Combined Authority.


The Scottish Referendum aftermath has sparked a feverish debate about how the North of England should be governed. On Merseyside it has caused a fresh outbreak of tension between Liverpool and Wirral. The city’s mayor Joe Anderson, denied the leadership of the Combined Authority by Wirral leader Phil Davies, declared that if the government was going to decentralise powers and fiscal responsibility “it would need to know that this is not being managed by a group of part time councillors who meet every four to six weeks.”


The Mayor claims that the Liverpool City Region is in danger of being left behind when the government devolves extra powers because the area views things through “the short-sighted prism of local politics”.


Wirral Council would see things differently and is spearheading a drive to widen the debate about how the whole of the North can benefit from devolution, not just the city regions.


It is very much in the interests of business investment and people’s welfare, that the North’s politicians representing both city regions and the large number of towns and rural areas in between can speak with a united voice on a complete blueprint for the future government of the north. If they can’t then the winners will be a more powerful Scotland and Borisland to the south!




The Conservatives left Birmingham in upbeat mood despite polling predictions that they can’t win May’s General Election.


They’ve decided to take UKIP on following the latest defection. Delegates delighted in telling me how ex Tory MP Mark Reckless had been chased out of a Rochester pub along with UKIP leader Nigel Farage by Conservatives angered by their former MP’s treachery.

This must be the right approach. There is no appeasing people who want to take us out of Europe. They must be opposed and the British people warned about the prospects for UK business outside the EU.

In an otherwise excellent speech, David Cameron laid a trap for himself over Europe by promising that the free movement of immigrants would be sorted. Free movement is an integral part of the free market and he will find it very difficult to get concessions when he goes into negotiations if he wins the election.


At a number of fringe meetings I attended, Tory delegates were advised that if the UK goes into the talks with threats and ultimatums, it will get nowhere. The better approach would be to find allies who want change as well and work with them.


Many Tory representatives felt it was the first really conservative speech David Cameron had made with no mention of gay marriage or green issues but plenty on tax cuts. Just how they will be paid for whilst fulfilling much delayed promises to bring the deficit down to zero remains to be seen. Also for all the signs of recovery, it is not being felt in the pay packets of people in the north.


That’s a message that Ed Miliband hopes will keep Heywood and Middleton out of the clutches of UKIP in Thursday’s by election.






Is it healthy for the northern economy for Manchester Airport to be so far ahead of the others?


In Leeds there are fundamental questions over whether the airport is in the right place whilst Liverpool John Lennon is still reeling from the double whammy of losing KLM and some of its low cost business to Manchester.


Plans for HS2 have reignited the debate over the location of Leeds-Bradford airport. Leeds Council leader Keith Wakefield has launched a major debate on the future of the city region’s transport system. Nothing is ruled out apparently including a new airport in a more convenient location. A cheaper solution would be a rail link from the airport to the centre of the city. Not surprisingly that’s the solution suggested by Tony Hallwood, marketing director at Leeds-Bradford airport. However he wants support from the city region and wider to build the rail and road connections fit for the 21st century.


On Merseyside John Lennon Airport(JLA) has suffered a series of blows. Plans for a tram link into the city began to disintegrate exactly ten years ago. KLM pulled out severing the airports connection to the global hub of Amsterdam. Most serious of all Manchester has been poaching some of the budget airline business that used to give JLA its unique selling point.


The other thing about JLA is that the customer experience isn’t always great. I recently hosted Downtown’s programme on City Talk and asked my guests about the decline of JLA. One referred to having to stand in the rain waiting for connections, another said she lived and shopped in Liverpool but the one thing she looked to Manchester for was its airport. She put this down to the danger of the downward spiral of expectation. With services being cut there was an assumption that Manchester would have the destinations so JLA lost out even if in fact the flights were still there.


On the same programme Cllr Nick Small called on the airport to go for more full service operators particularly to the Middle East and Turkey and to reduce its dependency on the low cost airlines.


Ryanair expected 200,000 new passengers for Liverpool last year but only got half that. Civil Aviation Authority figures shows that JLA was one of only two major UK airports to lose passengers last year.


And yet 90% of people living on Merseyside say they would rather fly from Liverpool so it needs to get its act together. The goodwill is there. Talks are ongoing with Lufthansa to introduce services to German cities. Let’s hope they have a positive outcome.




No this is not the name of a Polish striker but the initials of The Halton, Knowsley, Liverpool, St Helens,Sefton and Wirral Combined Authority. That’s the proposed name for the new organisation that’s set to help with skills, transport and economic matters across the City Region from April.


The tortuous name is the result of sensitivity by some districts to the name Liverpool.


I can’t match Frank McKenna’s magnificent tirade on this subject in his special blog this week.


Dare I suggest Greater Liverpool Combined Authority? Leeds seems to have settled for the West Yorkshire Combined Authority.


What is more worrying is Frank’s information that there are questions over whether Joe Anderson should lead the new body. That’s silly but I hope he doesn’t follow Frank’s advice and walk away. “Merseyside” has suffered too long from these sort of quarrels that are largely absent in Manchester. We need common sense not walk outs.






In the week when we are celebrating the two hundredth anniversary of Charles Dickens, I’m writing about two cities; not London and Paris but Manchester and Liverpool.

If you want to know the real issues facing business in Manchester city centre ask Pat Karney.

He’s the councillor responsible for the heart of the metropolis and everyone beats a path to his office.

At a major gathering of city centre employers this week, Cllr Karney gave them an insight into the diverse range of problems that came across his desk in just one morning. In addition to the uproar over charging for Sunday parking, one shop keeper came to complain about human excrement outside the Hidden Gem church and representatives of the gay community objected to a club being turned into a budget hotel.

Despite these minor inconveniences, Manchester seems to be surviving the recession very well. Indeed council leader Sir Richard Leese suggested that the city centre could accommodate a thousand new residential units a year for the next decade. There is 96% occupancy of the existing provision. Leese claimed that Manchester employment had returned to pre recession levels.

Leese does not want the city to vote for an elected mayor, he prefers the Combined Authority model that has been in place for nearly a year now. All the local authorities in Greater Manchester are working together to drive an impressive range of projects.

There’s the enterprise zone at Manchester Airport where the infrastructure for a major retail, leisure and warehousing scheme will be in place by next year. In addition there’s MediaCity and the Sharp Project in east Manchester for budding media businesses. So successful has the latter been that Sharp 2 is planned. Nearby Manchester City football club is developing the Etihad Project.

At Manchester University a government backed plan is underway to capitalise on the discovery of graphine (very thin and very strong). Are we going to make some money for once out of a product developed in Britain?

Salford’s soon to be elected mayor will inherit a city still struggling with some big social problems but with a number of infrastructure schemes including the Chapel Street gateway and a plan to open up a riverside route from MediaCity up to Salford University.

Meanwhile Liverpool Council took the formal decision to go for an elected mayor. Liberal Democrat opposition to scrapping the planned referendum was half hearted and the debate did not match some that I have witnessed in the historic council chamber.
Council leader Joe Anderson had the wind in his sails having just signed off the £130m deal with the government that he insists was only possible because the city was going to have an elected mayor.

One felt the politicians already had their eye on who was going to stand. Joe Anderson will clearly be Labour’s candidate. He might face ex leader and Lib Dem peer Mike Storey. The suggestion was certainly not denied by a senior party source. If Storey can’t be lured from the best club in London, then Cllr Richard Kemp might consider standing.

The Liberals will field Cllr Steve Radford who gave his support to the new post on Tuesday night, and there is likely to be a Conservative candidate.

But the campaign will be enlivened by independents. There are two at the moment and they make an unlikely couple. There’s former broadcaster Liam Fogarty who has campaigned for the last 10 years for an elected mayor. A clever man of substance, he cares passionately about his city. It will be fascinating to see how he stands up to the robust style of bruiser Anderson.

Then there’s celebrity hairstylist Herbert Howe who has promised to take no salary and to be independent of all party factions.

Before you dismiss his chances remember that Robocop got elected in Middlesbrough. H’Angus the Monkey won in Hartlepool and an English Democrat became mayor of Doncaster.