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Placemaking needs to be at the centre of development, says Greater Manchester mayor

Greater Manchester mayor speaking at Construction Summit North.

Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham has made an impassioned plea for a place-centric approach to politics and local development, speaking at today’s Construction Summit North.

Speaking to more than 300 construction and infrastructure professionals at the event at The Point in Salford, Burnham said that devolution could create big opportunities for regions and local communities provided that people worked together in partnership and politics adopted a less London-centred approach.

Burnham said that he quit national politics because he “came to the view that the system wasn’t working and the way that we were doing politics wasn’t working either”. “We don’t prioritise projects that are more catalytic so we overspend in one part of the country (the south) and underspend in the north,” Burnham said. “It’s really important to understand this fact. The concept of the Northern Powerhouse offered an opportunity to reverse the decline so I decided to put myself forward for the mayoral role to make a difference. A year on and it looks like Whitehall is reverting to type but we are not going to let things go. We need investment and we are determined to get it,” said Burnham.

The Greater Manchester mayor said that placemaking would be front and centre of the city region’s development approach. “Construction can’t just be about building more housing and factories; we have to get our head around good placemaking and creating better public realm, especially in our outlying towns,” said Burnham. He highlighted the mayor’s Town Centre Challenge to aid the development in towns across Manchester’s ten local authority areas. “Those towns are not going to be the retail destination that they once were. They will be more residential linked to good transport links. Good public realm can then support better development,” said Burnham.

“For too long we have had a blinkered debate,” he said. “We need the right homes in the right places. They need to be in places that can support development and they must be affordable. Too much of a developer-led approach will lead to homes being built in the wrong places. If we carry on with that approach you end up with decaying town centres and places where people don’t want to live. 

“We need a shared vision and a partnership approach. A public-private approach to create a housing policy that is fit for people’s needs,” said Burnham. “We need a Greater Manchester Spatial Framework that can build more homes and solve the housing crisis. It’s not just about the number of homes, it’s about the type of homes and where they are sited,” said Burnham.

Burnham said that it was crucial to think about the people of Greater Manchester and how they can benefit from a growing construction sector. “We need to think about how we bring young people into the sector and also older adults to enter the industry too,” he said. “We are focusing on developing a local industrial strategy that will also mean developing a local skills strategy because we need the right people with the right skills. Education policy has been far too obsessed with a university-centric approach and we’ve got to do something about this,” he said.

Devolution was crucial in making a difference, said Burnham. “We can create specific solutions for Greater Manchester that can work. On skills, we can give business more influence on the education system and I hope that this will make a difference. Our investment in fibre broadband and Greater Manchester’s bid to become a 5G testbed will also help influence greater investment in Greater Manchester,” said Burnham.

After one year in post, Burnham said that people were beginning to see how devolution can make a difference. “We know where we want to go. We are ambitiously digital, going green and doing politics differently,” he said. Burnham said that he had an absolute focus on the area he was elected to represent. “My job is all about place not party. Place is what unites everyone and if you work in that way then politics and business can have a different and more productive relationship with a clear united voice,” said Burnham.