THE controversial spatial framework was a hotly contested issue at the first Greater Manchester Mayoral debate, with one candidate claiming it could create “decaying town centres surrounded by urban sprawl” and another saying it was “critical” for the region’s future.

More than 350 people attended the inaugural debate, which took place at the Midland Hotel, Manchester on Friday February 10.

The three main candidates to be the first directly elected Mayor for Greater Manchester; Labour’s Andy Burnham, and Trafford councillors Conservative Sean Anstee, and Jane Brophy of the Liberal Democrats, all came together to debate their priorities and vision for the city region.

The sold-out event was originally aimed at leading figures from the North West’s property and construction industry but was later made free to attend amid high levels of interest from the public.

The candidates’ laid out their visions for the role and their priorities for Greater Manchester.

Issues discussed included the impact of Brexit on the region, homelessness and the possibility of a congestion charge for Greater Manchester. But the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework (GMSF) was top of the agenda.

Speaking at the event, Labour candidate and MP for Leigh, Andy Burnham, said he would rewrite the GMSF if he was mayor.

“Building according to the current framework doesn’t give a variety of homes we need," he said. "Transport is not integrated, it puts too many cars on the road, and it’s not ambitious enough for industry, it’s too dependent on warehouses, and we can aim higher.”

Mr Burnham said that the plan risked creating “decaying town centres surrounded by urban sprawl”.

He said: “It’s got to be the right plan and taking people with it, there’s no point pushing a plan that people are rejecting, and they’re right to have issues with it.”

Sean Anstee, Conservative candidate and Leader of Trafford Council, said in response: “The spatial framework is critical to the future of Greater Manchester. GMSF is not going to go away, it is with us for 20 years and needs to be flexible enough to work with a changing economy.

"The framework needs tough decisions, and every day we avoid a decision, or talk about rewriting, we’re letting down the people of the city, and not giving them the transport or the homes they need.”

He said: “We owe it to the 20,000 people who responded to do something with this plan. Let’s not make it a race to the bottom and use it as a political football.”

Liberal Democrats' candidate Jane Brophy said that her party wanted the plan scrapped.

“We think it should be rewritten, at the moment it is a top-down approach and it should be much more bottom-up,” she added.

“We are not convinced that developing all that green belt is the way forward because there are other things that need to be done first.”

She added that all of the brownfield sites should be unlocked first. 

 “I think we need to listen to those voices out there about why they don’t want the green belt being developed on because actually it doesn’t have the infrastructure and it doesn’t actually deliver the affordable housing that we need as a city,” said Ms Brophy.

Organised by property news website Place North West, the debate was chaired by editor Paul Unger.