Campaigners call for Andy Burnham to uphold his election manifesto promise and introduce a Land Commission in Greater Manchester, following the example set by the Liverpool city region.


Campaigners from over 60 organisations concerned about development and land use in the city region have signed an open letter to Andy Burnham which requests the formation of a Land Commission to allow a more democratic approach to how public land is managed in Greater Manchester.

The open letter points to the example of Liverpool, where the metro mayor Steve Rotherham announced the Land Commission in 2020, to create “radical recommendations for how we can make the best use of publicly-owned land to make this the fairest and most socially inclusive city region in the country.”

The letter is likely to be well received by Andy Burnham, who was reelected last week as mayor of Greater Manchester by 67% of voters. One of his manifesto pledges was to establish a Land Commission to “make sure we are making the most productive use of land and building returns…”, in line with the recommendations of the Independent Inequalities Commission.

The open letter cites a Who Owns the City report published on Monday by researchers at the Universities of Manchester and Sheffield, which questions whether Manchester council is getting best value in land deals with property developers and calls for greater accountability and transparency in deals involving public land sales and use. Manchester council responded to these concerns on Wednesday, and also said they would be “interested in any proposal that led to a more joined up approach to using publicly-owned land” but they didn’t see “how a land commission would be any more transparent than is already the case.”

One of the authors of the Who Owns the City (WOTC) report, Dr Tom Gillespie, Hallsworth Research Fellow at the University of Manchester, said in response to the open letter:

“Like many cities, Manchester is currently facing a housing crisis and a climate emergency, and there is a shortage of both affordable and social housing and public green space in the city centre. In this context, it is worrying that the Council appears to be using public land to enable private developers to build unaffordable luxury apartments. The establishment of a Greater Manchester Land Commission would be a big step towards achieving greater transparency and accountability around public land use in the city region”   

The report was produced by Gillespie and Dr Jonathan Silver of the University of Sheffield in collaboration with Greater Manchester Housing Action. Isaac Rose, a campaigner from GMHA , said:

“The commodification of land lies at the heart of the housing crisis. The report has thrown open a conversation in our city region about how we might better use our remaining public land assets for public benefit… We are also encouraging councillors to do ward-level audits of disposed land and existing public land assets in their area, to begin a community-led strategy of using these resources for public good. This would mean prioritising council housing and green space on existing public land assets.”

The open letter, alongside raising the issue of housing affordability,  also draws attention to “the need for public green space” in central Manchester and across the region, where “communities have been contesting plans to build on green space.”

Silver, who has previously carried out research into the poor provision of affordable housing and Section 106 agreements in the city centre of Manchester, said:

“Our post-industrial cities have been dramatically transformed in recent decades and land that was once in much supply is now limited. We need our public bodies to think strategically about what the future of this land will be used for; profit for developers or a base for an alternative city-economy. Now is the time to be bold and brave and for Andy Burnham to transform land for the few into land for the many.”

The Meteor requested a response to the open letter from the mayor, a spokesperson for Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) replied saying: “We are working on how the GMCA, alongside the 10 local authorities of Greater Manchester, can ensure that land is brought forward for housing. This will inform how we will deliver on the Mayor’s commitment to deliver more housing in our city-region.”

Open letter to Andy Burnham – full text

To Andy Burnham, Mayor of Greater Manchester,

A new report by researchers from the Universities of Manchester and Sheffield reveals that Manchester City Council is leasing large amounts of public land to developers in order to enable the construction of unaffordable luxury apartments in the city centre.

Greater Manchester is facing a housing crisis: there were 98,898 households on the housing waiting list in 2019, an increase of 98% since 1997. Manchester City Council’s own policy states that all new developments should contain 20% affordable units. However, the report reveals that public land in Manchester city centre is being used for private developments that contain no affordable or social housing. 

In light of the pandemic, and with the ever-growing threat of climate change, the need for public green space has acquired a new urgency. Central Manchester in particular has a notable shortage of green spaces, with recent disputes over New Islington Green and the former Central Ancoats Retail Park sitting high in the headlines over the last year. But this issue isn’t limited to the city centre — across the region communities have been contesting plans to build on green space.

The report calls for greater transparency and accountability over public land ownership and use. It recommends the establishment of a participatory Land Commission to oversee public land use, along the lines of that set out by Liverpool City Region in 2020. This recommendation was also made by the Greater Manchester Independent Inequalities Commission. 

We the undersigned welcome the inclusion of a Greater Manchester Land Commission as a policy pledge in your manifesto for this year’s mayoral election. We believe your victory gives you a clear mandate to take this work forward, and we call on you to establish a Land Commission with participation from local housing campaigners and organisations committed to climate justice by the end of December 2021. 


Greater Manchester Housing Action

ACORN Manchester

All Black Lives

Aytoun Barks Back

Block the Block

Bolton Against Covid Evictions

Britannia Basin Community Forum

Bury People’s Assembly

CORE Independents

Climate Emergency Manchester

Extinction Rebellion Trafford

Friends of Angel Meadow

Friends of Carrington Moss

Friends of Longford Park

Friends of Ryebank Fields

Friends of Tangshutt

Friends of Turn Moss

Greater Manchester Labour for a Green New Deal

Greater Manchester Law Centre

Greater Manchester Socialist Education Association

Greater Manchester Tenants Union

Greater Manchester Unite the Union Community Branch

Hamerton Action Group

Hulme Community Forum

Love Old Trafford Society

Macintosh Village Management Limited

Manchester District National Education Union (NEU)

Manchester Friends of the Earth

Manchester Green Party

Manchester Momentum

Manchester People’s Assembly

Manchester Trades Union Council

MCFC Fans Foodbank Support

Middleton Cooperating

Moss Side Tenants Union

Myco: Manchester Mushroom Cooperative

NEU Co-op Academy Manchester

Northern Quarter Forum

Partisan Collective

PCS Associate and Retired Members Greater Manchester

Positive Money

Queers Support the Migrants North

Salford Trades Union Council

Save Apethorn & Bowlacre Greenbelt

Save Greater Manchester Greenbelt

Save Manchester’s Greenbelt

Save Our Greenspace

Seymour Grove Allotments, Old Trafford

Shelter Greater Manchester

Sisters Uncut Manchester

SOS – Save Our Slattocks

Steady State Manchester

Stockport and District Momentum

Stockport Tenants Union

Stockport Trades Union Council

The Kindling Trust

Thornham St John Neighbourhood Forum

Trafford Ryebank Residents Association

Trees Not Cars Manchester

Walk Ride Greater Manchester

13 May 2021

Article amended 14:30 on 17 May 2021. The response from the GMCA spokesperson was added.

To read the open letter on the GMHA website – click here

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Featured image: Who Owns the City

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  • Conrad Bower

    Reporting interests include social justice, the environment, and human rights. A staunch advocate for the scientific method and rational debate for understanding the world - he believes only greater public understanding and engagement with the problems affecting society, can produce the progressive change we need. Co-founder of The Meteor.

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