Greater Manchester's Combined Authority (GMCA) spent more than £500,000 on just one barrister during the review of the region's mammoth housebuilding masterplan.
The examination of the Places for Everyone Scheme kicked off in November as inspectors looked to dive into various issues surrounding the strategy to build 165,000 homes over the next 15 years. Formerly known as Greater Manchester Spatial Framework, it is the region-wide plan for housing, jobs and the environment which has been repeatedly revised and is now in the hands of inspectors appointed by the government.
The document, which was submitted back in February 2022, has been under scrutiny over the last few months which is still ongoing.
The GMCA, which is headed up by mayor Andy Burnham, hired King’s Counsel (KC) barrister Christopher Katkowski to work with them throughout the process of creating the Places for Everyone scheme, beginning in 2014. He has since been paid £519,650 in public money for his role up to January 13, 2023, according to a Freedom of Information request response. That figure is expected to rise until the end of the review process.
The combined authority believes this cost would have been 'significantly higher' if each borough hired individual barristers to represent them rather than just one lawyer acting on behalf of all nine boroughs. That figure fell from 10 to nine after Stockport Council pulled out of the plan.
The GMCA also believe that Mr Katkowski’s knowledge and in-depth understanding of the plan is a key attribute to have for this job.
A spokesperson for the Combined Authority said: “Places for Everyone is the largest joint local plan that has ever been prepared in England. As a joint plan for nine local authorities it represents a bold and ambitious vision for Greater Manchester focused on growth, investment, and creating a greener, fairer, more prosperous city-region.
“It has been designed to guide sustainable development and ensure that it takes place where we want it and in line with Greater Manchester’s priorities, rather than be dictated by planning appeals. The ongoing examination in public, which is a formal requirement of the process, is a significant undertaking in terms of its complexity and duration.
“This includes demonstrating that the plan meets the Government’s tests of soundness set out in the National Planning Policy Framework. Christopher Katkowski KC is an experienced planning barrister with extensive knowledge of local plan examinations.
“He has been involved in an advisory capacity with the GMCA since the original decision was taken to proceed with the predecessor to Places for Everyone, the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework, in 2014. He is familiar with the areas covered by the plan, has been instructed by several of the local planning authorities involved, and has an in-depth understanding of Greater Manchester’s strategic ambitions.
“The costs to the nine districts of securing legal representation for nine individual local plan examinations would be significantly higher than the cost to the GMCA of securing the services of a Leading Counsel to navigate the examination process on their behalf. In addition to this, the Places for Everyone plan has enabled the nine districts to collaborate and benefit from the production of evidence and supporting documentation that can complement local plans.”
The total cost for Mr Katkowski will depend on how long the review process takes to conclude. GMCA did not give any indication or estimation as to what the final cost could be for his services.
When the review of the Places for Everyone Plan started in November 2022, it was expected to take five months to complete.