Julian’s January Press Column
January 20, 2014
Many of us begin the New Year with resolutions of varying kinds, and I am sad to say that any promises I make over limiting my consumption of crisps and chocolate have inevitably fallen by the wayside. My fundamental commitment however, the promise I was elected on, remains as strong as ever. My responsibility is to represent my constituents in the communities around York to the very best of my ability. I have no doubt that 2014 will prove to be another challenging year but it is my sincere hope that with the local and national economy growing faster than predicted and unemployment falling across the region, we will all be in a better position than we were this time last year.
The most pressing issue ahead will be whether the Council succeeds in forcing through its unpopular plans to build an extra 22,000 houses across York. The unsustainable proposals include ripping up over 2,000 acres of our greenbelt, building 80 traveller and showpeople pitches in rural and suburban locations like Dunnington and Huntington, and constructing 40 wind farms that will encircle our city. Unsurprisingly, many of my constituents have bitterly opposed these plans, which will clog up our already congested roads and put a heavy burden on our schools and hospitals.
Not content with denigrating our proud cathedral city into little more than a suburb of Leeds, the Leader of the Council recently announced that York will be one of four cities that will have an unrestricted ‘Right to Grow’ if Labour win the next General Election. Developers will enjoy free reign over the city’s surrounding countryside, leading to uncoordinated urban sprawl. The proposals would leave the Council free to ignore not only the wishes of York residents, but could also force those living outside the local authority’s boundaries in North Yorkshire and the East Riding to accept housing estates that they had no say over. This experiment with York’s future has greatly concerned communities across my constituency and the Council need to explain why they are putting short term political gain ahead of the city’s long term future.
Looking ahead, the Council had intended to put the revised Local Plan to Cabinet towards the end of January, after which a six week consultation would take place over February and March. However, this timetable seems to be slipping further and further behind due to the sheer volume of objections the Council has received. I will continue to voice my deep opposition to proliferate building targets and I urge as many of my constituents as possible to continue to contact me with their views.
Infrastructure is a vital ingredient in sustainable development and this is no less true of telecommunications than it is of roads, rail, and energy supplies. Broadband is one such component that many people rely on and sadly a digital divide exists between those with superfast speeds, and those in more rural locations who are unable to steam live TV or Skype relatives overseas. Whilst projects such as the city centre’s CORE pure fibre network are to be welcomed, it is essential that the communities around York are not left behind. The Government’s investment in superfast broadband is, to my mind, one of their greatest and most important achievements. A recent study suggests that for every £1 the Government invests in broadband, the UK economy will benefit by £20 in return.
The Superfast North Yorkshire project has delivered remarkable results given the challenges of operating in one of the country’s most rural counties. In fact the scheme could potentially be a victim of its own success as it is due to complete its work well ahead of the 2015 deadline. As the second tranche of funding is not due until 2016, it could face a 12 month shutdown as a result of its hard work. It would be profoundly unfair for the project to be penalised for its own success and I have urged the Government to honour its commitment to the communities on the wrong side of the digital divide, so that the benefits of our economic recovery are felt across our great county and no one community is left behind.