Julian’s March Column in the York Press
March 16, 2015
With the General Election less than eight weeks away, the media is now well and truly dominated by political coverage. While some, like myself, will find election campaigns rather exciting, I am conscious that all the hype can serve to put as many people off politics as it can engage voters.
Nevertheless, whatever your thoughts are on politics, voting in both national and local elections is a powerful way of securing the future that you want to see for your family, your community and your country. This is particularly true in this year’s election where so much is at stake.
I have always believed that an election at a local or national level is a referendum on the future. Nowhere is this more the case than here in York where on 7th May voters will be asked to decide not only who should stand up for them in Parliament, but also who should represent them on the Council and ultimately which party should control the authority.
The single most important local issue facing the future of our great city and its surrounding communities is the Local Plan, which in its current form will see thousands of acres of greenbelt concreted over to deliver what I believe are over-inflated housing targets.
Whilst senior council officers have confirmed that the Plan will not progress until after the elections, the choice is clear. Do you want to see our historic city changed beyond all recognition or do you want protection for our greenbelt setting that provides York with its uniquely picturesque character? Do you want to see the city grow at a rate that will outpace our infrastructure and grind the city to a halt or sustainable development that will always put the horse firmly before the cart? Do you want to see York providing housing for our larger metropolitan neighbours, notably Leeds, or do you want a Plan that puts local residents first?
Two recent revelations have served to vindicate those who have been arguing for a more sensible vision for York’s future growth and could help to ensure a seismic shift in the Council’s direction with the Local Plan.
Firstly, the Department for Communities and Local Government have now released their ‘2012-based household projections in England, 2012 to 2037’ (more interesting than they sound, trust me). These statistics are an update on the previous 2011-based population projections, which the Council had been using to justify their massive expansive housebuilding programme.
The new stats cover a much longer period (up to 2037 rather than 2021) and give us a much more accurate picture of how York’s population is likely to grow over the next 15 years. Contradicting the earlier figures, they suggest that there will only be 11,000 extra households in York by 2030, which is far smaller than what had previously been suggested by the Council. It is my hope that the release of these new figures will ensure that whoever runs the Council after the local elections will have to go back to the drawing board and drastically curb the excesses of the previous assessments.
Meanwhile in Durham, a popular cathedral city similar to York in many respects, a Planning Inspector has heaped criticism on the Council’s Local Plan. After examining all the evidence, the Inspector concluded that the Plan was based on overinflated housing targets and “necessitates huge releases of green belt land around the city, which I cannot support”. In dealing this blow, I am sure he will have sent shivers down the necks of senior officers and Councillors here in York.
In light of this landmark decision and the updated population statistics, I have written to the Council’s planning chiefs to find out exactly how they intend to respond to these wake-up calls, in the (perhaps vain) hope that they may still come up with a sensible Plan for York.