Julian’s October York Press Column
October 17, 2014
While many will see UKIP’s victory in the Clacton by-election as a political earthquake, for me the most important seismic shift that day happened right here in York.
As the polling officers in Essex were looking forward to getting home for a late dinner, City of York Councillors were voting on an absolutely crucial motion which could see major changes to the Local Plan as we know it.
Rewind to roughly a month ago, when the Labour Council released its ‘Local Plan Publication Draft’. While the headlines proclaimed significant reductions to the overall scale of development they were proposing, the reality, for those of us who studied the small print, was far bleaker.
The Publication Draft Plan almost represents the Council’s final position on future development in York over the next 15 years and I was horrified to find that so little had changed since the Preferred Options and Further Sites consultations of the past year and a half.
Despite suggestions that they had ‘scaled back’ the Plan, I was shocked at how long it took me to find any proposals which had actually been withdrawn and even when I did, I could count them on the fingers of one hand!
It is true that the Council has reduced the housing target over the 15 year life of the Plan from 22,000 to 17,000, but only by default. Do not be fooled. They are still proposing close to 22,000 houses across York and its surrounding villages, but now over a 20-25 year period.
This is little more than political skulduggery and as with the ‘safeguarding’ of greenbelt land for future development, there is absolutely no requirement on local authorities to plan beyond 15 years. Be under no illusion, this Plan remains a product of the unrealistic aspirations of our deeply out of touch Council.
Since they laid their dreadful final hand last month, I have been preparing myself for perhaps the most important campaign I’ve ever fought. As the Plan passed through several politically skewed Council committees, with very little meaningful scrutiny, I’ve been knocking on doors, writing out to constituents, delivering leaflets and organising public meetings to coincide with the seemingly inevitable six week consultation on the Publication Draft, which everyone expected to begin this week.
Then last Thursday evening, without warning, the Local Plan collapsed. The shock resignation of two Labour Councillors at the beginning of the Full Council meeting plunged the current administration into minority control. Opposition Councillors from several different parties then joined forces to vote through a motion which called for an immediate halt to the Local Plan consultation.
The motion has forced Officers to undertake a major rethink of the housing trajectories and allocations and prepare a report for the next cross party ‘Local Plan Working Group’ meeting. I sincerely hope this crucial victory for common sense can now be used to leverage further concessions, so that in due course York can adopt a Local Plan that is sensible, sustainable and supported by local people. Needless to say, this process could see the Local Plan stalled for several months.
This is clearly a positive step forward, but we haven’t won yet.
While Councillors continue to work towards a compromise, I will continue to work on behalf of my constituents in opposing the bulldozing of thousands of acres of our greenbelt, not just for housing but also for Traveller sites, solar farms, wind turbines, HGV depos and other industrial sites.
To my mind, the potentially disastrous proposals outlined in the Publication Draft are still very much in play. Until I hear otherwise and can guarantee that the best interests of local residents are being protected, readers can be assured that I will continue to campaign vigorously for meaningful change.