Wednesday, August 22, 2012

"Put the Council in the Driving Seat"

This afternoon's planning committee showed some of the best and some of the worst of Stockton Council at work.  The first item on the agenda was Morley Carr Farm - an application by Taylor Wimpey for outline permission to build up to 350 houses which was recommended for approval by the planning officer.  The site is on the outskirts of Yarm, near the junction of Allerton Balk and Green Lane and not far from the Tall Trees.  The proposal attracted a great deal of opposition and by no means all of it was "nimby-ism".  There were genuine concerns about traffic, road safety and the gas main that runs under the site.  There were also strong arguments made that the proposal does not fit with the current planning strategy of the council.  The council is consulting on possible changes to the core strategy for housing allocations because of the reported difficulties with developing the brownfield sites in the centre of the borough.  That consultation closes on September 24th and will then be analysed, and a final proposed strategy be sent to the Planning Inspectorate later next year.  Many people pointed out that with more than 4 years' supply of deliverable housing land the council is well placed to wait until the consultation has gone through and decisions can be made in an informed and strategic way.  Instead developers want to push through approvals in advance of those changes because they want to be able to build on the easy and lucrative sites like Morley Carr.
About 20 speakers this afternoon had their say on why the application should be refused.  They spoke calmly, mostly clearly, and with conviction.  Some had technical expertise, some had personal experience.  They shared this with the committee and were given the opportunity with courtesy by the chairman.
When it came to the debate within the committee it was obvious where the concerns lay.  Most Labour members didn't open their mouths.  It was left to other party representatives to raise issues and stress the importance of a measured approach to planning.  Questions from some weren't even answered.  Alan Lewis asked whether the New Homes Bonus being paid on every new house built in the borough would be invested in cleaning up the brownfield sites so that no more greenfield sites would need to be built on.  As he said, "this would put the council in the driving seat, not the developers".  If there was an answer to his question it was drowned in the applause from the audience.
However, the worst fears were realised when the vote came - Labour members voting en bloc for the officer recommendation to approve, supported by one of the IBIS councillors, meant that the recommendation was carried by 7 votes to 6.  Emotions ran high and outraged residents shouted at the committee members who'd supported the proposal.
So who lost in this?  The objectors certainly, but perhaps more importantly so did democracy and Stockton Council.  Who will have any faith in consultations carried out by SBC now?  Certainly no-one in Yarm or Eaglescliffe.  How must the spatial planning officers feel when they've said that something should be refused because it's outside the current policy and their colleagues in the next office recommend approval?  There were several people who had nothing to do with politics before this, but became active community representatives, and in other circumstances might have thought of standing for election to town or borough council in the future, now feeling that there isn't point in getting involved.  Not a good result at all.
Other campaign groups will carry on but with a heavy heart.


Anonymous said...

recommended for approval by the planning officer - do I take it he is politically motivated? Do explain why his advice should be ignored.
Surely you must know that this country is in recession,caused by the failing policies of the current conservative/liberal democrat government. I'm sure they have announced that infrastructure projects such as this are needed to kick start the economy, and that planning rules need to be amended to make such schemes easier to progress. So how come the lib dems and our Tory MP are set against this scheme. Nimbies obviously, oh and hipocrits.

Maureen Rigg said...

His colleague in Spatial Planning had recommended refusal, so it is entirely reasonable to agree with his assessment. Building expensive houses which are not near any amenities and depend on car use for the residents to get anywhere is not the kind of project which is going to do anything for the economy. Most sensible people will oppose unsustainable development.

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