Formby Labour Councillors Peter Maguire and Nina Killen told a packed full Sefton Council meeting last Thursday that the Tory-Lib Dem Government was forcing the borough's councillors to build on some greenbelt land - or risk developers coming in and building where they like.
Ravenmeols Ward Labour Councillor Peter Maguire and Harington Ward Labour Councillor Nina Killen spoke during last Thursday's debate on Sefton's Local Plan, which is now set to go to a full 12-week public consultation
Under the plan, which has been drawn up under the Lib Dem-Tory Government's strict Planning Policy Framework, Sefton will have to build up to 510 homes a year for the next 15 years.
Councillors and campaigners heard at the meeting that if Sefton fails to draw up a plan in line with Lib Dem-Tory Government policy - to allow building on greenbelt land - then the Lib Dem-Tory Government will open the door to developers to build where they like.
Speaking in the council chamber, Cllr Killen said: "It has become very clear to me over the last year how important this issue is to residents in my ward and Formby as a whole. No one wants to see green belt and green space built on. None of us do.
"I have spent the last 12 months speaking to both council officers and campaigners, raising residents' concerns and challenging these figures. Every question I have put to the council officers has been answered comprehensively and I thank them for that.
"It is easy to oppose this plan when you don't have to come up with an alternative.
"But the government requires us, quite rightly in my opinion, to plan for the right number of homes, for our children, to live in, and to plan for economic growth.
"We don't want them to be built on the green belt and on farmland, but if they're not going to be built there we need to have somewhere else to build them. Not building them at all would be catastrophic for a generation already priced out of buying their own home in many areas, including, quite significantly, in Formby.
"We want to see brownfield built on first but we know there is an issue with contamination and pollution on some sites and the National Planning Policy Framework does not require brownfield to be built on first, as much as we and residents want it to be.
"If we went for Option 1 and it got thrown out at Inspection next year, which it would, we would have no local plan and no five-year land supply which, just as the campaigners have been telling us for the last 12 months, puts the green belt at even more risk."
During his speech, Cllr Maguire made reference to Tory planning ministers who are demanding that local authorities like Sefton release greenbelt land for development. Government Minister Nick Boles outraged members of the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England just last week when he said councils must allow developers to build on greenbelt.
Cllr Maguire told the packed council chamber: "We have before us this evening a very important document which is the next stage in a very long process that will set out Sefton’s strategy on a number of matters including economic development, the environment and most significantly housing need up until the year 2030. Alongside this we must also ensure that the Local Plan is fully compliant with the government’s National Planning Policy Framework. The NPPF is a piece of legislation that has produced the most drastic reform in planning law for many years. It has put the ball firmly in the court of developers whilst using excessively large scale house-building to cover up for their failed economic policies.
"This change in the planning landscape towards the developers can be exemplified by the attitude of our current planning Minister Nick Boles who holds a significant contempt for swathes of the British countryside. Recent correspondence between Mr Boles and Health Minister Anna Soubry regarding greenspace and greenbelt development in her constituency of Broxtowe in Nottinghamshire confirms this.
"Mr Boles in his response [to Ms Soubry] gave no assurance that the greenbelt was safe in his government’s hands, stating that ‘uninteresting fields’ should be developed.
"Given the attitude of this government, we must ensure that as a local authority that we get this local plan right. If it fails to meet the NPPF requirements then it will be thrown at a public examination by the national planning inspectorate and it will take many more years to develop another plan. The consequences of this would be dire, as it would leave us a council open to speculative attacks by developers under the NPPF’s presumption ‘in favour of development’ whereby councils will turn down planning applications only to be later overturned by the government’s planning inspectorate, and as I’ve seen from previous decisions, the impact on a community are very rarely taken into account."
Cllr Maguire praised campaigners from Formby who had throughout challenged the need to build on the greenbelt.
Cllr Maguire said: "I appreciate the points put forward by the campaigners here this evening who hold deep reservations about building on the greenbelt. They correctly identify that the interim figures, which for clarification are called this by the Office of National Statistic and Department for Communities and Local Government, show a lower housing need for Sefton, of around 420 homes per year. However, it would be premature to base the preferred option consultation on this data set at this moment in time, primarily because the data currently only identifies housing need up to the year 2021. It says nothing about the following nine years up to 2030. As this is only the next stage in a very long process, the plan can be amended in relation to changes in need which will be important as the ONS and DCLG release the full data sets early next year and this in turn will be fed into the plan. This report has given me the assurances that this will be the case as the supplementary agenda shows the local timetable being amended to allow the input of this new data.
"Another important point which I don’t think has been fully explained is that if the interim figures were to be used, it will unfortunately not be able to save the greenbelt from development, using the calculations set out in this report and compliant with planning guidance show the total number of houses which would need to be built would number 8,988. As we can only find 5,000 homes in the urban brownfield sites, around 3,988 would still have to be found on greenspace and to a larger extent on the greenbelt.
"Using the interim figures at this stage would also be inappropriate as we don’t know what household growth is going to be like during the 2020s. As an economics graduate, I would foresee economic growth to be much higher as a whole in the 2020s than in this decade mainly due to the long recovery we are experiencing from the recent financial crash. It can be argued that this could also be the case for household growth but at this moment in time, we don’t really know. If we decided to consult on the 420 figure, the equivalent of around 1,700 homes on sites would be removed from the upcoming consultation. After this, the figures could come back higher, perhaps confirming the 510 figure. The 12 week consultation could’ve missed out on a whole raft of representation from residents who originally thought that they may not have been affected only to find out months later they are."
Concluding, Cllr Killen also praised the campaigners, but said the Tory-led Government was forcing councillors into making a decision they didn't want to make.
Cllr Killen told the meeting: "If we don't set aside enough land for housing the government will do it for us because their own figures show there is a need. I have been asked to listen to residents and do what the residents want me to do, which is vote against green belt development. I'd love to do that. I take great pride in representing the people of Formby. But I cannot do that because I know that will not get past the Inspector.
"I am entirely sympathetic to residents’ views and the concerns of the community and I don’t want to vote for green belt development. But unfortunately it is clear that Option 1 would not get past Public Inspection, even if we used the figures the campaigners want us to use. Option 1 provides for fewer than 300 homes whereas even the data the campaigners want us to use shows a need for 400. Option 1 would not provide the right amount of land for development and would result in the government releasing green belt land for us."