Thursday, 2 January 2014

Guest Post: Cllr Colin Cessford - Protecting our Greenbelt

A special guest post from Hexham West County Councillor Colin Cessford on his campaign to protect Hexham's Greenbelt:

I, like everyone else, wish to see our town thrive in the coming years. I, like everyone else, fully accept that our town needs to grow in order to cope with the vary many strategic drivers that will impact upon it into the future. We know however, based upon historical trends data, that this growth will be about 4-5% over the term of the plan and therefore the 10-12% grow figure put forward by the County Council appears to be a figure ‘plucked’ from out of thin air. It is something I simply cannot possibly agree with.

In terms of justifying my opposition...
If we consider that population growth will be consistent with that indicated by the accepted sub-national population projections, our own town would require around 660 dwellings over the plan period. From that figure we can already deduct the following:

The number of completions made since 2011 - 22
The number of sites already with consent - 21
The number of outstanding sites already identified in the SHLAA - 331
The number of approved applications so far - 5
And the number of pending applications - 133
TOTAL - 512

Which means that when we take away the number of houses already identified, built, pending or approved we actually need to find sites for far less houses to meet the Council's own prediction for natural population increase. This number is far removed from the inflated figure that the County Council has based their strategy on. This smaller number is a figure that I believe would be what the electorate I represent expects given the promises made to them over the years regarding the use of land in and around Hexham.

Regardless of your interpretation of the specific housing figures required, what is clear is that the Councils population estimates are way out of kilter with what anyone else is projecting.

What makes the plan even worse is that when you compare it to our neighbouring authorities plans, like for example, Newcastle and Durham. There too, authorities have pencilled in unrealistic population growth projections on the basis that if they build an ever increasing number of houses people will move there. If all of the local authorities are doing the same where do we expect the people to come from? Clearly this is a ludicrous strategic approach to managing our housing stock on a regional basis.

This draft LDF is in my opinion, and in the minds of many of the people I was elected to represent, not a sensible sustainable plan for housing growth.

The Council does not need Greenbelt deletions in Hexham and I do not believe there are any special circumstances to justify it. I think given that this is a draft it is time to go back to the drawing board.