Sunday, 22 June 2014

The Sunday Read: Jane Austen, our greenbelt, and a buck passing exercise of the highest order

This week I called out Northumberland County Council on it's failure to produce a local development plan which enshrines the safeguards of our greenbelt. 

Without a local plan in place hungry housing developers are able to submit speculative planning applications wherever they like - including on our greenbelt. Northumberland is in the bottom 20% of Councils who have yet to even complete stage one of the plan (there are five stages in total.)

Just 78 out of 357 Councils have yet to submit a plan. Northumberland is (of course) one of them. 

Here is what I said: "The facts have been very clear from day one. If an authority does not have a plan in place, it runs the risk of speculative planning applications from developers and of its decisions being overturned on appeal. The only way a Council can protect the greenbelt is by having a up to date local plan. I now worry deeply that in Northumberland, several years after the process was started, and many months after other Council's completed their own Local Plans, we here in Northumberland are still left with no local plan."

Shamefully the Council have now admitted the plan will not even be finished before the General Election - in May 2015. I also said last week: "I have tried hard not to blame the staff at County Hall. Nor can anyone blame the squeeze on Council budgets, as almost 279 Council's are managing to deliver their Local Plans. I am afraid, as I have said from day one, here in Northumberland, under this increasingly troubled Labour administration we have suffered from poor organisation, poor management and fundamentally poor leadership."

The Labour leader of the Council Mr Grant Davey, in a buck passing exercise of the highest order, has tried to suggest I am blaming the Council's hard working staff for his Administration's failures. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact I'm of the belief that many of them deserve a medal for working away under Labour's failing leadership of this County Council. 

We have been told one of the key reasons that the plan is being delayed is that new ONS figures show the Council's growth, and therefore housing figures were inflated and not in line with the latest offical estimates. 

That is something I and others have been telling the Council's Administration since the day they took office. However, officials have repeatedly told me it wasn't an error, just a policy decision: Mr Davey wanted more houses and boy was he determined to have them. 2000 of them on our Greenbelt. His argument was always one rooted more in fantasy than reality.

The Councils projections were based on what they call a "dwelling led scenario" as opposed to a "Trend scenario."

A trend scenario would have plotted a growth projection, and then allocated the number of houses we need, based on historical trends, data predictions and long term Office of National Statistics demographic indicators.

Instead, the Council's leadership chose to ignore all of those factors and works backwards, coming up with the number of houses it would like to build - then saying that is how much the area will grow by - if that number of houses are built. If your lost at this point I don't blame you.

The latest data from the ONS shows the Councils predictions are, well, fantasy. So here we are, several years later, and back at the drawing board. 

For the avoidance of doubt no one should blame the Council's hardworking staff. With limited resources they have produced the figures and the plan Mr Davey's Labour Administration demanded. 

I'm not keen on personal attacks in politics. I've met Mr Davey - he's a nice enough bloke and seems to be a good Councillor for the good people of Blyth. But this Labour Administration at County Hall which he leads is truly woeful. 

Jane Austen once famously said "I blame Mr Darcy for my high expectations"; in the case of this particular shambles I'm afraid, I blame Mr Davey.