Government under fire for blocking thousands of new homes

October 14, 2016 / Isla MacFarlane
Government under fire for blocking thousands of new homes

The government has been criticised for halting Bradford’s housing plans, claiming that Housing Minister Gavin Barwell blocked the building of thousands of new homes as a “mate’s favour”.

MP DEMANDS COUNCIL BACK DOWN

Housing plans which will shape the district for the next 15 years were halted after Shipley MP Philip Davies urged government to step in and pause Bradford Council’s local development plans until government had looked at them. Davies said that the Green Belt was being built on and brownfield sites left undeveloped.

The Core Strategy of Bradford’s Council Local plans were ratified by a planning inspector last month, but Davies has repeatedly said that the council was failing to meet its obligations to build on brownfield sites and preserve the Green Belt.

“I believe the work of the Council and that of the Inspector to be fundamentally flawed, particularly in relation to the Green Belt,” Davies said. “The Plan includes building houses on a large amount of land designated as Green Belt land – most notably in the Wharfedale ward of my constituency.

“The government clearly states that Green Belt land should only be used in exceptional circumstances and surely the building of so many houses on Green Belt land in a village should need particularly exceptional circumstances which I do not believe have been met.

“There will still be large numbers of empty properties across the district not being used, swathes of brownfield land which clearly should be developed before any residential development on the Green Belt and building in Wharfedale does not alleviate the housing problems and the growing population in the city centre.”

HOUSING MINISTER HAS MP’S BACK

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Gavin Barwell

In a move that was widely criticised by the national press, Gavin Barwell stepped in and blocked the scheme. “I have taken the decision to issue a holding direction to the City of Metropolitan District Council which will prevent the Council taking any further step in connection with adoption of the Bradford Core Strategy Development Plan and will allow the Secretary of State further time to consider the matter before deciding whether to intervene,” he said.

WHICH GETS SHADOW HOUSING MINISTER’S BACK UP

However, Shadow Housing Minister John Healey also waded into the row, claiming Barwell’s decision “smacks of a political mate’s favour”.

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John Healey

Writing to Communities Secretary Sajid Javid, Healey said the plans had gone to consultation with local people and were subject to a Planning Inspection and should not be halted at the demand of an MP.

“According to the Housing Minister this decision was taken merely because a fellow Conservative MP wrote in complaint,” he wrote. “There is no attempt by the Minister to defend the substance of the complaint.

“Given this lack of justification for your Department stopping a plan which has been nine years in the making, and involved extensive consultation with local people, I am writing to ask you to account for this decision.”

MP HITS BACK

However, Davies has defended his actions. “This complaint from the Labour Party shows they have no concern for my constituents and the Green Belt around the constituency,” he said. “There is a significant amount of brownfield sites that Bradford Council seems to want to ignore and not build on, instead giving the go-ahead to massive developments in my constituency.

“My constituents now know that the Labour Party locally and the Labour Party nationally do not care about their interests and are happy to see huge swathes of Greenbelt concreted over against the wishes of local residents. I hope people in the Shipley constituency remember the contempt the Labour Party holds for them at future elections.”

INDUSTRY BACKS MINISTER

Meanwhile, outside parties have welcomed the government’s intervention. The Campaign to Protect Rural England claims that of the 42,000 new homes included in the plan, 11,000 of which will be built on the greenbelt, 16,000 have been justified on the grounds of economic growth ambitions that are wildly unrealistic and result in a housing target than can’t be delivered.

It said that the council also proposed Green Belt changes in isolation from its neighbours, when Green Belt should be seen as a policy to guide the planning of West Yorkshire as a whole.

“We welcome the Government’s intervention, but there is still a concerning, underlying problem,” said Paul Miner, planning campaign manager at the Campaign to Protect Rural England. “Whilst one of the purposes of Green Belt is to encourage re-use of urban brownfield sites by constraining the supply of greenfield sites, it is ineffective without genuine and sustained public sector investment in infrastructure and land preparation. Bradford has plenty of land in need of regeneration.

“The Government needs to use both of these recent interventions to send out a strong message that it will expect brownfield regeneration to be prioritised, and unnecessary losses of Green Belt to be avoided.”

In a statement, Bradford Council said, “The direction will remain in force until it is withdrawn by the Secretary of State or the Secretary of State gives a direction under section 21 of the 2004 Act in relation to the Core Strategy.”

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