A Labour motion to revert to the previous development framework, which had been lined up for the first full Northumberland County Council meeting of 2019 after several delays, has been abandoned.
Following the backing of the Conservative cabinet at its meeting before Christmas, the submission draft of the plan, which ‘maps out the future of Northumberland for the next 20 years’, is now awaiting sign-off at next Wednesday’s (January 9) council meeting, ahead of a six-week consultation.
The previous consultation, which took place over the summer, related to the content of the document, whereas the opportunity for feedback due to start on Wednesday, January 30, is confined to the ‘soundness’ of the plan, ahead of its submission for inspection by government in May.
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When the new Conservative administration took power at County Hall last May, one of its first moves was to withdraw the core strategy.
The Tories insist that there were fundamental issues with the previous strategy, not least that the housing numbers were too high and not based on the latest evidence, which meant that withdrawal was the only option.
But Labour, which previously led the council and is now in opposition, has consistently raised concerns about the withdrawal, claiming it has exposed the local authority to a number of risks.
Last July, Labour leader, Coun Grant Davey, tabled a motion calling for the council to drop the new local plan in favour of the withdrawn core strategy, based on claims that the withdrawal decision was made without the right information.
However, while Coun Davey’s motion was dropped following behind-closed-doors legal advice at that meeting, he subsequently tried to get his proposal put to the vote at subsequent meetings.
Last October, Labour suggested that these efforts were being deliberately thwarted by the Tory leadership, but the council confirmed at the time that the motion – which are limited to three per meeting – would be on the agenda for the January meeting.
But that is no longer the case, as next week’s agenda features just one motion – also by Coun Davey, but related to driver-only trains.
At the December cabinet meeting, Conservative and council leader Peter Jackson suggested that the withdrawal of the motion meant Labour was now backing the new plan, adding that ‘the weight of opinion across the county is now behind us’.
“The previous plan didn’t really take into account the future economic need of the county, it was all about houses and not about building a prosperous Northumberland for the future,” Coun Jackson said.
However, while the motion is no more, Labour has not changed its stance, with a post on its blog this week describing the latest plan as unambitious and one that ‘appears to set the county into economic decline’.
The Labour ward member for Amble, Coun Terry Clark, said: “The county council has recently accepted applications for 900 new homes in Amble and by 2035 that figure could double as developers are really keen on the town.
“It’s nice that people want to come to Amble to live in our area, but, as we have seen in earlier expansions of Amble, most of the homes are quite large and are bought by people who, in the main, are economically inactive older people, or if not, moving rapidly towards that age group.
“The Government’s definition of affordable doesn’t give young people much opportunity to get on the foot of the property ladder as the transport costs to hold down a job when your home base is in Amble constrains young people from saving towards deposits.
“This new local plan doesn’t fill me with excitement that Northumberland will expand at a sustainable rate and the services and transport required to embrace a growing elderly population are not discussed in this new local plan.”
Ben O'Connell, Local Democracy Reporting Service