When the new Conservative administration took power at County Hall last May, one of its first moves was to withdraw the core strategy – the main element of the council’s local plan, a key document outlining the county’s development.
Public consultation has now taken place on the first draft of the new plan, but it will not be fully in place until March 2020; this date was the result of the Government calling earlier this year for the process to be speeded up.
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.
In 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Labour leader Coun Grant Davey tabled a motion calling for the council to drop the new local plan in favour of the withdrawn core strategy, based on claims that the withdrawal decision was made without the right information.
However, while Coun Davey’s motion was withdrawn following behind-closed-doors legal advice at that meeting, he has since tried to get his proposal put to the vote at subsequent meetings.
Labour had suggested that these efforts were being thwarted by the Conservative leadership, but the council has now confirmed that the motion – limited to three per meeting – will be on the agenda for the Wednesday, January 9, meeting.
A spokesman for the Northumberland Labour group said that the council must release the necessary information ‘to allow all elected members to make an informed decision when our sensible, value-for-money motion will be heard’.
He added: “It’s taken this Tory administration seven months to allow a motion which could solve a huge problem for Northumberland taxpayers.
“Every month that goes by when elected members are being deliberately kept in the dark by this administration means more taxpayers’ money being wasted on a serious legal action.
“As the chief executive is intimately involved in the legal action and is clearly conflicted, she clearly cannot be involved in the request to release the legal advice which the administration withheld from full council on the original decision on July 5, 2017.”
The legal action referred to is the High Court claim by developers Lugano over its Dissington Garden Village proposals, in which the council leader Peter Jackson, cabinet member for planning John Riddle and chief executive Daljit Lally are defendants.
Coun Nick Oliver, the cabinet member for corporate services, believes that this application is at the heart of the Labour group’s motivation on this issue.
“We were elected with a clear mandate to protect Northumberland’s intrinsic beauty, the council has voted to remove the failed core strategy and we’re making excellent progress with the new local plan,” he said.
“It’s an unedifying spectacle to see a small group of senior Northumberland Labour politicians falling over themselves to support an offshore property developer in their desire to concrete over our green belt.”
A Northumberland County Council spokesman said: “There is a council rule of procedure which limits the number of motions to three per council meeting – the motions being taken by the date they arrive.
“While we already have three motions received for November, we have confirmed this particular motion will be heard at the following full council meeting in January.”
Ben O'Connell, Local Democracy Reporting Service