Council acts on concerns after attack on paper

Thursday 9th October 2014 10:00 pm
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A leading Tory district councillor has publicly attacked this newspaper over an article spelling out a Liberal Democrat councillor's concerns over a planning process that will decide how many new home can be built across the South Hams over the next 17 years.

South Hams Council's deputy leader Michael Hicks accused Julian Brazil of including 'inaccuracies' and 'disinformation' as part of the article in which Cllr Brazil criticised the Our Plan process, called for it to be put on hold and warned that the district could be swamped with new homes.

Yet minutes later, the Tory-led council backed a motion by Cllr Brazil to set up an officer and councillor group specifically to look at the number of new homes needed across the district.

The motion tasked the new working group with the job of examining and analysing the issue of housing in the South Hams, although it stopped short of Cllr Brazil's original call for the Our Plan to be halted until the public has had a chance to see how the level of house building in the district is being calculated.

The Our Plan process is designed to provide a new local plan up to the year 2031 – including the identification of future development land for new homes and employment.

In the article published in the Gazette on September 19, Cllr Brazil highlighted concerns about how the Our Plan process was being progressed, public involvement and the numbers of homes which could end up being built.

At last week's council meeting, Cllr Hicks told councillors: 'In the newspaper article referred to, there are a number of inaccuracies which I will address.

'The article says South Hams Council is trying to bring in important changes to planning policy through the back door. Not so. South Hams District Council is following the normal process in the production of a plan for the future.

He added the story talked about councillors meeting in workshops to decide how many homes should be built. He said: 'Not true. No decisions are made at workshops. Views are sought and opinions given.

'The article says decisions should be debated and voted on by councillors in formal meetings. They will be. Decisions on the new plan will be made at full council before submission to a planning inspector.

'The article says it has all been done behind closed doors. This is an emotive statement and untrue. Consultation with members and the public has and will continue to be carried out throughout the development stages.

'The article says tens of thousands of houses will be built where we have no infrastructure and jobs to support them. Another emotive statement. The plan covers the period to 2031. There is no way that this council will sanction tens of thousands of houses in that timescale.

'And finally, the article says the whole duty of the planning authority is to provide for the housing need. As I have explained already, the development of the plan has to consider many factors and these include historical information and current trends as well as assessed future aspirations.'

He added: 'To suggest that we should shelve the development work on the plan, until the housing number has been debated and agreed, is a complete nonsense. The information needed by the council to make such a decision needs to be evidenced by the preparatory work and that is what we will continue to develop.

'I have to say, in conclusion, that I am surprised and not a little disappointed that the newspaper did not refer the proposed article to us for clarification. I am equally surprised that the disinformation contained in the article emanated from a South Hams councillor.'

Minutes after Cllr Hicks' statement, councillors debated the motion put forward by Cllr Brazil and fellow Liberal Democrat Keith Baldry, during which Cllr Brazil reiterated his concerns.

The motion stated: 'Under new legislation local planning authorities are now responsible for setting the number of houses to be built in their area per annum. To date SHDC have not set this number', before calling for the Our Plan process to be halted.

Cllr Brazil said: 'All I am saying is that we need to have a proper look at housing numbers and come up with a figure that will allow sustainable growth to meet our needs – and not the Government's needs.' And Cllr Baldry said: 'The need in the South Hams is for affordable houses – not ones costing £400,000 and £500,000.'

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