‘Lies’, ‘hypocrisy’ and ‘red herrings’: New housing plan set to progress after bitter council row
Date published: 29 July 2021
Photo: Mike Pennington (cc-by-sa/2.0)
Aerial view of Hollingworth Lake and Smithy Bridge
Accusations of lies, hypocrisy and red herrings abounded as Rochdale Council voted to progress the region’s controversial new housing plan.
It means that Places for Everyone – the successor to the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework – will go out to the next stage of consultation provided each of the other eight boroughs involved also back it.
The blueprint is then to be submitted to the secretary of state for independent examination.
Stockport pulled out of the blueprint last year, leaving the remaining areas to form a ‘plan of the nine’. And provided it has ‘substantially the same effect’, it can pick up where the GMSF left off – which means a ‘Regulation 19’ consultation on its ‘soundness’.
But in Rochdale, debate has continued to rage over the inclusion of controversial green belt plots – and how many homes are really needed between now and 2037.
Ahead of the crunch vote at Wednesday’s full council meeting, economy boss Councillor John Blundell made one last attempt to persuade the naysayers.
Doubling down on arguments he made at last week’s scrutiny committee, he insisted that ditching the plan would mean the loss of the huge Northern Gateway employment site near the M62, while still leaving green belt in Bamford and Littleborough vulnerable to development.
In a ‘maths lesson’ to councillors, he said that the 120% over-provision against the ‘local housing need’ was purely down to the housing associated with the Northern Gateway.
Simplifying the figures somewhat, he said that 9,800 homes were in the plan, of which 1,800 were at Northern Gateway sites.
Pulling out of the plan, he claimed, would mean that Rochdale was meeting its 8,000-dwelling housing need – but the green belt sites would still be required to do so.
Moreover, he suggested, funding for the regeneration of places like Warwick Mill in Middleton could be put at risk, meaning yet more green belt could be targeted by developers.
The argument was given short shrift by Conservative leader Councillor Ashley Dearnley, who had earlier attempted to get the item deferred to allow for a further round of consultation with Rochdale residents.
He said: “What we are doing by agreeing to this plan is subjecting certain areas of this borough to houses in the green belt that they do not require and do not want, and will be very detrimental to all those areas.”
Councillor Dearnley then accused Councillor Blundell of deploying ‘red herrings’ by claiming the Northern Gateway could not go ahead outside of the plan and that it was being imposed by the government.
“We could produce a local plan without the development on the green belt’, he said – to a shout of ‘lies’ from Councillor Blundell.
Fellow Conservative Councillor Rina Paolucci then weighed in to decry what she saw as a lack of effective consultation.
“There isn’t any consultation in this town, it’s all a done deal – which is what people say all the time,” she told the meeting.
Speaking to her Labour opponents, she added: “You are all absolutely hypocritical, you say one thing and you do something else.”
Another opponent was Liberal Democrat leader Councillor Andy Kelly, who insisted the plan could be amended, adding that no one had listened to his proposal to move four large industrial firms from central Milnrow to Kingsway Business Park to free up land for around 2,000 homes.
“There is a choice as to whether you think it’s right to build on green belt before exhausting all possibilities in the brownfield,” he said.
But Councillor Blundell remained unmoved.
And he admitted to shouting ‘lies’ during Councillor Dearnley’s contribution and refused to apologise.
He added: “When I shouted ‘lies’, I did so because Councillor Dearnley knows it’s lies – he knows those numbers don’t add up when he was saying we would not need to touch any green belt.”
“He knows for a fact there is not enough brownfield land in the borough to meet the government’s own targets.”
Councillor Blundell acknowledged there was an option to pull out of the plan, but added it was an ‘absolutely terrible idea’ that would lead to developers picking and choosing where to build and using the law to ‘put a gun to the council’s head’.
“You know this is the truth, but chose to say something else tonight, because it’s politically expedient,” he said.
But it was Labour’s Councillor Liam O’Rourke who issued a rallying cry in favour of pushing ahead with Places for Everyone.
“You would see us lose that opportunity to grow as a town, develop as a town, to have a future as a town,” he told opponents of the plan.
“Quite frankly, I have had enough of it. Let’s move forward, vote for this plan and get our house and employment for the future. For God’s sake, let’s move on.”
The motion to proceed to a Regulation 19 consultation then submit the plan to the secretary of state for examination was voted through by 34 votes to 16.
The consultation will last eight weeks and start no earlier than 9 August.
All opposition members voted against the motion. All Labour councillors voted for the motion, except for the three members for Littleborough Lakeside - Councillors Tom Besford, Janet Emsley and John Hartley - and Councillor Billy Sheerin, who represents Castleton.
The full meeting of Rochdale Council was held at Middleton Arena on Wednesday night (28 July).
Nick Statham, Local Democracy Reporter
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