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The facts about controversial housing development

There isn’t room on a leaflet to talk fully about the controversy surrounding housing applications in the south of the borough so I have written more extensively here.

Under the last Labour Government the Planning laws stated that brownfield sites (that is sites where something has been before, as opposed to green fields) were the priority for new developments. That is why in Stockton we saw houses built on the banks of the Tees at Northshore, on the side of the railway at Van Mildert Way, and on the old Visqueen site – Corona Court development, as well as various developments in Parkfield for instance. Some of these are still being built even now. Excellent new estates providing great new homes for people.

When the Coalition Government came in they wanted to see a big increase in the building of houses. They got rid of a thousand pages of planning guidance and replaced it with just 52 pages. Instead of prioritising brownfield sites they said instead that there should be a Presumption in favour of sustainable development. This means that councils cannot turn down applications on any land unless there are significant reasons. These reasons are much fewer than they used to be.

The new planning guidance, known as the National Planning Policy Framework, says the Government want to speed up and simplify applications. They have also identified for each authority an amount of houses that need always to be in the pipeline – known as the five year supply.

In Stockton the Government’s Inspector has told us that we have not yet achieved a five year supply and therefore the Council should approve all applications unless there is a very good reason why not.

Therefore when applications come before the council’s planning committee, the officers (paid staff) nearly always tell the councillors that they should pass the application so that they don’t fall foul of the Government’s new laws. Sometimes councillors go against officers advice and still refuse the application.

In Urlay Nook councillors turned down the application and the developer appealed and also submitted a new application. You will probably remember the big row when officers told councillors they must accept it a second time as they would be penalised by the Government.

Sometimes the officers find reasons why an application should be turned down and generally the councillors go along with that view. This is not very common as the available reasons to refuse are now few.

Where councillors have held out and still refused to pass an application for houses, we have seen an instance where the developer/builder appealed to the Government – the 350 houses at Ingleby Barwick last year  – and Mr Pickles the Tory Minister in charge said they must go ahead. I am now waiting to hear what he is going to say about an application for yetanother 550 houses that the council has turned down there and which have gone to him to decide.

So you see, despite what some would have you believe, it is not a Labour council making the applications to build houses and it is not a Labour council that necessarily want plans to go ahead.

Councillors must decide using the guidelines in front of them and over which the Government have the final say. If we still had a Labour Government many of these applications would never have come forward at all because they would have been against the planning law in existence at the time. I grew up in Yarm and we always knew where our town boundaries were and over which roads no houses would ever be built. However those protections have now been lost to us and you can see the consequences.

I accept that there have been Labour councillors who have voted for some applications, but there have been others who have voted against. And just as importantly, there have been Conservatives who have supported plans to build in our area too. Cllr Ken Lupton of Hartburn for instance, Tory leader in the borough, voted to pass the retirement village at Leven Bank and his was the vote that tipped the balance if I recall correctly.

It is easy for some of Yarm’s Conservative politicians (past and present) to point the finger at an authority they do not control, in order to push the blame elsewhere but the fact is that it is their own National Planning Policy Framework that has resulted in the growth of applications on our green fields. It is a matter of regret that, by repeating so often that a Labour council is to blame, some people have been taken in.

Our MP has never condemned the NPPF – a fact which led to one of his councillors defecting to UKIP, but other Tory MPs have not been so reticent, several former Tory Ministers have had plenty to say, calling it an “environmental disaster”.

For my part, I shall continue to fight for local people and will be at the Planning meeting this afternoon to fight yet another re-application for 550 houses in Ingleby Barwick. We simply must not give up otherwise there will be nothing left of our rural hinterlands at all.

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