‘I believe the Local Plan will cause huge damage to York. This is why’

5 Apr 2018 @ 9.18 pm
| Environment, News, Opinion, Politics

OPINION: Independent councillor Mark Warters says the Local Plan as it stands could cause irreparable harm to the city

York’s Local Plan – or lack of one – was raised by the Prime Minister Theresa May last month.

And as yet another local consultation on the latest draft comes to an end, perhaps it’s time to discuss some of the facts and figures nobody wants the York public to know.

Despite all the soundbites in the consultation document and those made by local and national politicians over this development plan being a ‘Local’ Plan and catering for the housing needs of York people, for the vast majority of the proposed developments this is simply not true.

In 2014, as the last Labour administration of City of York Council imploded and resignations took place (sounds rather familiar given recent events at CYC!), the make up of committees changed.

And I managed to get a seat at the table of Local Plan Working Group, much to the obvious discomfort of some of the other members.

This gave me the opportunity to publicly challenge the population projections for York as laid down by Government statistics.

These figures were the ones that the future growth – and therefore allocation of land for housing and employment growth – were based upon. They showed that 78% of growth was attributable to ‘international migration’.

You can clearly see these figures on page 12 of the Arup report.

Challenging the figures

[arve url=”https://youtu.be/IyD1hLL03Fo” title=”Local Plan Working Group, Weds 17 Dec 2014″ parameters=”start=4717″/]

During that meeting I questioned Christopher Tunnell, global head of planning, policy and assessment at Arup UK, the independent expert assisting CYC on this issue.

At 1hr 18 mins in – see the video above – he confirmed my assessment of those figures and the implications for York were correct. (See also the exchanges at 1hr 32mins, 1hr 40mins and 1hr 54 mins.)

The last point I raised was in relation to an Environment Capacity Study for York, as requested by English Heritage in 2003, when EH said:

In order to ascertain at what point the special character or the setting of the city might be harmed (and, therefore, where a halt should be put upon the further growth of York) an assessment needs to be undertaken of the capacity of the historic city to accommodate further growth.

Of course putting a constraint on future development is rather inconvenient when the Government is imposing growth targets on the city so York can home the city’s ‘share’ of the population crisis created in the UK.

Many residents are appalled

[arve url=”https://youtu.be/UkNfi-N5-ao?t=2h33m28s” title=”Council, 21 July 2016″ /]

These background papers all form part of the Local Plan documentation – albeit buried away in hundreds of other papers and documents.

But none of the local councillors (with the exception of myself), and most certainly not the two York MPs, want to publicise the real reason the special character of York faces destruction should the ‘Local’ Plan be approved.

Want to see the reaction of local politicians when such issues are raised directly?

During the full council meeting of the 21st July 2016, when given the opportunity to voice concerns over the reasons behind the false inflation of York’s population growth, the local politicians all declined – preferring to play the ‘xenophobe’ card against me!

The very same politicians who all clamour at election time to portray themselves as defenders of York and its Green Belt surroundings!

I was born in York and have lived here all my life and will continue to voice my opinion on behalf of the many residents who are appalled at what is proposed to happen with the developments, should the latest draft of the ‘Local’ Plan be approved.

During the course of this latest CYC administration the ‘Local’ Plan has moved forward, driven by Lib Dem/Conservative councillors.

They owe their positions largely to stances taken in May 2015 to ‘protect’ the Green Belt in Outer York areas, with constant sniping by Labour politicians both at local and MP level that more housing needs to be included in the plan.

Massive Green Belt take

New houses being built in York. Photograph: Mark Warters

The housing figure currently in the draft undergoing consultation is 867 housing units per year which will see a massive Green Belt land take and inevitable pressure on already struggling traffic and health infrastructure in York.

So much for these people protecting York when they won’t even discuss the real reasons behind such levels of growth!

I asked them once again publicly to tell the York public the truth, of course they declined.

The ‘Local’ Plan now undergoing consultation is predicated on a revised ‘international inward migration’ figure of 65%. Two thirds of all the land take, increased traffic and pressure on services in York is purely down to encouraging the false growth of the City.

Worse still, the housing growth figures being taken forward are likely to be seen as too low by government. Indeed the strategic planning officer who led the development plan process for the last two decades has left CYC only months before he would have had to defend the plan at a public examination.

Rather tells a story! Given pressure from central government on councils to make sure their local plans accommodate the ‘population crisis’ caused by the government’s abject failure to bring immigration under control, it seems very likely that York’s Local Plan will fall at the first hurdle.

All politicians should be held to account over this shambolic situation.

A special case

The land east of Metcalfe Lane earmarked for development in the Local Plan

York, like Chester and Oxford, has always, in planning terms, been considered a ‘special case’.

The primary purpose of York’s Green Belt is to safeguard the special character and setting of the historic city with the prominence of the Minster in the skyline being set by a hinterland of farmland and villages.

The proposals in the current development plan, in particular in relation to the land east of Metcalfe Lane (ST7) will destroy that special character and if implemented throw away decades of accepted planning logic.

The view of York Minster, as seen from the A64 between Grimston Roundabout and the Hopgrove Roundabout, is destined to be diminished by having 845 houses (or more likely very many more) built in the foreground.

Is this what current York residents want for their city?

Remember there isn’t a housing crisis in York but there is a wider population crisis! And that is made much worse in York due to the huge increase in student numbers, with the universities not making sufficient accommodation available.

Housing minister Dominic Raab

I have already written to the housing minister suggesting they take over York’s Local Plan as residents will then have a clear view as to who is responsible for the future destruction of the city, should government impose even higher housing targets.

But a distinctly underwhelming reply came back.

All very concerning for the future of York. But I will continue to take every opportunity to raise these matters.

York residents have consistently shown through ‘consultations’ in the past that they are against the huge expansion of this small historic city and any consequent decline in quality of life.

For as long as I am a councillor I will go on representing that view as robustly as possible.

Mark Warters is the independent councillor for Osbaldwick and Derwent ward