|Councillors Cooper, Allison and Stewart-Turner examine the Local Plan|
For us as Newsome Ward Councillors we have had some real successes. The land below Castle Hill at New Laithe Hill has been added to the Green Belt protecting the aspect of Huddersfield's most iconic feature, the back gardens of householders at Taylor Hill Road that the Council had allocated for development in a draft of the Local Plan were dropped and Highfields Community Orchard, a source of some disagreement between myself and the former Council Leader Mehboob Khan, was allocated Urban Greenspace status. We have also been keen to promote development where appropriate, at the Newsome Mill site for example. There are still areas where we disagree with development both in the ward we represent and in other parts of Kirklees and the housing numbers indicated in the plan far exceed what has ever been built in past years. Government has set the rules of the game and we have to provide housing on sites we wouldn't wish to develop. So I'm sure the Tories will refer to this as Labour's Local Plan but really its Labour's Local Plan using rules provided for it by the then Lib Dem/Conservative Government.
This is a plan that does not really address housing need. It will not provide the secure, social rented homes so many people need. When I hear people talk about the local plan as a way of addressing homelessness or giving people on low income a home, this plan falls short. Developers make money on 3 or 4 bedroom properties for owner occupation. Developers donate millions to the Conservative Party. This plan and every other plan around the country is for developers not for the people of Kirklees and its needs.
In this plan we are pleased that our amendment, that ensures that any fracking company would have to demonstrate how it has net zero impact on climate change has been adopted in the plan. Now I know Councillor Donald Firth will say that you can't do Fracking in Kirklees due to the extent of the Bowland shale but there are some places (in former coal mining areas) where unconventional gas extraction such as fracking and coal bed methane extraction are still possible so we still need a policy to protect ourselves from fracking and other forms of fossil fuel extraction. We should be proud this policy has national significance and sets a useful precedent for other Councils and is consistent with our Declaration of a Climate Emergency.
So what to do. I'm genuinely conflicted and because we don't operate a Party Whip I'm free to be conflicted. Nethertheless its a dilemma.
We need a Local Plan. If we don't have one then rapacious developers will have free rein to build where they will. There will be limited protection for all green spaces without a designation like green belt
In many ways this is not our choice the rules of the game were set in the National Planning Policy Framework. Thanks to the Coalition Government. Thanks former Lib Dem MP Andrew Stunnell in the a Minister in DCLG. As a result many areas which should not be developed on because they are valued green space are in this plan.
We don't have the ability or freedom to produce a plan that we want and the Conservatives and the Lib Dems would be in exactly the same position as the Labour Party is now if they were running the Council. It is important to be honest about that.
So what next. Once the Plan is adopted we have the opportunity to introduce Supplementary Planning Guidance to set our own energy efficiency standards in new build properties. It should be where feasible to Passivhaus standards not simply because it will reduce carbon emissions, or even because householders will have energy bills 75% less than a standard new build but because of the high standard of building delivered through a quality assurance process. Sadly we would not be the first Council to be pushing strongly on the Passivhaus standard. We need to catch up.
So we have reached the end of a 10 year + epoch with the Kirklees Local Plan. I get the feeling that we are reaching the end of a number of epochs. Brexit, the Local Plan, the end of another Municipal Year. We need to recognise that things are in flux and that opportunities to shape the future are in our hands if we choose to take those opportunities.
Lets be bold, lets be positive, lets ensure that homes are built to the very best energy efficiency standards in Kirklees over the next 15 years. Let's show the rest of the country how things could be.