Kirklees council approve controversial Local Plan amid chaotic scenes

Council leader Shabir Pandor speaks at the meeting last night.
Council leader Shabir Pandor speaks at the meeting last night.

Kirklees last night approved its controversial Local Plan during a bruising meeting that descended into chaos.

There was pandemonium in Huddersfield Town Hall as the “extraordinary” council meeting was cut short with more than an hour still to go.

And as rival groups clashed over whether members should be allowed to speak on planning issues affecting their wards there were accusations that they had been prevented from speaking and effectively gagged.

Speaking after the meeting disappointed and frustrated Conservative group leader David Hall described events as “the most appalling abuse of power I have seen on this council in 15 years.”

Liberal Democrat group pleader John Lawson said the decision to close down debate would “shatter public confidence in our decision-making process”.

An order from the government, the Local Plan includes 31,000 homes, many of which will have to be built within the green belt, as there is insufficient non-green belt land in the borough.

There was little doubt that it would be adopted given the ruling Labour group’s majority.

Recommending the proposed plan for adoption Clr Peter McBride (Lab, Dalton) said it was the culmination of a ten-year “epic journey”.

He acknowledged the weight of feeling from some residents who objected to the loss of local amenities.

But he added: “Within the council we toiled with the conflict of, on the one hand, the need for a substantial number of houses and on the other an inevitable loss of green belt.

“The [planning] inspectors vindicated the view of the council that land was needed for housing and employment on the scale that we proposed and in the places that we proposed.

“But it is in no sense of triumph do we maintain our position; rather we have tried to expand sensitively and sustainably.”

He called the Local Plan “a complex, finely-crafted piece of work costing many millions” that would deliver growth, jobs, opportunities and houses “which will guarantee the future of this borough for a generation”.

Council Leader Clr Shabir Pandor (Lab, Batley West) said the Local Plan was about “regeneration, renewal and rejuvenation”.

He called it “fantastic news for Kirklees” and said it was a plan for the prosperity and well-being of the borough.

Clr Hall offered a different point of view.

He warned that the next 15 years will see Kirklees becoming “a series of congested, overcrowded, dormitory communities for Leeds and Bradford” courtesy of a Local Plan that will “blight” the area.

He added: “The inspectors may have ruled that it is a sound plan, but that does not imply that it is the right plan.

“Yes, we need more housing, more business and industrial growth and the right planning policies to guard our quality of life.

“But this is a plan which will achieve the opposite of what it purports to do.”

He said it would inhibit growth and put thousands of houses in places where infrastructure is already “groaning” under pressure.

Quoting a report from the National Audit Office Clr Lawson said large parts of the Local Plan had been thrown into doubt because they lacked the supporting infrastructure required to make them viable.

He said a third of housing had been taken from former green belt land to be handed over for development “with no firm commitment” about infrastructure such as transport, healthcare, schools and utilities.

He said the plan was based on “flawed methodology”

Green group leader Clr Andrew Cooper (Newsome) said he was “genuinely conflicted”.

“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.

“This plan and every other plan around the country is for developers, not for the people of Kirklees and its needs.”

Around a third of members spoke in the debate before Labour’s Clr Gulfam Asif called for the plan to be put to the vote.

Amid rancorous scenes and much confusion, and after being challenged by the Conservatives’ Clr Michael Watson (Denby Dale), Mayor of Kirklees Clr Gwen Lowe took advice from officers and said she was satisfied that the matter had been discussed sufficiently.

The Local Plan was passed by a 33-23 vote with three abstentions.

Speaking afterwards Clr Hall (Con, Liversedge and Gomersal) said: “I’m furious.

“This is one of the most important issues that we have to debate as a council, but council has been gagged and the plan has been steamrollered through by the Labour group.

“Democracy has been thrown out of the window tonight.”

Clr Lawson added: “I feel gutted.

“We had members that felt passionately about what is going on and about what is a very important and long-term plan and they were cut off before they could speak.

“They have worked hard, some of them, for years and years and then at the last opportunity to speak Labour shut down the debate.

“The whole proceedings were brought to a halt in such a shudderingly chaotic fashion that it makes a mess of council. It’s very saddening.”

Other councillors vented their feelings on social media. Clr Kath Pinnock (Lib Dem, Cleckheaton) wrote: “Ended in Labour bullyboy tactics rather than democracy in action.”

Clr Vivien Lees-Hamilton (Con, Mirfield) wrote: “Today is the day democracy in #Kirklees died. Gagged by #labour.”

Revealing why he pushed for a vote Clr Asif (Lab, Dewsbury South) said: “It was going round in circles.

“They weren’t making points. They were ranting on and attacking our group.

“This has been going on for years. They have had more than enough time to come back. To come to this final day and then rant, that’s what irritated me.”