VIDEO: Warrington Borough Council has approved its controversial Draft Local Plan, in a named vote, allowing members of the public to see how their elected representatives voted.
The proposal was approved with 33 voting in favour, 14 against and six abstaining. Those who abstained were Labour Councillors representing or close to the Peel Hall ward, which has been under threat of development for many years – and has not been removed from the draft plan.
Prior to the meeting a vocal band of protesters gathered outside the town hall, later moving to the rear, shouting, chanting and singing their disapproval.
The draft plan – which the borough council say has been drawn up in accordance with government planning guidance, and informed by feedback from more than 4,500 members of the public – aims to deliver 18,900 new homes (or 945 per year), until 2037.
It also aims to support Warrington’s ongoing economic growth by making 362 hectares of employment land available.
The minimum number of new homes set by the Government exceeds the amount of urban and brownfield land available in Warrington. The plan, therefore, proposes unlocking some areas of Green Belt land for development to provide more homes and employment land.
In proposing the Draft Local Plan Cllr Judith Guthrie (LAB) said she understood peoples concerns but the council had a “statutory duty to produce it” or face the consequences of the Government taking control.
In seconding the proposal council leader Russ Bowden said : “The most important part of the Local Plan is retaining control!”
He added that Warrington was not unique and the only authority facing the loss of Green Belt.
“We are all residents of Warrington and value the Green Belt,” he added. “We have sought where possible to use brownfield sites and infill. Development of the green Belt is an absolute last resort for this council and we have done everything we can to find alternative sites.”
Cllr Bowden added that he had no issue with the votes being recorded.
Opposing the plan Cllr Ryan Bate,(Lib Dem) said: “Tonight’s debate is a critical step in the process of approving the Local Plan, so in effect it is a debate about the future of our borough. And we appreciate that producing a Local Plan always involves compromise and often controversy, so whilst we disagree with many of the proposals in the Plan, my group would like to express our gratitude to the officers involved in this process.
“The Liberal Democrats fully recognise the need for Warrington to have a robust Local Plan. We recognise that Warrington cannot stand still. There is an urgent need for housing, especially housing that is truly affordable. There is a need for employment land. There is a great need to address our current infrastructure failings and we also have a moral obligation to redress the social and economic inequalities across our town.
“Unfortunately, we do not believe that the draft Local Plan we have before us will achieve those things. And in a rare show of unity, politicians from Labour and the Conservatives, together with my colleagues in the Liberal Democrats have all expressed concerns about the proposals of the Local Plan.”
Cllr Bob Barr (Lib Dem) added: “This plan is based on a watered-down version of the motherhood and apple pie “vision” for Warrington that no one could disagree with, but which pays scant attention to Warrington’s unique characteristics nor does it provide any distinctive vision of the future for the town.
“We ask the Executive Board members responsible to take this plan away and discuss it with the communities that are going to be affected.
“We welcome the New Leader’s commitment to consultation. So, do it by taking this plan into the communities affected to find out what is wanted, what is acceptable and what can be delivered.
“Presenting this plan as a done deal in the Halliwell Jones Stadium will not be enough. Warrington deserves better!”
The plan will now go out for consultation for an eight week period, starting in April.