Councillor McNally’s explanation of the Baldock councillors’ votes

As a Councillor for Baldock, I have been approached by a number of people in the town, asking me about the Housing Plan and why all but one of the Baldock & Arbury Councillors voted for the motion before the Council, when we have all campaigned for a plan that was proportionate and that did not dump so many new dwellings in the Baldock area.  On 11 April, NHDC Councillors effectively had two choices; either vote against the motion, which would send the plan back to NHDC to start again, or vote for the motion, which would send the plan, along with the more than 2,500 representations made during the second consultation, to the Planning Inspectorate, for consideration.

This was the third time this plan had been before Council, having been first put forward in November 2014. As a new Councillor, prior to the 2014 meeting, I initiated the setting up of a public meeting in Baldock to ascertain what opinion was in the town.  The community expressed strong opposition to the plan and I and other town councillors worked with our constituents to protest at the unfair nature of the plan, which at that time proposed building almost 4,500 houses in Baldock, with 3,650 dwellings north of Baldock in one massive development.  At the meeting in November, I did not support the plan.  In July 2016, the plan came again to Council; all the Baldock & Arbury Councillors voted against it, feeling that there was still time for NHDC to get it right, if the will was there to do so.  By this time, we had managed to reduce the numbers for Baldock & Arbury by 910 dwellings, to 3,590; a small but important victory in the scheme of things.

The consultation period before the vote in July had led to 8,500 representations from members of the public and organisations, the vast majority of whom agreed that this plan was significantly flawed.  Unfortunately, the plan was approved and a second consultation period took place between October and November, which resulted in around 2,550 representations, of whom 98% objected to the plan as it stood.

When it came before Council the third time, on 11 April, the plan was an improvement from its original, but remained significantly flawed, particularly in relation to the provision of infrastructure around transport and education.  The plan also tinkered with the Green Belt, allowing 60% of development on such land, while designating other areas as Green Belt to apparently compensate for this.  Such action gave rise to the impression that the Green Belt was being used as a matter of expediency, rather than for its original purpose.

So how should we vote?  The obvious thing to do would be to vote against the motion, but that would mean sending the plan back to NHDC to start again.  But the thing is that NHDC had taken 20 years to get to the current plan, which remained significantly flawed.  Did we have any confidence that they would be able to produce a plan that was ‘fit for purpose’ within a time frame that prevented the government stepping in and appointing someone from outside the area taking over and producing a plan that took no account of local communities etc, but looked good on paper?  I asked many of my constituents whether they had faith in NHDC to be able to ever produce a good plan for the District and everyone stated that they had no confidence in NHDC to deliver such a plan.

Another big issue to consider was that if the motion was defeated, North Herts would be without a five year housing plan; this would mean that every planning application made by developers would carry with it a presumption that planning permission would be granted – not the best situation for properly co-ordinated and proportionate development, to the benefit of communities.

Now I considered voting to send the plan to the Planning Inspectorate; this would result in the plan being objectively and impartially considered and the setting up of an examination in public.  The inspector would take note of all the 2,500 representations made during the second consultation, by individuals and organisations.  Of particular note was the fact that, as stated at the Council Meeting, Herts County Council itself objected to the plan, considering it to not be ‘fit for purpose’.  A powerful voice against, for the inspector to consider.

I note the comments made by Cllr Steve Jarvis in the media, who voted to send the plan back to NHDC and feels that if you think something is wrong, you should vote against it.  That is living in La La Land.  It is my job, as a local councillor to get the best possible result for my constituents and the people of North Herts that I can.  When faced with a woeful situation, created by Cllr Jarvis and other long serving councillors, who were unable to pull together a viable, fair and proportionate plan in 20 years, sometimes it is necessary to compromise.  Stop playing politics and focus activity on what is achievable.  The people of North Herts deserve better!

All of the Baldock & Arbury Councillors agreed with the above analysis, but on the night, one chose to vote to send the plan back to NHDC; the rest of us decided to put our faith in the integrity and professionalism of the Planning Inspector and the examination in public.  This seems to be the best way of taking into account the public outcry, the objections of Herts County Council and recognise the plan for what it is: a flawed plan that is not fit for purpose!

Regards,

:: Jim McNally

Councillor

Baldock Town Ward

North Herts District Council

Mobile: 07977 543189

jim.mcnally@sky.com

 

:: North Herts District Council
Council Offices
Gernon Road
Letchworth Garden City
SG6 3JF

01462 474000
www.north-herts.gov.uk

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