WDC gags debate on reserve sites

The Leader of the Labour Group on WDC walked out of WDC’s Cabinet meeting in protest today.  Find out why and read our full statement about housing.

The Leader of the Labour Group on WDC walked out of WDC’s Cabinet meeting in protest today as any debate or scrutiny of the proposals to release five reserve sites for development was ruled out by Tory Councillors.    


Councillors not on the Cabinet were allowed a maximum of one minute to ask a question.   They were given no opportunity to hear the answer to their questions and then ask a supplementary.  They were given no opportunity to make a statement or voice an opinion.  They were not allowed any debate.   

The papers on the proposals to release the sites were 57 pages long.

Councillor Ian Bates, Leader of the Labour Group on WDC, said “The decision on the reserve sites is the most important decision the Council will make since it decided to sell all its Council houses nearly 3 years ago.   At least, then, the Leader of the Council allowed a debate in Full Council.   Members were allowed to put their views and present their case.  Others were allowed to respond.  The then Leader of the Labour Group was allowed to make a statement on its opposition to the
sale.  

But now we are told there will be no debate at the next Full Council in December on the release of the reserve sites.   Full Council will merely rubber stamp the decision made at the Cabinet meeting today.    The only contribution non-Cabinet Councillors can make is to ask a question for 60 seconds.   It’s like some comedy radio show.

The Labour Group is not going to play this pointless game.     
 
Labour opposes the release of the reserve sites.  We have set out our reasons for this opposition in a substantive statement.   This is an important and complex issue not to be dealt with in 60 seconds.   

We are issuing our statement to members of the public at the meeting, to the media and on our website.  

Let the Cabinet make their decision; they will have to account for it to residents for many years to come. “ 

 

STATEMENT ON RELEASING RESERVE SITES IN WYCOMBE BY IAN BATES, LEADER OF LABOUR GROUP ON WYCOMBE
DISTRICT COUNCIL
 
Wycombe Labour is committed to building more homes to tackle the biggest housing crisis in a generation. 

Britain's housing shortage is part of the cost-of-living crisis, and the Tories are making it worse. Millions of working people cannot buy the homes they want – today it takes an average family 22 years to save for a proper deposit on a home, and the nine million people who rent privately are finding rent payments increasing faster than wages.  

In some parts of the country, like London, tens of thousands of homes are standing empty while new homes are sold to foreign buyers.   And this mattes to Wycombe because most of our inward migration comes from London – families trying to find somewhere cheaper to live.   

Yet under the Tories, we are building fewer than half the number of homes we need to keep up with demand. David Cameron has presided over the lowest level of house building in peacetime Britain since the 1920s. If unchecked, the gap between the number of homes we need and the number we build could rise to 1.3 million by 2020, the equivalent of
three cities the size of Birmingham.

If home ownership is to be a realistic aspiration for working people, and if rents are to be affordable, then we need a step change in the scale of house building in this country.

However it is just as important to determine how the homes will be built as how many.

It is important to build homes in the right place, to a good standard, and with the proper infrastructure of roads and schools and community facilities.  It is important to build with good design.  And it is important to put the control of building homes in the hands of local democratic representatives – not private sector developers.   

Much as we argue and disagree with the policies of the Tory and Lib Dem Councillors on WDC - whose parties have signed up to the vicious policies which are driving families out of London -  at least they are accountable to residents and not primarily concerned with the profits to  be got from building houses.  

So how would the Labour Party build the 200,000 homes it is pledged to build every year by 2020?  


Unlike the Tories, Ed Miliband does not believe in knee jerk reactions. He set up a Housing Commission in 2013 chaired by Sir Michael Lyons.  The Lyons Commission reported last week after a year’s work taking and analysing evidence.   It is a comprehensive review setting out plans for building the 200,000 homes a year by 2020.   

Labour will give powers to local authorities to give local first-time buyers priority access to buy new homes as they go on sale.


Labour will unblock the supply of new homes by giving local authorities "use it or lose it" powers over developers who hoard land that has planning permission.  These developers buy land for investment so they can sell it on for bigger profits, instead of building on it now.

Labour will tackle empty homes by giving councils more power to charge higher rates of council tax on empty properties.  We should use this new power in Wycombe.  It is not right to see homes left empty when so many people are desperate for somewhere to live.  

Labour will maximise the use of brownfield land, putting derelict land back into use and not simply leave it with all the negative impact this has on communities.  

Labour will make housing a priority in a Labour Government’s capital spend.  

Labour will give local authorities power to assemble land and take a proactive approach to locally led development.  
Local elected representatives would have greater leverage to determine where and how development takes place.

Compare this with what is happening under the Tories.   

Local authorities have to provide a five year land supply, a list of sites on which development is possible.  If developers refuse to build on these, then the local authority has to add additional sites to this list, meaning that developers have the power to determine where they build and where they do not.  

The Government requires WDC to demonstrate it has sufficient land available to build 500-700 homes a year for the next 5 years rather than the 400-450 homes which have been build each year up to now.   

Wycombe hasn’t got enough land available. Hence the decision the Council has to make in releasing the reserve sites.  
Even if all this land is released it still won’t provide the 5-year supply demanded by the Government, not least because Wycombe now has a backlog of homes it hasn’t built which have to be added to the numbers demanded.   
 
Local authorities have to get their local plan agreed by the Government.   

If they don’t comply with Government demands and the local plan is turned down, then there is a high risk under the Government’s new planning system that developments will be approved by the Government, even if WDC (and Wycombe residents) think the development will be in the wrong place and/or done in the wrong way.   
 
Without a Local Plan, planning decisions will be taken out of WDC’s hands; it will lose control over how the District develops and grows in the future.     

It is the Government which has put WDC between a rock and a hard place.   
 
The council is having to take the decision on the reserve sites with a gun at its head.  Either build on the reserve land or let the developers wreck havoc.  
 
The Leader of the Tory Group has already disagreed publicly with the Government’s planning policies – but he is still going to vote to release the sites as he hasn’t got the integrity to resign from the Tory Party and oppose the Government upfront - and take his colleagues with him.   
 
The Lib Dems continue to ramble through the reserve sites bemoaning the possibility that they will be built on.  Can I remind them, again, that they are members of a party in Government which supports these planning policies to the hilt.  
 
If they think the Government’s policies are wrong and they care about the effects on Wycombe, they would resign from the Lib Dems and also oppose the Government.  
 
In summary, the Leader of the Tory Group is wrong when he said the situation would be exactly the same under Labour.   
 
To begin with, Wycombe Labour would not have sold 6000 Council houses three years ago for a paltry £18.5 million.  And in the unlikely event we did, we would have spent the £18.5 million on providing affordable housing.  This may I remind you, again, is what the Tories promised.  Instead they are spending the proceeds of the Council homes on a new sports centre and offices at Handy Cross.  
 
More generally, unlike the Government, the Labour Party doesn’t believe that developers should be given the right to build houses where and when they want, riding roughshod over the wishes of local people and local authorities in order to make the maximum profit.  
 
We are committed to building more homes.  But the Government is forcing through a Developers’ Charter.   And this is not the way to build homes.   
 
This is why Wycombe Labour opposes the release of the reserve sites.  
 

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  • David Williams Qc
    commented 2014-10-21 21:38:36 +0100
    An open, transparent and healthy democracy should not just permit but encourage the voicing of dissenting views, even if that is at the expense of the time given to the decision makers. Sounds like this was no more than an attempt to give a very thin veneer of respectability to what was no more than a show.

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