One can’t help avoid the recent background noise generated by Tory councillors as they rove around the city, looking for any opportunity to exploit the worries and concerns of residents over the current public consultation on the City Plan Part 2 – the exciting and comprehensive strategic vision for our city for the next 10 years that was carried with unanimous backing from Labour and Greens earlier this year.
Tory-sponsored petitions and leaflets abound, attempting to spread misinformation about the very small amount of urban fringe, less than 7 per cent, earmarked for possible (not definite) affordable housing development and, ironically, given their disingenuous affectations as environmentalists, the ecological renewal of Benfield Valley.
One does not need to look too closely to see the cynical manoeuvres from the party of the big property developer and the land speculator which received over £11 million in party donations from property businesses last year.
Local Tory councillors fail to mention, in their campaigning, despite being fully aware of the situation, that their own government has, through its undemocratic centralised National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), forced our city to earmark some of the same fringe sites for possible development.
When the council tried to protect sites like Whitehawk Hill several years ago, the planning inspector – working for a Tory government – required the council “to assess more rigorously all opportunities to meet the city’s housing need” and reconsider the potential for housing development on urban fringe sites.
In short, if at least some urban fringe is not included in the plan, the Tories know that we risk losing control of our entire plan and the protection of all of our green fringe.
Local Tory attempts to jump on to the campaign bandwagon are nothing short of a cruel and cynical means of unfairly raising expectations of local residents as they very well know that locally we have no option to remove further “urban fringe” land because their own government has told us so.
Even more concerning is the deafening silence from the same councillors in the face of the deeply alarming government “white paper” on planning proposals – proposals that would rip up the last vestiges of the Town and Country Planning Act legislated by the post-war Labour government to empower and give voice to local people over their communities and stop the scourge of the speculative developer.
The local Conservative group have repeatedly refused to sign a joint cross-party letter initiated by Brighton and Hove Labour, calling on the Secretary of State to drop his proposals.
Their true intentions are quite clear – cynical attempts at the hijacking of valid and important local campaigns while at the same time giving a blank cheque to developers to build wherever they like.
The Tory white paper, has been described by the Royal Institute of British Architects as “shameful” and would “pave the way for the slums of the future”.
The Town and Country Planning Association describes them as a “dilution of democracy” and the Campaign for Rural England as “pitiful” and a missed opportunity in their failure to achieve carbon neutrality until 2050.
The Tory proposals are a developer’s charter. They would
- dilute the current requirement for property developers to provide affordable homes for the 9,000 households on our housing waiting list
- remove Brighton and Hove’s ability to block unacceptable developments
- end the requirement for developers to make a social contribution to our city through the scrapping of “section 106 contributions” and the Community Infrastructure Levy
Most terrifying of all, they would require us, according to Local Government Association (LGA) data, to increase our housing target by 287 per cent – which would mean an unprecedented attack on the urban fringe.
It is craven opportunism of the highest order for the Tory group to oppose our attempts to build social houses for families and older people on a tiny fraction of urban fringe land and then back their Westminster colleagues to try to concrete over the lot!
City Plan Part 2 will bring enormous benefits to our city including clamping down on the proliferation of HMOs (houses in multiple occupation) and inappropriate development, protecting local shopping parades and pubs – and setting down tough new environmental standards for new developments.
It will also facilitate the building of desperately needed social housing for the 9,000 households on our city waiting list.
And importantly it will protect at least 92 per cent of our cherished urban fringe from future development and designate Benfield Valley as a “special area” – a green wedge and link from our city to the South Downs National Park.
Councillor Nick Childs is a member of Brighton and Hove City Council and speaks for the opposition Labour group on the council’s Planning Committee.