Labour’s housing plan ‘risks green belt’

LABOUR councillors have been accused of encouraging urban sprawl around one of Britain’s most historic cities after pushing ahead with plans to build up to 800 homes each year over the next two decades.

A planning blueprint has been approved by York Council which will see as many as 16,000 homes built up until 2029 – a dramatic increase on the previous annual target of 575 properties which was drawn up by the previous Liberal Democrat administration.

Lib Dem councillors now fear that green belt circling York will be used to meet the more ambitious housing targets, although Labour members stressed the extra housing is necessary to ensure the city’s residents are not priced out of the market.

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Liberal Democrat member Nigel Ayre had tabled a proposal during a full council meeting on Thursday evening which attempted to protect proposed green belt land in Huntington, Heworth Without or Osbaldwick, although the amendment was voted down by Labour members.

Coun Ayre said: “It is unlikely that the city will see the number of houses built each year that Labour project. The housing market is still some way from picking up and so the reality is likely to be quite different to the plan.

“If the number of houses built is lower than the projection, there won’t be any need to build on the green belt in Huntington, Heworth Without or Osbaldwick. It makes sense to protect these areas to ensure they are only released if absolutely necessary, and if residents agree.

“Labour claimed that they wanted to protect the green belt, yet they voted against giving councillors and residents a say in when parts of it were developed.”

The Local Development Framework, which sets out the house-building targets, will focus primarily on brownfield sites, including the re-development of the former Terry’s chocolate factory as well as the York Central project.

The massive York Central development is earmarked for one of the biggest brownfield sites in the country centred around the city’s railway station, but the proposals stalled during the recession.

The cabinet member for city strategy, Coun Dave Merrett, admitted there would be “limited urban extension” into land surrounding the city to cope with the scale of development.

But he maintained every effort would be made to utilise brownfield sites first, and the targets will still only meet 61 per cent of the anticipated demand for new properties.

He added: “Brownfield sites are absolutely the first choice, and we will only look at the other areas for potential housing if we run out of other locations. It is actually still a very low number of properties that are being proposed.”

The Yorkshire Post revealed in March that business leaders had accused the Lib Dems, who lost control to Labour in the May elections, of jeopardising the economy after scaling back house-building targets.

The York and North Yorkshire Chamber of Commerce claimed house-building rates needed to increase to support economic and population growth.

Liberal Democrats had pushed ahead with the revised annual target for 575 properties despite advice from planning consultants that between 780 and 800 homes should be built each year.

The Lib Dems defended the decision, which they claimed was necessary to conserve the city’s character and the surrounding green belt.