Labour leader accused of writing ‘fan mail’ to Boris

A Labour council leader has been accused of writing “fan mail” to one of Britain’s most senior Tories after sending a letter to Boris Johnson to secure the Mayor of London’s support for contentious development plans in a Yorkshire city.

BORIS JOHNSON: The Mayor of London has backed controversial house-building plans for York.

York Council’s leader James Alexander sent the correspondence to Mr Johnson’s City Hall offices in London to win backing for a 15-year vision for development in York. Among the most controversial proposals are plans for 22,000 homes, with swathes of green belt land earmarked for construction.

Coun Alexander released Mr Johnson’s response in support of the house-building strategy to the media yesterday, claiming local Tories opposed to the draft Local Plan would rather be a “party of privilege” rather than promoting a “property owned democracy”.

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But the deputy leader of the council’s Tory group, Coun George Barton, maintained Coun Alexander was mounting a desperate publicity campaign for the Local Plan, which also includes proposals to attract new enterprise by developing 20 sites which could bring up to 16,000 new jobs.

Coun Barton said: “Coun Alexander was obviously on a fishing expedition hoping the Mayor of London, who knows nothing of the details about Labour’s Local Plan, would supply a helpful quote or two which could be taken out of context to prop up his arguments for building an unsustainable number of new housing on the green belt in York.

“This is typical of Coun Alexander, who has been reduced to Tory grave-robbing and writing fan letters to Tory politicians to support his case in light of what would appear to be an overwhelmingly negative response by residents to his proposed Local Plan.

“Make no mistake - we, the York Council Conservative group, believe that new homes need to be built in York. But clearly any group which disagrees with the scale and numbers of Labour’s proposals stand to be smeared by what are becoming more and more desperate tactics.”

The Tory MP for York Outer, Julian Sturdy, has also been a vocal opponent to the draft Local Plan, which still needs the Government’s approval and is not expected to be adopted until 2015 at the earliest.

He said: “I support the need for development in the city and new housing, but we need a Local Plan that delivers in a sustainable way and protects the character and setting of our great cathedral city and the surrounding villages.”

Coun Alexander maintained resolving York’s affordable housing crisis is not a “party political issue”, and added: “Boris Johnson and (Planning Minister) Nick Boles understand the need to ensure the cost of having a home is affordable.

“Anthony Eden, Harold Macmillan and even Margaret Thatcher had a vision of a ‘property owning democracy’. This has been abandoned by York Conservatives who would rather be a party of privilege.”