Thousands voice concerns over blueprint for York

POLITICIANS are facing a wave of opposition to controversial plans to embark on the most significant house-building programme for decades in a Yorkshire city after thousands of objections have been lodged.

York city centre and Minster

York Council has been inundated with the biggest ever response to a public consultation after the initial proposals for the first development blueprint to span the whole of the city in more than half a century have been drawn up.

The authority has received more than 14,000 submissions with concerns repeatedly being expressed over the scale of development, with 22,000 homes due to be built to address an affordable housing crisis while 20 sites have been identified for economic development which could bring as many as 16,000 new jobs.

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Fears have been voiced over whether York’s already under-pressure roads network will be able to cope, while other opponents have claimed that the notorious flooding which has blighted the city would be accentuated by the schemes set out under the 15-year planning vision.

Political opponents have maintained that the huge response to the consultation is a clear indication of the deep concerns over the controversial proposals, which include building on vast areas of greenbelt land.

The leader of the council’s Conservative group, Coun Ian Gillies, said: “I have actually been surprised by the scale of the response, but also buoyed by the fact that so many care about the future of York. The current proposals are deeply flawed, and we have to get the administration to listen. If the house-building was to go ahead, it would change communities and not for the best.”

Almost 5,000 respondents fed back specific views, with another 9,000 people signing 21 different petitions during the eight-week consultation period. Organisations including English Heritage, the York Civic Trust and the Highways Agency are among the influential organisations which have also voiced concerns.

However, the draft Local Plan is seen as crucial to addressing the lack of affordable homes across York, which is one of the most desirable locations to live in the North of England. The average property price in York was £201,331 in 2011 compared to the regional average of £155,303, according to the National Housing Federation.

The Labour-run council’s leader, Coun James Alexander, has claimed that there is a “moral obligation” to ensure there is an adequate level of housing.

He said: “The importance of the Local Plan can not be under-estimated. The plan will affect all future generations, so it was extremely important that we gained as much feedback as possible. The magnitude of the consultation was felt by everyone, and echoed by over 14,000 representations which is the largest amount of responses we’ve ever received during a consultation.

“We still have some time to go before the plan is adopted but we recognise that the biggest challenges for York are the city’s need for affordable housing for residents, delivering more jobs, and protecting York’s unique built environment for future generations – and through the Local Plan we hope to achieve this.

“We thank everyone for their responses, which will now be fed back into the final Local Plan submission draft before going out to consultation again next year.”

The draft Local Plan was published in April after an initial city-wide planning brief for York had to be abandoned in May last year following concerns over its viability which were raised by a Government planning inspector. The Yorkshire Post revealed in February that York’s taxpayers will have to pay £650,000 for the revised plan while the Labour-run council attempts to slash £20m from its budgets and shed 240 jobs to counter the Government’s funding cuts over the next two years.

A further consultation will be held early next year once any changes have been made, and a final version will be sent to the Government for approval in late 2014. If it is given the go-ahead, the Local Plan will be put in place in 2015, making it the first city-wide development brief to be adopted since 1956.