CONTROVERSIAL plans to make land available for thousands of new homes in York look set to undergo major changes after the resignation of two councillors from the ruling Labour group.
The resignations mean Labour is now running the council as a minority administration with opposition parties able to block its measures if they work together.
Both the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats have been fiercely critical of Labour’s plans to make land for 20,000 homes available over the next 15 years in the city’s new local plan and now have the opportunity to make big changes.
The resignations of former Labour group leader David Scott and Ken King paved the way for the Liberal Democrats to pass a motion at Thursday night’s council meeting demanding a halt to consultations on the local plan and for council officers to come up with new figures on the number of homes required.
Lib Dem group leader Keith Aspden said: “I am pleased that thanks to our motion there will now be an opportunity to properly reconsider Labour’s plans. It will give the cross-party local plan working group the chance to analyse the evidence and set realistic housing targets and infrastructure plans for York.
“I also hope it can lead to a move away from 80 per cent of planned development being on the green belt and a move towards a genuine brownfield first policy as the Liberal Democrat group has consistently advocated.
“Following the resignations of two more Labour councillors last night, we will work with opposition groups and independent councillors to try to make sure that the council gets York’s local plan right. After this vote, legitimate public concerns over the issue can no longer be ignored by Labour.”
And today the Conservatives made clear they also wanted the local plan revisited now Labour is in the minority.
Group leader Chris Steward said: “After so much hot air from the council leader about opposition parties only opposing Labour’s plan, the change in make-up of the council leaves opposition councilors at a crossroads of whether they just want to criticise Labour’s local plan or truly offer an alternative – there is no doubt the Conservative Group has and will take the latter approach.
“York needs a local plan but it must be viable with less houses than proposed and far less greenfield development and it should be agreed across parties rather than just the Labour group. “
Control of the council was already on a knife-edge with the defection of then Labour councillor Helen Douglas to the Conservatives last month leaving the ruling group on 23 seats, the same number as the combined opposition, and with a by-election taking place in the Westfield ward next week.
But the two resignations on Thursday night means that Labour is now sure to remain outnumbered - although still the biggest single party - whatever the Westfield result.
Labour’s cabinet member for planning, Coun Dave Merrett, said: “We will be sitting down with officers to consider the implications of this vote for the local plan before making further announcements on next steps.”
He added: “But reducing annual housing targets could seriously affect the soundness of the plan, while delaying the plan will result in a developer free for all in the draft green belt, so I would urge opposition parties to consider carefully what they hope to achieve following this council decision”.