SIGNIFICANT concerns have been raised about plans for thousands of new homes to be built in the Malvern Hills by 2030.
More than a dozen people aired their views on the latest draft of the South Worcestershire Development Plan before Malvern Hills District Council approved the document last Tuesday (September 30), prompting a six-week public consultation.
The meeting, held at Bransford’s Bank House Hotel, started controversially as Tory Coun Paul Tuthill called for the Liberal Democrat group not to take part in the debate, arguing that they had publicly expressed their intention to vote in favour of the latest SWDP prior to the meeting. But the council’s monitoring officer was satisfied the group would remain open-minded during the discussion.
Coun Tuthill was one of four Tories to declare an interest and remove themselves from the debate along with Coun’s Barbara Williams, Phil Grove and council leader David Hughes.
But speaking as a member of the public, Mr Tuthill said the plan lacked strategic credibility and revealed there was no ‘cauldron of debate’ within the Joint Advisory Panel which has been overseeing the SWDP on behalf of the three councils; Malvern, Wychavon and Worcester.
He also pointed out that the panel’s chairman Coun Judy Pearce of Wychavon, was planning out of Worcestershire before the plan would be implemented.
Mr Tuthill called for a cross-party group to be resurrected in Malvern to oversee the plan’s progress, but stressed it should be made up of councillors who intended to stand at next year’s local elections.
Five town and parish councils were also represented on the night with most in favour of approving the latest draft, arguing it was the only thing which would defend Malvern from unwanted development.
Although Heather Jeavons from Newland Parish Council criticised the amount of homes allocated to Newland, claiming the
Countrywide island would be over-burdened with vehicles and there would be ‘unholy traffic jams’ on the A449 road.
Patrick Mewton of Malvern Town Council blasted MHDC, saying it was the failure of either its councillors or officers for leaving
Malvern in a position of having no local plan in place or having a five-year land supply for housing.
Martin Lawrence, also a town councillor as well as organiser of the Resident Voices Malvern Chase group, alleged the SWDP was legally unsound because no figures had been produced outlining how roads and infrastructure would cope with the new homes.
Coun Melanie Baker, responsible for planning and housing at MHDC, book-ended the debate between councillors. She argued if the
SWDP was approved the council would finally be able to demonstrate a five-year land supply for housing – a shortcoming which developers have used as an argument to get applications outside of the plan approved.
Coun Baker said: “A vote against this is too awful to contemplate. There will be an avalanche of ill-conceived housing proposals.
“A vote for, allows us to move forward positively and puts us in the driving seat allowing us to close the door on inappropriate development.”
The Conservative councillor added: “It is time to protect communities however imperfect the plan is. A vote against this throws the door wide open to developers.”
Her sentiments were echoed by fellow Tories Paul Cumming and Paul Swinburn although Coun Swinburn, who is deputy leader of the council, was heckled by the crowd due to speculation he would not be living in Malvern by the time the plan was accepted.
He said: “I know there are plenty like me who would have preferred a different plan but we have to live in the real world and take the least worst document, however imperfect it is.”
All Liberal Democrat councillors voted in favour of the proposals on the night.
Group leader Tom Wells heaped heavy criticism on the latest plan branding it ‘dangerous’ but ultimately said it was the only option on the table.
He also lamented a move by the council early on in the process to overturn a decision to proceed with an alternative strategy which saw homes spread more evenly across the district.
Coun Wells added: “We are where we are, if people were to swap positions what would they do? We have to make difficult decisions.”
Not everyone was in favour though and even Tory Coun Roger Hall-Jones called for the SWDP to be thrown out, arguing it would be scrapped within months anyway if a new controlling group was established in Malvern at the 2015 local election.
The majority of Democratic members also voted down the plan.
Coun Tony Warburton, a one-time Tory but now a member of the main opposition group, said the Government had gone back on its word to ensure local authorities had control over strategic house-building.
He added: “This will be approved because there’s not enough fight left to resist it. It represents a grave failure of our administration even to consider an alternative ‘Plan B’.
“I am a local councillor, concerned with local matters. There is nothing local about this deeply flawed plan.”
Coun Julian Roskams, leader of the Democratic group, echoed the criticism of central government but added the controlling Tories at MHDC had been too willing to accept the housing demands.
He also lambasted the leadership for overruling the alternative housing strategy which had been produced by a cross-party group and backed by the full council at one point.
Coun Roskams said: “Some of us sought to engage positively with the process but our political leadership chose not to listen. It has become a shambles of their own making.”
The SWDP was approved by 24 votes to seven.