Wednesday 22 May 2024
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Plans for 3,000 homes on greenbelt could be scrapped by council

Plans to build 3,000 homes on Hucknall’s greenbelt at Whyburn Farm could be dramatically dropped by Ashfield District Council.

The Ashfield Independent-led authority has confirmed documents due to be published next month will see the major housing settlement removed from the controversial housing document.

The authority plans to now launch a second round of public consultation on the housing plan – reduced from 8,226 homes over 15 years to slightly more than 5,000 – before submissions are made to the Government.

The Whyburn Farm plans led to public outcry from sections of the Hucknall community, with a petition totalling more than 7,600 signatures handed to the authority last year calling for it to be scrapped.

Now the council says it has “listened to the concerns of residents” and will recommend that Whyburn Farm is removed from the plan altogether.

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Councillor Jason Zadrozny (Ash Ind), leader of the council, believes the decision is the “right thing to do”.

He said: “The consultation asked peoples’ opinions on every site and they’ve come back, overwhelmingly, to say they do not like Whyburn Farm.

“We’ve steered the path and I hope it is what gives us weight when we go back to Government to say every man and his dog doesn’t want this site. That was pretty loud and clear.”

The move comes as both Conservative leadership candidates, Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak, indicated major changes could be on the horizon for how councils create local plans.

Councils set their own housing targets based on calculation methodology provided by the Government, with Ashfield required to build 8,226 homes between now and 2038.

Councils then create a local plan document where sites are allocated for potential housing.

They then need to meet the target set through the calculations – usually over a 15-year period.

Cllr Zadrozny has previously said this target was “unrealistic” and stressed the council “doesn’t want to build on a single piece of field” in Ashfield, with the process paused earlier this year to await clarification from Whitehall.

Ms Truss, the bookies’ favourite to become the next Prime Minister, has since described the housing target methodology as “Stalinist” and indicated a shift in policy could be on the horizon.

And both candidates have indicated a reluctance to force councils to build on greenbelt sites in order to fulfil their housing target requirements, with Mr Sunak describing it as Britain’s “most precious landscape”.

“Both those leadership candidates have said a lot of the same stuff,” Cllr Zadrozny added.

“It’s now working out whether they actually mean it and whether it then becomes legislation. This is why we’ve been on pause for this amount of time.

“Dozens of other councils have paused for the same reason so, by taking this step now, we can go back to Government and be the first to say we’re not building on the greenbelt.”

On what he expects will happen by submitting a plan with reduced housing allocation, he adds: “I think there will be a lot of stiff negotiations with the Government.

“But my hope is that they will look at our plan to build these 5,000 homes – taking into consideration all the developments it has overturned on appeal when we have refused them – and let us do it over 10 years rather than 15.

“This isn’t about us playing a clever game. The developer is ready to go on Whyburn Farm and could well go to appeal if we don’t do something soon.

“If we take Whyburn Farm out of the plan and it’s then not in there, they won’t be able to build there. It’s about trying to protect this space.”

But Lachlan Morrison, a former Labour councillor on the authority, has his doubts.

He said: “Don’t be fooled by this, it’s another PR stunt by the Ashfield Independents.

“By submitting a proposal short of the target, the government will overturn the decision and likely build on Whyburn anyway.

“They could have come up with a better proposal but instead they’re trying to pass the blame to the Tories by forcing them to make the decision.

“Again, if they really wanted to save Whyburn Farm they would have come up with a stronger local plan excluding Whyburn.”

The council’s local plan development panel, a cross-party group created to steer the housing plan, will discuss the changes at a meeting on September 13.

The panel is then expected to recommend cabinet members to move forward with the housing plan without Whyburn Farm, with the second round of consultation to feed directly to the Government.

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