COVENTRY City Council’s leaders have been accused of being “running scared” and “dictatorial” over the Greenbelt after the entire ruling Labour group blocked a council debate.
The Conservative opposition moved to publicly debate the controversial issue of building homes on the Greenbelt at yesterday’s broadcast full council meeting – the last before May’s elections.
The Tory motion for debate argued the council planning committee’s decision this month to enable 800 homes on Greenbelt land in Keresley was “fundamentally flawed” in light of the government overturning local planning approval for the Gateway jobs scheme on Greenebelt around Coventry airport.
The Gateway was turned down by Conservative communities secretary Eric Pickles after a government inspector ruled the “very special circumstances” required to overturn national Greenbelt protections did not exist.
Coun Blundell and Tory colleague Jaswant Singh Birdi argued it highlighted there were similarly no “very special circumstances” for allowing the Kerseley development – not least because the city had yet to finish its own local plan for housing.
The council’s Labour leaders have ripped up previous election pledges to voters to protect the greenbelt.
They intend to build 23,600 new homes over two decades including nearly 8,000 on 10 per cent of the city’s Greenbelt to make Coventry a “top ten city”, and help tackle a national housing shortage.
Greenbelt campaigners challenge assumptions of future population growth, or that such growth will be jobs-led.
Labour council leader Ann Lucas told yesterday’s council meeting no Labour group member would be taking any part in the debate.
Coun Blundell said afterwards: “The Labour group in Coventry are running scared about discussing the Greenbelt.
“It’s an issue we think is worthy of a debate. We find it shocking they won’t even debate the issue and are being so dictatorial.
“It’s disrespectful to the electorate at large and people in Coventry who are going to be significantly affected by the decisions of this autocratic Labour group.”
Of the Labour-controlled planning committee, he said: “It’s typical of this Labour council that they listen to nobody, do their own thing and at this time chose to ignore not only all residents’ concerns, but all the neighbouring local authorities in allowing something that was contradicting policy.”
The ‘quasi-judicial’ planning committee’s vote on the Keresley development in Bablake ward was divided on party lines, although councillors are required to vote on planning considerations only with no external political party influence.
The Conservative motion argued the final local decision on Keresley should be referred to a future full council meeting.
Dr Walter Milner of Keresley Parish Council, who opposes the Keresley proposal by developers Pegasus, said: “There is only one reason to boycott a debate… you think you have no argument to put forward.
“They knew they would not be able to argue the Pegasus decision was valid, so they’ve stamped their feet and refused to take part. People will draw their own conclusions.
“Eric Pickles’ department’s lawyers at the DCLG had looked at their own planning guidance regarding Gateway and they will do so again on Pegasus. They will call it in, resulting in another expensive public inquiry, and they’ll say ‘No’.”