Controversial homes review is to go ahead

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A PLANNING document which sets out where thousands of homes are to be built district-wide over the next 20 years is to be reviewed just one year after it was adopted.

Harborough District Council agreed on Monday to re-examine its Core Strategy in a move which could increase by more than 1,000 the number of homes to be built between now and 2031.

The Core Strategy – essentially a blueprint for growth in the district – was adopted last November and earmarks where 7,700 homes should be built in the next 20 years.

But the council’s Tory leadership says a number of policies within the document do not comply with the coalition Government’s National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), published in March.

They also say a recent independent report by property consultants GL Hearn assessing housing need across Leicestershire over the next 20 years suggests forecasts in the Core Strategy are too low.

They want to make changes to the document - which would be renamed a Local Plan - taking into account the revised figures, which is likely to increase to about 8,800 the number of homes built.

However the controversial proposals have met with opposition from the Lib Dems as well as causing splits within the Conservative group.

The row led last month to council leader Michael Rook sacking his deputy Blake Pain over the plans to put 1,800 of the homes on Airfield Farm north-west of Harborough.

Speaking at Monday’s meeting, Cllr Pain criticised the Tory leadership for paying too much attention to the GL Hearn report.

Cllr Pain, whose views were echoed by his fellow Tory councillor Rosita Page, told the meeting: “We should be testing the assumptions made in the report before we go ahead.

“A vote in favour of this review is a vote to increase development through the back door.

“We’re elected by the public to represent their interests. In my opinion this is not in their interests.”

The Lib Dem group had voiced fears that the review would mean scrapping the Core Strategy.

But a report prepared for last night’s meeting by a council officer explained the Core Strategy would only need amending and renaming.

Lib Dem Cllr Simon Galton said he welcomed the clarification, but described as inept the way in which the council’s leadership had gone about announcing the review.

He urged the council not to increase housing numbers before a Harborough-specific assessment of housing need can be carried out.

Nineteen Tory councillors and the independent member for Fleckney, Cllr Alan Birch voted in favour of the review.

Eight councillors, including Tory councillors Pain and Page, voted against. The new Local Plan document is to go out for public consultation next summer and will come into force in 2014.