Decision on Leicester's housing overspill deferred a second time by Harborough District Council
The decision on whether Harborough will take on Leicester’s housing overspill has been deferred again following a council meeting this week.
Harborough District Council leader Phil Knowles first deferred the decision to sign the so-called ‘Statement of Common Ground’ last month while more information was sought.
It came after local MPs said there was no legal obligation to take more than 1,500 homes over the next 13 years, which Leicester city said it could not accommodate.
However, councillors argued authorities in Leicestershire were bound by ‘a duty to co-operate’ and if it does not sign the statement, it will be unlikely to get the next Local Plan – which allocates sites for housing – adopted, putting the district at risk of speculative planning applications.
So far seven out of nine authorities have signed the statement.
But a recent letter from the Housing Secretary said the planning rule no longer applied, and there was no rush to submit a new Local Plan.
In response, council leader Phil Knowles insisted the authority would continue to gather evidence to inform the decision, which was intended to be made on Monday (November 6).
Instead, after new information came to light, a motion proposed by Cllr Knowles to defer a decision on whether to sign the statement was unanimously carried by councillors. A decision will now be made at the next full council meeting on December 11.
Cllr Knowles said the council was given a copy of a Ministerial letter on Friday, and the day of the meeting was the first time officers, consultants and King’s Counsel (KCs) – senior barristers and solicitors appointed by the monarch – were able to view and comment on it.
The leader explained the deferment will allow adequate time to study the additional information before a final decision whether to sign the statement is made.
He added: “The next full council meeting will be for debate and decision. We must make a decision that will ultimately protect the Local Plan as to do otherwise could put the district at risk of speculative development in our rural district.”
Harborough MP Neil O’Brien, whose petition against the move gained some 3,000 signatures, called the deferment ‘a partial victory for people power’ but criticised the council for not backing down.
He told the Mail: “Sadly it is clear that the council are still gearing up to push through this one quarter increase in our housing target in December. I thought it was disappointing that the council has changed the way that meetings operate in order to prevent discussion on this. For years there has been free discussion on the leader’s report but they have now changed that practice to shut down debate.
“Harborough is being asked to build more houses so that Leicester can build less. If the council sign up to this we will have to build twice as many homes per head as the city. Everyone can see that there are loads of opportunities to either build upward or regenerate brownfield sites in Leicester, yet they want to dump their overspill housing on us. It would be completely unfair. And it would be bad for the environment, with sprawl causing more traffic jams and eating up green spaces.”
Harborough’s Conservative opposition voted to defer the decision, as did the Green Party.
In a statement to the Harborough Mail, Green Party councillors Darren Woodiwiss, Rose Forman and Lynne Taylor said: “The Green Party believes in house building where it is appropriate and that meets the needs of local people. Housing is a human right and everyone should have access to affordable, secure and comfortable accommodation.
“We took on board the concerns of our residents, listening to their struggles to get doctors’ appointments, school places and parking in Market Harborough. An additional 123 houses per year from Leicester City's allocation would increase pressure on infrastructure and services across the district, so councillors must consider the potential impact. However, rejecting Leicester's unmet need could mean that the council's Local Plan is not approved, leaving Harborough District vulnerable to more development in future.
“We want to make an informed decision and so we have sought expert advice on the council's duties under the new Levelling Up and Regeneration Act. This advice, plus a letter from Rachel McClean, Housing Minister, was provided just before the meeting took place. All councillors unanimously agreed that we needed to take time to study the new information before making a decision.
"Going forward we will be working with the coalition to push for all new housing in the district to be built to high, energy efficient standards. Plans should be fit for purpose and reflect the needs of the district. We also want to see houses built for local people who need them."
The decision to defer came just days after a public meeting organised by local MPs Neil O’Brien, Alberto Costa and Alicia Kearns which saw hundreds of residents and the council leader turn out to discuss the plans.
Mr O’Brien added: “Compared to 2001 Harborough has built 33 per cent more homes and the city has built just 17 per cent. If councillors accept the overspill Harborough will end up building twice as many homes per head as the city, which is deeply unfair.”
Residents are encouraged to view the new information which will be made available online and to contact their ward councillors with any questions.