CASH-STRAPPED Hartlepool Borough Council has scrapped its planning blueprint for the town – which cost £1.5m and took five years to create – to axe an unwanted gypsy and traveller site and huge housing estate.
Councillors withdrew the Local Plan, which aims to guide major development decisions for the next 15 years, at last night’s heated meeting of the full council.
It means controversial plans to create a permanent gypsy and traveller site at Hart Village have been withdrawn and a huge 2,750 housing development next to the Fens and Owton Manor estates, known as the South Western extension, will also be reviewed.
Withdrawing lets the council review the future housing provision for the whole town and officers will now go back to the drawing board on a new Local Plan.
Council leader, Labour councillor Christopher Akers-Belcher, said after listening to residents’ concerns that withdrawing also allows the council the opportunity to look again at the need and demand for a traveller site and discuss whether one is needed at all.
But angry councillors opposed to the withdrawal labelled the move a “waste of time and public money” as the whole process will have to start again.
They argue it opens the floodgates for developers as the council won’t have a local planning document in place and will be guided by national policy, which, until the Local Plan is finalised, could see an application for a gypsy site anywhere in town.
Coun Akers-Belcher said a lot of the evidence is already gathered and believed the plan could be turned around within six months.
But councillor Jonathan Brash, who refers to himself as independent Labour, argued the Local Plan should be adopted and then the contentious issues around the gypsy site and South West extension be reviewed immediately, which legislation allows, to save on the cost of re-doing the whole process.
But his amended motion was rejected and the Labour Group’s motion for it to be withdrawn was approved.
Coun Brash said: “Withdrawing the Local Plan puts the council at untold risk and the reality is, it will become a free-for-all for developers.”
Independent councillor Paul Thompson said: “This is £1.5m wasted at a time we have to make £16m of savings. We are throwing the baby out with the bath water.
“There are two contentious issues but we are going to chuck the whole lot out instead of putting right what is wrong.”
Putting Hartlepool First councillor Geoff Lilley voted in favour of Labour’s motion because of the “glimmer of hope” it may stop the South West extension but added: “It is a waste of time and public money.”
Yet Conservative group leader Ray Wells said: “We are talking about a tremendous amount of money but we are also talking about the future of Hartlepool for the next 15 years.”
Coun Akers-Belcher said: “I accept there are pros and cons and risks attached but there does not have to be huge costs.
“We are looking to get it done as quickly as possible and minimise costs.”