COUNCIL bosses insist a major new planning blueprint will be “worth every penny” despite fresh concerns the public are being misled over the timescale and cost.
Councillors Jonathan Brash and Paul Thompson and David Riddle, chairman of Putting Hartlepool First, argue the Local Plan will cost an extra £700,000 in total despite council chiefs insisting the estimated cost is £250,000.
They also argue it will take up to three years before the plan is fully adopted by Hartlepool Borough Council but senior officers say the plan will go before a planning inspector next summer, at which point weight can be given to it.
Council leader Christopher Akers-Belcher said at a meeting last week the 15-year planning blueprint would cost around a quarter of a million but the trio argue that figure doesn’t include staffing costs, which would take it around the £700,000 mark.
The cost and timescale has caused controversy since the last one - which took five years to produce at a cost of £1.5m - was axed last October after a majority of councillors backed a Labour Group motion.
Coun Brash, who refers to himself as independent Labour but is classed as independent by the council, said: “To omit staffing costs, which they had previously included, and claim it will take one year, when your own officers say it will take over three, could make the public feel they are being misled.”
Mr Riddle said: “The Labour Group in Hartlepool has now wasted £2.2m on this and the public have a right to be very angry indeed, when at the same time the council is cutting both jobs and service.”
Coun Thompson, an independent councillor, said: “My major concern is that Hartlepool is going to be stuck for three years without an adopted local plan, which could lead to a free-for-all for developers.
“Pretty soon I think people will see what a disastrous decision dropping the previous plan was.”
But Labour councillor Robbie Payne, chair of the regeneration services committee, said: “The current council administration inherited the draft Local Plan from the previous elected mayor and cabinet system, and it was very clear that the vast majority of people in Hartlepool were vehemently against it, particularly in relation to the proposed creation of a gypsy and traveller site and the south west extension for housing.
“The estimated cost of developing a new Local Plan is £250,000 and it will be worth every penny if it is what the people of our town want. It’s a pointless exercise to quantify officer time spent on the Local Plan because this is what staff are employed to do and we have staffing budgets to cover their time.
“We are aiming to submit the new Local Plan to the Planning Inspector by next summer, and from that point it will help inform future decisions in relation to planning and development in the town.
“However, before we do this there will be lots of opportunities for residents, businesses and other interested groups to get involved, have their say and influence the Local Plan.”