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Local plan consultation deadline extension denied

A row over plans for 15,000 new homes across Solihull rages on, with a last-ditch bid to force an extension to the public consultation being rejected.

Green Party councillors this week warned they had identified a series of errors and omissions in the papers which make up the Draft Local Plan – which will provide a blueprint for development over the next 15 years.

At last night’s full council meeting, the official opposition claimed the issues risked leaving the crucial document to be “torn apart” in the courts.

In a motion they urged the council to issue a schedule of corrections and extend a consultation period, set to end next Monday, for another three weeks.

The ruling Conservative group said all the issues flagged by the Greens had been looked at and accused their political rivals of trying to derail the process.

And the cabinet member who has overseen the Local Plan claimed the real danger would be to intervene days before the consultation was due to end.

The opposition motion, also backed by the borough’s Lib Dem and Labour councillors, was defeated by a Tory majority.

Cllr Steve Caudwell, who leads the Green group, had hit back at suggestions his party was trying to stop the plan in its tracks and had warned failing to address issues could “jeopardise” the whole process.

He said: “We’ve attempted to try and cost the value of these works over the 15 years of the plan, it’s about £5 billion of house-building that’s going to take place with close to £1 billion in profits to developers. Now I can’t see why three weeks in the scheme of 15 years, to correct clear and obvious errors in documentation to allow people to make informed decisions, is such a big ask.”

Cllr Max McLoughlin, the group’s housing spokesman, branded the process “very slapdash” and feared judicial reviews could loom, with flaws being pored over in court.

He said: “I don’t think it will stand up to scrutiny… I don’t want to be saying ‘I told you so’, I want to be saying let’s work together on this but it feels like those bridges have been burned by the administration.”

Solihull’s previous plan had in fact been subject to a successful legal challenge and suggestions have been made there is a risk of history repeating itself. But senior Tories accused the opposite side of the chamber of playing politics with the issue and insisted the council had followed the proper process.

Cllr Andy Mackiewicz, cabinet member for climate change, planning and housing, said the 40 odd issues raised by the Greens had been assessed and none were found to be “material to affect the plan.”

“The motion itself is incorrect and I think will be subject to legal challenge. What it asks us to do is to stop the consultation five days early, without letting the members of the public have their time to the 14th of December.”

Leader of Solihull Council, Cllr Ian Courts, also dismissed the motion as “political opportunism”.

“The point here is we are guided here by a legal process,” he said.

“The legal process is ‘has anyone been disadvantaged by the issues identified’ and frankly our advice is… given the minor nature of the issues and the wider availability of information we don’t believe [they have].”

This week’s debate follows previous clashes at the October meeting, when the consultation process was first approved. At the time, opposition parties said keeping the exercise to a six week “statutory minimum” was unwise given the current crisis and accused the administration of trying to rush the process through. But the ruling group has always argued much of the information had been in the public domain for several years and been subject to a number of previous consultations. Last night, both sides quoted examples from other parts of the country.

Cllr Caudwell said councils “of all colours and none”, including Wakefield, Shropshire and Rutland, had extended their process on the back of Covid-19.

Although Cllr Mackiewicz had denied claims that Solihull’s time frame was “unique”, with others, such as Fareham, also opting for six weeks.

 

Article originally appeared on Birmingham Live.

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