COVENTRY’S controversial Local Plan for around 25,000 more homes including on Green belt is based on ‘stupid numbers’ which miscalculate population growth, a leading Coventry councillor has astonishingly admitted.
Finance cabinet member John Mutton’s words come as he and his Labour colleagues are expected to vote through tomorrow and next week the ‘Local Plan’ blueprint for how Coventry will be developed over the the next 15 years.
Coun Mutton wrote in an email reply to a resident on Sunday, obtained by the Coventry Observer: “We are well aware of the stupid numbers that the Office of National Statistics instructed us to use in relation to the number of houses required for the future, and that is why we built into the Local Plan that brownfield sites should be developed first.”
Yet opponents point out the Local Plan carries no such protections, and no assurance that brownfield sites will be used BEFORE any planning go-ahead for declassified Green belt sites.
Coun Mutton himself accepted the government could overrule any attempt by the supposedly ‘quasi-judicial’ council planning committee to block release of the declassified Green belt sites.
A government-appointed inspector last month ruled Coventry’s Local Plan was based on reasonable methodology in applying the national Office of National Statistics’ population growth predictions for the city.
The ONS’s figures are based on migration into the city, birth rates, death rates, and other factors.
But campaigners – including protesting residents in Keresley and Eastern Green where large housing estates are earmarked for the Green belt – say the ONS figures badly misrepresent real population trends, and the transient student population.
A Coventry Observer article headlined ‘City’s Fake Population Growth’ two weeks ago highlighted how Coventry’s own data show a FALL in the city’s child births, and take-up of reception-year school places.
Campaigners including the Green Party’s Merle Gering and Keresley-based Dr Walter Milner are now calling on the ruling Labour cabinet tomorrow (Tuesday, November 28) – and next Tuesday’s full council meeting – to either reject the Local Plan or insert an effective “Brown field first” policy. One suggestion is to have a policy which prevents Green belt being re-designated until all Brownfield land is used up.
Coun Mutton was council leader when Labour came to power in 2010 pledging to local voters they would protect “all green belt and green fields” from housing development. Coun Mutton later insisted there was only a need for around 12,000 more homes over 20 years.
But a government-appointed planning inspector forced the council to consult with neighbouring authorities and consider taking a higher share of the burden.
His successor Ann Lucas before she was deposed – with keen support from leading councillor Kevin Maton – U-turned and called for homes to be built on up to 10 per cent of Coventry’s Green belt. It was part of their push towards a “top ten city”, with predictions the population would rise from around 340,000 to 430,000.
The council will increasingly rely on Council Tax from more homes as government funding to local authorities, already dramatically cut, is being abolished in 2020.
WHAT OPPONENTS SAY..
Mr Gering said today the ONS figures inaccurately used city GPs’ registration figures, which failed to account for the international students leaving the city each year.
He also pointed to the ONS’s own figures showing Coventry’s jobs growth in the last five years of 10 per cent was average for the West Midlands. Yet the ONS was forecasting an astonishing 32 per cent rise in population for Coventry by 2031, more than double the West MIdlands average and twice the rate predicted for Birmingham.
He added: “It shows why the population numbers are absurd. No-one believes that Coventry is going to grow twice as fast as Birmingham or Rugby, three times as fast as Warwick, or four times as fast as Stratford.
“International population experts (Prof David Coleman and Prof Tony Champion) agree with us that the population growth of Coventry has been vastly overestimated through miscounting of students.
“The council need to pull back now and put a strict brownfield first policy into the Local plan, before they adopt it, which will stop building on green belt and green field, unless it is absolutely, absolutely necessary.”
The council claimed in a response to the Coventry Observer earlier this month: “The new Local Plan also includes opportunities to review the Plan should such projections prove to be wrong over a prolonged period of time. This could include them being too low as well as too high.
“Notwithstanding, we remain confident that the projections are based on robust information provided by the Office for National Statistics on behalf of central government.”
INSPECTOR REJECTED HAVING ‘BROWNFIELD FIRST’ POLICY IN LOCAL PLAN
The government inspector Rebecca Phillips’ final report – which gave the go-ahead to Coventry’s Local Plan – in fact rejected campaigners’ arguments that a brownfield first policy should be inserted into it.
Campaigners say this could be used by judges or planning inspectors to override any refusal of planning permission on green field sites.
She states in section 110..
“I have considered the suggestion that the greenfield sites should be released later in the plan period, and only released once the brownfield sites have been developed.
“Whilst the reuse of previously-developed land is encouraged in the NPPF, such an approach would run contrary to the overwhelming evidence of shortage of other land in the city to provide for the levels of housing and employment development that are necessary.
“As already referred to elsewhere in this report in respect of phasing, given the significant lead-time required for building on these strategic sites, it would also jeopardise the contribution they are required to make towards meeting needs during the Plan period. As such, I do not consider that this would be a sound approach.”
COUN MUTTON TOLD US..
“The previous number of new homes that I used was around the 14,000 mark. The ONS then stated that their projection for Coventry was the figure that we were instructed to use, The error was due to the fact that they assumed that all of the students in the City would remain here which, of course, was plain balmy.
“However, we are now in a position where if we do not accept the Local Plan then developers can submit planning applications for all of the green belt land and we would be powerless to stop them, therefore I will be voting in favour of the Local Plan but will still expect the agreed policy, of developing brown field sites first, to be adhered to.”
Asked to be more specific about a supposed ‘brown field sites first policy, he said: “We couldn’t be specific (in the Local Plan) as the inspector wouldn’t have allowed it. However the government has made it clear that it should be brown field first and policy Hi, 2nd bullet point makes it clear that the majority of development each year aims to be on brown field land.”