COVENTRY council leader Ann Lucas claimed today that a controversial plan to build on Greenbelt “all comes back to money” – in remarks criticised by campaigners.
Having narrowly avoided attempts to oust her as leader on Friday by her own Labour colleagues, she was tackled on issues which saw Labour lose two councillors to the Conservatives in Thursday’s elections.
Of those losses which still leave Labour with a massive 41 to 13 seat majority over the Tories, she said: “If you have one group in charge that doesn’t actually feel democratic”.
Asked about the controlling Labour group’s plans to build on up to 10 per cent of the city’s Greenbelt, ripping up previous election pledges to voters to protect all green fields, she told BBC Coventry and Warwickshire: “Again it all comes back to money.”
She spoke of disproportionate funding cuts to councils by government under the Tories, and said the Greenbelt housing plan would enable the council to raise more income through Council Tax from larger homes, in higher rate Council Tax bands.
Explaining why the Greenbelt issue “all comes back to money”, she said: “One of the ways we get money is Council Tax.. it’s about 15 per cent of our total income – the rest comes from government.
“In Coventry, most of our houses are Band A and Band B (paying the lowest rate Council Tax) – and that’s about 70 per cent of our housing.
“Averagely across the country in cities it is about 44 per cent. We’ve got a real imbalance of housing.”
Other leading Labour councillors have explained their Greenbelt u-turn in similar terms as a revenue raiser to supplement dwindling council income to support services – but only alongside a need to meet local and national housing demand, and their ambitions for growth to become a “top ten city”.
Greenbelt campaigners argue there is no evidence such ambitious plans to increase the city’s population with 23,600 new homes by 2031 will be “jobs led”.
Coun Lucas additionally supported her emphasis that it “all comes back to money” by saying Greenbelt was needed to provide Coventry homes for people working in businesses attracted to the city.
She mentioned the success of Jaguar Land Rover and LTC black taxi company expanding in the city.
Coun Lucas said limited amounts of brownfield land needed to be “saved for businesses”, adding: “I’ve got to look at building band E and band F (houses) so that people whose ambition in this city is to be well enough off to move out of the city – I want them to stay.”
Leading Greenbelt campaigner Dr Walter Milner, of Keresley Parish Council, where council-approved Greenbelt development is fiercely opposed, said of Coun Lucas’s remarks: “She started by saying ‘it all comes back to money’.
“Her idea is that building on the Green Belt would increase council tax income, and thereby solve the city’s problems.
“She went on to point out that council tax is only 15% of income, so increasing that would not make much difference – but that is the smallest problem in her logic.
“She correctly pointed out that Coventry’s housing stock is poor, with most properties being band A or B. The solution to that is to do what Birmingham Manchester and Liverpool did decades ago – knock them down and build better houses. But it will not happen – there is no money.
“Her vision is to ship in well-paid middle class families who will buy the larger houses built on former Greenbelt, and so pay more council tax.
“She cites two companies staying in Coventry as evidence that employment will increase. But these are simply blips in Coventry’s long slow decline in employment.
“An elected representative has some kind of moral obligation to those who elected her. These are the people who live in Coventry now, on an average income of £13,000, in a community with higher than average infant mortality, teenage pregnancies, lack of qualifications and high benefit count.
“The Labour party was founded to support the working class poor. Coventry Labour wants to ship in well-off middle class families instead.
“Ms Lucas spoke about ‘the land that we are going to build on.’ That was a good indication of how much notice will be taken of any public consultation on the Local Plan.”
He said developers and landowners stood to make millions from the Greenbelt development, adding: “In the recent leadership contest, Ms. Lucas scraped through by 23 to 17. Perhaps Coventry Labour is starting to remember who it is supposed to be serving.”