Don’t sacrifice sites to save your seats

Can we express our, almost wholehearted, support for the points Sandra Owen made in her letter to the Matlock Mercury last week.

The campaign which she and other residents of Asker Lane waged against the development of that site under the Local Plan was a very effective one, managed impeccably, and a model for any other residents or groups who wish to exercise their democratic rights and influence decisions of the Council. We also agree with her that our planning priorities as a Council should have been to emphasise the development of brownfield sites as a means of obviating the need for any greenfield development.

When the Local Plan Advisory Group embarked initially on the new Local Plan, that defence of greenfield sites appeared to be an objective of all the members, it certainly was the motive which guided us, as the two Labour members on the group. Sadly, once the Tory Group had moved to downgrade the priorities recommended by officers to the Asker Lane and Moorcroft sites they broke ranks and were no longer willing to defend all Greenfield sites in the Matlock sub-area, merely those which Cllr Stephens had roamed over as a lad, or which they needed to protect in order to preserve their majorities in future elections. Immediately after the debates on Asker Lane and Moorcroft, Cllr Stevens was only too happy to go against officers’ recommended priorities again but this time to upgrade the priority attached to the Bentley Bridge site, a greenfield site which warranted exactly the same consideration offered to the other Matlock sites. The only reason we can see for his action was that the residents of Quarry Lane did not figure quite so prominently in his bid for re-election at the next District elections. Cllr Stevens continued in that same vein by also voting in a high priority for the Coneygreave House site in Wirksworth, yet another Greenfield site which should have been protected. He compounded that last week by moving a low priority for Haarlem Mill, a brownfield site which presented a viable alternative to the development of Coneygreave.

At the final meeting of the Local Plan Advisory Group on January 23 many speakers from the floor raised exactly the point which Sandra makes, that we should stress the development of brownfield sites such as Halldale Quarry. But at that meeting the Tory group seemed to couple their willingness to sacrifice greenfield sites they deemed surplus to requirements with a reluctance to ensure that brownfield sites are developed to the fullest extent, and at the greatest speed.

To some extent we can understand some of their caution after all they have presided over the underdevelopment of Cawdor Quarry for a number of years and have managed only to squeeze out around 6 houses.

However, the current house-building thrust of the Government’s Local Planning was influenced by the building industry’s demands to be allowed to build wherever they wished, which were only slightly mitigated in the committee stages following interventions by environmental groups. Yet now it appears that the building industry merely wants to cherry pick some sites, with a preference for easy to develop greenfield sites, while ignoring the brownfield sites which might offer more long-term profit but which require significant investment in infrastructure.

And how do we intend to appease predatory developers who wish to develop the greenfield sites and challenge our efforts to preserve them in appeals to the Government? Our response seems to be to surrender immediately the greenfield sites which don’t threaten the Tory majority on the Council. A response which may in the long term make the brownfield sites even less attractive to builders.

When Cllr Cartwright defended our original intention to preserve greenfield sites at last week’s meeting Cllr Stevens criticised him for courting popularity.

We have to say to Geoff that we are very disappointed that you sought only to court popularity where it suited you, undermining a common wish to preserve greenfield sites in favour of a cynical effort to defend Tory seats.

Cllr Bob Cartwright (Masson Ward), Cllr Mike Ratcliffe


On behalf of the Derbyshire Dales District Council Labour Group