YORK'S council leader is facing questions about why the parish council of which he is vice-chair is calling for the city’s long-awaited Local Plan to be withdrawn due to it being “riddled” with inconsistencies.
Cllr Keith Aspden said last year the Local Plan is one of the city’s “most significant strategic documents” and said the council is “determined to secure” it in his time as leader.
Another senior Liberal Democrat councillor, Cllr Nigel Ayre, last week said York’s plan was in the “last chance saloon”.
But Michael Courcier, a representative for Fulford Parish Council, where Cllr Aspden is vice-chair, repeatedly criticised the council document as it underwent examination by independent inspectors this week.
The Local Plan outlines where and what housing and employment developments will be built in the city over the next 20 years, and what land is classed as green belt. The council’s proposed housing requirement for the city is 822 homes per year.
Mr Courcier, a town planner by background, suggested that the figure is too high and that the plan is not evidence-based.
When asked by planning inspector Paul Griffiths, who will ultimately decide whether the plan is fit for purpose, what he thought the implications of his criticisms were, Mr Courcier said rectifying them would be a “major, major task”.
“It would require all the judgments in the local plan to be reassessed,” he added. “I think we’re at the withdrawal stage.”
Labour Group leader Cllr Claire Douglas said: “The contributions from Fulford Parish Council, surely approved by its vice chair, expose the duplicity of Liberal Democrat council leader Cllr Keith Aspden."
She questioned whether his priority was "in fact not getting the city’s first Local Plan in over 60 years adopted, rather pulling it to pieces so that it fails".
The city has not had an adopted Local Plan for more than 60 years and is considered a national outlier.
Mr Courcier said the council’s housing target should be scrapped to protect York’s character.
“A large proportion of the housing growth is planned to take place on greenfield land,” he said.
“This would involve large new settlements in the open countryside away from existing settlements, which will significantly change the settlement pattern in York.”
David Elvin QC, representing the council, said: “I don’t accept that the matters are so flawed that they would warrant a root and branch reappraisal of the Local Plan. This is simply a tactical move late in the day by the parish council.”
Labour councillor Michael Pavlovic said: “I’d challenge Keith Aspden to now disown his parish council’s comments and pick which side he’s on – getting a Local Plan for York or pulling it down yet again.”
Cllr Ayre, the councillor in charge of the plan, said in a statement: “We believe that progressing with the plan is in the best interests of our communities. To risk tearing up the draft local plan would do nothing to address York’s housing needs, but would rather risk further development on our greenbelt and give control of our city’s future to an unaccountable figure in Whitehall, far removed from understanding York’s challenges and opportunities.
"We will continue to work constructively with partners and community representatives. The Local Plan strikes the right balance for York, our communities and residents, by prioritising residents’ interests and addressing the unique needs of York.”
Eamonn Keogh, representing the proposed Galtres Garden Village development, said: “As someone who’s lived in the city for the past 25 years and has been involved in the local plan process for all that period…I just find it incredulous that Mr Courcier is trying to make the case that somehow there is low or decreasing demand for housing in this city.”