Read Paul Farrelly's detailed reply to the Save Bunny Hill campaign(which is a non-party political campaign)
Re. Green Spaces and the Borough’s Local Plan
14th January, 2015
I am just writing following your concerns over Bunny Hill and of ‘Green Spaces’ in Newcastle, about which I have had lots of letters and e-mails this New Year.
I have carefully gone through what is happening with the latest Local Plan in the Borough, which seems to underlie all of the concerns expressed to me. This is a long, statutory process that will only come to an end in 2018.
It is, though, a really important exercise. Having a joint Local Plan – which, in itself, is unusual – with Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire Moorlands, for example, allowed me in 2010 to successfully challenge a Stoke decision to allow a huge Tesco Extra at Trent Vale, just like the one in Hanley, which would have damaged Newcastle town centre even further.
The Council started this process in September with an initial ‘Call for Sites’, under the procedure, until the end of October. During this, the Council listed the sites it owns, rather like a survey, but has made it clear that this does not signal any necessary development intent.
They then followed with the next phase of the process, consulting on a draft ‘Statement of Community Involvement’ (SCI) - that is how they will get local people’s input in the future.
In fact – with one recent exception – the Borough, in my experience, has tended to consult on the Local Plan process quite well. The notable exception was four years ago, when the Council tried to sell off lots of local ‘Green Spaces’, pre-empting the new Local Plan, as they had frittered away all the Borough’s £50 million of reserves and wanted to raise money.
In their approach to this, they also kept the plans quiet, effectively ‘ambushing’ local residents with planning applications, which they intended to bulldoze through.
Quite rightly, there was an outcry across the Borough. I helped to co-ordinate the campaign groups and made sure that, when control of the Council changed hands, the proposals were dropped. After an enquiry, the process they followed was also absolutely castigated.
It just happened that the Borough then was controlled by the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, and since 2012 the Council has been Labour – and I am, of course, a Labour MP.
Anyone who knows me, however, and has been with me during battles previously with a Labour County Council, or even Labour government, will know that politics matters not a jot. One of the last plans was to build a housing estate on the fields on Clayton Road, where I played football and learned to ride my bike as a child. Had the Council been Labour, I would have fought just as hard - and hopefully made sure the ‘ambush’ never saw the light of day.
What I have been concerned to see recently is the people behind that fiasco now whipping up concerns, ahead of a general election, with a great deal of misinformation. A further Conservative leaflet is now circulating, repeating the untruths and questioning my integrity; petitions are being encouraged; and a page on the Facebook website has been set up.
I have, therefore, been in touch with the Council again and the reality is that there are no plans to sell off or build houses on Bunny Hill/Rowley Wood, the Butts on Gallowstree Lane up to Keele woods or any of the other recreational sites on this latest list for the Local Plan
If there were, for great places like Bunny Hill and Rowley Wood, or the Butts walks, it would again be over my dead body, quite frankly!
After moving from Clayton to Seabridge, in my teens I used to play football at the foot of Bunny Hill, games up in the woods, and remember sledging in the winter – and sliding down the grass on old-fashioned, waxed Mother’s Pride bread wrappers when the sun was out.
The same goes for the Butts up to Keele woods in the Westlands, where I’ve enjoyed many a walk since I was a child and see many people - often with their dogs – doing the same today.
The Conservative Parliamentary Candidate circulating these unfounded fears will not have these local memories, because he has been parachuted in from outside (from Merseyside).
There is also further ‘misinformation’ on these leaflets, which should be addressed. Over many years, under all political parties, Newcastle has co-operated with Stoke and the Moorlands over a joint Local Plan, for very good reason. We were, indeed, the first area in the country to do so involving three local authorities. Without it, Newcastle would have be far less able to resist inappropriate development, such as that huge Tesco at Trent Vale.
Councils also have a legal duty to consider the housing needs of the local population. It is, though, untrue to say that co-operation with Stoke over this will lead to more ‘Green Spaces’ being built on in Newcastle. Quite the opposite is the case: Stoke-on-Trent has far more brownfield sites than Newcastle for housing, so it is in our interests to do this.
Campaigns like this, to whip up concerns for political purposes among local residents, are thoroughly irresponsible. It is juvenile nonsense, and unfair in misleading people, making them worry unnecessarily, and raising concerns about possible property blight.
All that said, in my comments on the draft SCI, I made quite clear for the Local Plan my thoughts over Bunny Hill, Rowley Wood and the Butts (see end of the attached letter) – or any other much-loved green, recreational areas. The idea of building on them - as they’re well-used, and because of geography or topography (they are hills) - would frankly be absurd.
I hope this is helpful and please feel free to pass it on to any concerned friends or neighbours. Best wishes and yours sincerely
Member of Parliament for Newcastle-under-Lyme