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Councillors 'not as informed as they ought to be' on Joint Core Strategy housing plan for Gloucestershire

By The Citizen  |  Posted: April 15, 2014

Councillors 'not as informed as they ought to be' on Joint Core Strategy housing plan for Gloucestershire

Derek Davies

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Derek Davies, the councillor who has lead Tewkesbury’s contributions to the joint core strategy housing plan, sat down for a candid discussion on the challenges of bringing the blueprint together with reporter Jack Maidment.

WHEN Derek Davies was first elected on to Tewkesbury Borough Council, Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister, Ronald Reagan sat in the White House and Madonna was still in her twenties.

Ever since he was first backed at the ballot box in 1987, Mr Davies has played a major role in shaping the county he calls home, chairing planning committees and taking tough decisions as the leader of the council.

But even with more than 25 years on the clock it is likely to be the work he has lead putting together a controversial housing plan over the last five years that will have the biggest impact on the future.

The joint core strategy sets out where 30,500 homes will be built between 2011 and 2031 across Tewkesbury, Cheltenham and Gloucester.

And as Tewkesbury’s main man on the JCS, Mr Davies knows first-hand just how difficult it has been to get everyone on the same page, with all three councils finally voting in favour of the final version of the plan last week.

However, he believes a significant number of councillors across the three JCS partner authorities who voted on the plan still don’t understand the issue, five years after the plan process started.

He said some councillors are “not as well informed as they ought to be” and that “absolutely” one of the reasons the plan has taken so long to progress is because officers have had to butt heads with some members who simply don’t know what they are talking about.

Mr Davies sums up the arguments around the JCS as “evidence versus ignorance”.

He believes that a lot of the criticism thrown at the JCS – worries about flooding, for example – are the same old arguments that are always brought out whenever someone doesn’t want something to happen.

He does not believe the predictions made by some councillors and campaigners will ever actually come to fruition but he says their position is “perfectly natural”.

“If you are comfortable, why would you want to have somebody else come and live next door to you or in your area? You wouldn’t,” he said.

“Everybody is looking for a good reason not to have development instead of looking for a good reason to have it.

“That is human nature and you are never going to stop it.

“I understand it. But you would never ever get a plan if everyone took that view. We are all selfish human beings.”

While Mr Davies can understand where critics of the plan are coming from he does think their arguments are fundamentally flawed, especially on whether or not the number of houses to be built should be drastically reduced.

“If you dig down deep enough they are wrong,” he said.

“But it is understandable and they will fight their corner and they are entitled to.

“But there ought to be a time when some people will stand up and say: Fair dos.”

One of the most controversial decisions taken during the formation of the JCS was that the village of Highnam will not take any sizeable housing development over the plan period.

It has been reported previously that the reason the village was omitted from the JCS was that Tewkesbury said it would not accept the plan with it included.

Mr Davies, who represents Highnam on the borough council, said that version of events is rubbish.

He said the decision not to include Highnam was based on officer conclusions that development there would be “unsustainable”.

“Highnam was looked at with a view to putting housing but it was decided by officers from the three authorities that it would be unsustainable.

“I never spoke at any panel or anything or mentioned Highnam ever.

“I said at the start ‘you won’t hear from me about Highnam’ because it is in the pot like everywhere else and it will have to be looked at.

“I never, ever entered the Highnam argument.”

But what about his colleagues at Tewkesbury?

“No.”

So it was completely an officer decision?

“Absolutely. No question.”

Highnam is just one site to have been surrounded by controversy relating to the plan.

It was revealed last week that politicians made the call to remove green belt land at Up Hatherley from the JCS after the total number of planned houses fell due to further examination of evidence without a comprehensive assessment of other sites.

Given the emphasis on evidence based decision making throughout the JCS process was that the right call?

Mr Davies said: “The real difficulty, as far as Up Hatherley was concerned, was everybody made a case for it, but we reached an impasse where we couldn’t have an agreement.

“The most important thing of all was that we had to have a joint core strategy so it started to get very tough.”

Because Cheltenham said they would not support the JCS with Up Hatherley included?

“That’s right.”

There were also accusations made last week that Tewkesbury’s decision to agree to remove Up Hatherley was made on the condition they could remove land at Twigworth.

Mr Davies said he didn’t know if that was true because he was not party to the conversations.

“I don’t know is the honest answer,” he said.

“I suspect it probably was (the case).”

Despite the apparent wrestling match with Cheltenham, Mr Davies described the relationship between the three councils as “very good”.

He did however concede that one of the councils has been easier to work with.

He said: “In the end? Gloucester. They didn’t have a problem. Cheltenham had really fought long and hard, very greedily, because Leckhampton was the price they wanted to keep.”

He added that Cheltenham was “very precious” about the land at Leckhampton.

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5 comments

  • JEllard  |  September 04 2014, 12:01PM

    Have you seen the rubbish that Alex Chalk (Conservative candidate for Cheltenham) is talking on this issue? He's trying to argue that the proposal to build 30,500 houses over three Borough/City Council areas is all the fault of the Liberal Democrats. In case he hasn't noticed, two out of three of the councils involved are run by Conservatives. And has he seen the article above, where Derek Davies speaks in favour of the Joint Core Strategy? Derek Davies is another Conservative. The councils are attempting to follow guidelines on housing and development set by a coalition government where Conservatives are the majority. I think it's ridiculous anyway to make this into a party-political issue. No-one of any party wants to accept having large areas of Green Belt taken over by housing. Not many of us want to live in an area where there's nothing but new houses in every direction, traffic stuck in queues every time you want to go out and a shortage of appointments at the local doctor's. In my view, the issues are these: Is the assessment of housing need that has been made accurate? It's hard to assess what housing people will need over the next 20 years – we don't have a crystal ball to see into the future. If the strategy is adopted in its current form, it will then be revised in 5 years' time. That will be an opportunity for some of us to look again and see whether the need for housing has proved as great as was expected. I'm all in favour of 'U-turns' if it means changing your mind about a bad policy. If we really need that number of new houses, there needs to be a total rethink about housing. A realistic view of just how far cities like Gloucester and Cheltenham can expand. A realistic view of whether boroughs like Tewkesbury, with so much flood-prone land, can be expected to take new housing. Perhaps it's not just the South East that needs to be thinking about building new Garden Cities. We also need to think about young people just starting out, the ones who are never likely to be able to afford a deposit and a mortgage. Perhaps we should be developing new kinds of housing for them. Let's stop the Party politics and use some common sense.

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  • North Glos EPC  |  April 17 2014, 12:57AM

    Well, jas37 I don't think anyone would want to prevent young people from buying their first home but that is a factor more of economics than quantity. And what makes you think all these new homes will be first time buyer affordable homes anyway? As regards "fictitious arguments" well water knee deep in Green Belt to the North of the city is I can assure you not a figment of imagination. Of course across the county we'll need more housing in coming years but they should be built in the right place and in the right quantity and be of the right type. On all three counts many believe the JCS plan is left badly wanting. Yes some of the Nimbyism we've seen has been out of order but a blanket condemnation of all planning objections as you suggest I'd say is equally shameful. and irresponsible. There are good non-fictional reasons to oppose some of the currently planned development, as I'm sure will become evident and very unfortunate for some poor souls in years to come when the water returns.

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  • jas37  |  April 16 2014, 10:39PM

    Well said Mr Davies. Many of us get extremely annoyed (to put it mildly) with people repeatedly coming up with fictitious arguments against every proposed Housing development. The selfish acts of these Nimbys ensures that their property prices are inflated and denies many young people the opportunity of buying their first Home. Shameful behaviour.

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  • North Glos EPC  |  April 15 2014, 12:15PM

    "Mr Davies sums up the arguments around the JCS as "evidence versus ignorance"". Yes that's true but the ignorant parties are not those you would have us believe Mr. Davis. All very well you smugly offering your pearls of wisdom now the JCS has been approved by the majority of fools on the various councils but a serious mistake has been made. Most reasonable people will accept that over the next twenty years we'll need more housing but the real quest of the JCS should have been just how many and where. Predictions you have been working to regarding how many are about as accurate as a five year weather forecast and as for where. Well you have stolen Green Belt and Flood risk Green Belt at that. Evidence? I was there on July 20th 2007 while much of the Green Belt you will now build on was knee deep in water. I saw it. and it happened again last Winter admittedly not quite so deep but deep enough to flood homes. So there is very little doubt in my mind who has been ignorant in this debate. What the various councils have now done is actually set the scene for future flood misery. I feel sorry for the poor souls who will live in these new homes because eventually it is going to happen again. What the JCS could and should have done was make brown sites a priority for homes rather than more and more supermarkets we don't need, start a program of regeneration for run down areas and earmark some "appropriate" new land for housing which could be taken out of the plan if future requirements prove not to be as great as current and very arbitrary predictions suggest. There would have been no need to build in flood prone areas and no need to steal urban sprawl preventing Green Belt which once gone is gone forever. You got it wrong, I think out of simple ignorance, but many will think you got it wrong because of some other hidden agenda. We'll see?

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  • SandraPee  |  April 15 2014, 8:11AM

    Rubbish !

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