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?
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?
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.