It may come as a surprise to some constituents that there has been a consultation on Bradford Council’s Draft Local Plan (which ended on 24 March) which details the District’s proposed housing strategy for the next 15-year period from 2023. In normal times, the council would widely publicise such a consultation, which will have a long-lasting impact on our local area. Local events would be held across the District so local residents can scrutinise the plans in person and in the presence of a planning expert. Unfortunately, this sort of physical event has been unable to take place – due to the current Covid restrictions. The consultation has therefore taken place solely online over a short 6-week period.
Given the difficult times we are living in at the moment, it is my view that the Council should have gone above and beyond to make it as easy as possible for people to contribute over a much greater period of time. I have had residents kindly contact me expressing their frustration at the difficultly of navigating the local authority’s website, and that the local plan section is very difficult to use, with it not being clear on how they can submit comments or make an objection. This is one of the many reasons why a proper consultation process should have been followed, even if it meant extending the consultation process or re-scheduling it until a more appropriate date – after all the Government has set a deadline of 2023 for the local plan to be finalised which in my view leaves plenty of time for some more public engagement. Both the Conservative Councillors on Bradford Council and I have called on the council to extend this process. Regrettably all pleas have been rejected.
The main area of concern for many who have contacted me about the Draft Local Plan is the number of houses in the Wharfe Valley, Aire Valley and Worth Valley which are earmarked to be built on Green Belt Land. This equates to around 2,000 extra houses which is proposed to be built on specially designated protected land. Building on Green Belt land is in contravention to the Government’s aims and objectives. The fundamental aim of the Government’s Green Belt policy is to prevent urban sprawl by keeping land permanently open. The Government’s policy on protection for the Green Belt is set out in chapter 13 of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), which clearly states the importance of Green Belt land and emphasises that when protecting the Green Belt, local authorities should maximise the use of suitable brownfield sites before considering changes to Green Belt boundaries. The NPPF demands that there should be “exceptional circumstances” before Green Belt boundaries can be changed and states that inappropriate development which is harmful to the Green Belt and should be approved only in “very special circumstances”.
With this in mind, I do not believe Bradford Council has provided within their consultation documents sufficient justification which provides “exceptional circumstances” for why these Green Belt sites should be considered or detailed what the “very special circumstances” are for releasing these sites from Green Belt protection. Neither have I seen justification which states that certain parishes across our area have a need to expand by their proposals over the next 15-year period. It is my view that Brownfield development must always be prioritised, and when those options are exhausted, need requirements for an area must be clearly demonstrated to warrant green field and in particular green belt land being developed on. I fear that this seems not to have been done in the proposals which have been presented to us by Bradford Council, and they have only given us the minimum amount of time to comment. The failure to hold a meaningful consultation will be remembered and future generations will not forgive demolition of our precious Green Belt.