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Local Development Plan set for tight key vote next week after marathon debate

An ‘Extraordinary Meeting’ of councillors will be held next week where all those present will vote to decide whether to ‘deposit’ the Local Development Plan with Welsh Government and Planning Inspectorate Wales for independent Examination in public.

A range of councillors voiced their concerns at the plan during today’s Executive Board meeting, with others equally unhappy outside the chamber as well.

Today’s agenda item was due to get sign off from the Executive Board to move the LDP to a free vote next week before all councillors, however the process was slightly derailed as a longer and wider debate than expected was conducted over several hours – our live tweets from the meeting are below.

Several questions were asked at the start of the meeting by members of the public, raising technical issues of the LDP around quality of land and covenants on possible sites.

Discussion over the ‘best and most versatile’ (BMV) rating for agricultural land took place, with the top three grades, Grade 1, 2 and 3a usually enjoying protection from development.

Lead Member Cllr David Kelly called into question the validity of the data as a land quality reassessment had not been carried out lately, and Lawrence Isted, head of environment and planning stated the LDP contained 165 acres of such ‘BMV’ land, making up 60% of the total allocated for development.

One question revolved around the inclusion of part of Alyn Waters country park as a possible gypsy and traveller site, with a representative of the Friends of Alyn Waters citing historic deeds to show it is part of a public country park. The area is currently used for a horse grazing and model aeroplane club, so therefore deemed ‘not public’.

The public question on if that use was ceased tomorrow would the land be deemed ‘public’ again was not clearly addressed.

Another precise public question asked for data on evaluation over 393 rejected sites to be made public, with the officer replying that the information would become public once the LDP was lodged with the inspector, if that happens.

Debates over what information could be made public or not at this stage was common, with the council leader himself clashing with officers twice, and taking a contrary view to the legal officer at one point.

The council leader was keen to put as much information into the public domain, however there was reluctance from the officer perspective as it was felt it was not appropriate at this point in the process, or not relevant or appropriate due to some of the items being of a third party private contractural nature.

Cllr Pritchard said: “Members of the public have requested the information and we should furnish it” and said he felt it was ‘unfair’ not to release it.”

One major concern raised revolved around a potential gypsy and traveller site in Brymbo, with concerns over the sites former use as a sewage treatment works.

Wrexham Council have acknowledged a Preliminary Risk Assessment has been prepared, however it was claimed that report has not been released despite two requests from a local action group. The assessment was not shared with the Executive Board ahead of today’s vote.

Local Councillor Paul Rogers stated a freedom of information request had been refused to get documents to be made public, and enquired direct if Executive Board members had been provided with the document.

Mr Isted stated it was ‘impossible’ to provide all information in the LDP to the Executive Board, and an attempt had been made to summarise as appropriate. Cllr Rogers disagreed, noting it was conspicuously one piece of detail that was missing compared to information on other sites.

Mr Isted ejected that view, stating: “I do not accept that we have removed things.”

Cllr Hugh Jones, deputy leader of Wrexham Council, expressed his outrage on this point in an unusually strong attack on an Officer, “You said we could not append all this information. Why not? It is a matter of choice.

“It is not appropriate to edit what is given to the Executive Board.”

Cllr Jones suggested a link to an online document could have been provided if volume of reports was an issue.

Mr Isted said information had been provided ‘by way of appendices’, and denied ‘censoring’ information provided, rather providing information in a ‘more manageable’ way.

Cllr Jones shook his head and said “I do not accept that answer” to multiple ‘hear, hear!’ comments from the public gallery.

Later Cllr Beverly Parry-Jones said she was ‘horrified’ to hear the contaminated land report had not been shared with the Executive Board: “It leads me to think why it was not shared. What else has been withheld?”

Cllr Alan Edwards queried land at Gatewen, New Broughton, where Glyndwr University is looking to sell off property for development to help fund campus improvements.

Cllr Edwards was keen to state ‘nothing illegal’ had taken place with officers, but said there was a possible ‘conflict of interest’ with advice being given to the university over possible development potential and officers then leading the LDP that contained that land allocation. The councillor also claimed any land sale had to be green lit by Wrexham Council itself.

Cllr Edwards went on to request documents on the land, that he claimed has covenants restricting use of it for educational purposes, stating he felt the LDP was ‘unsafe’ with the site included, and he would be ’embarrassed to vote for it’.

Cllr Brian Apsley was ‘helpful’ by pointing out a couple of typographical errors in the LDP document, with two referring to dates in the future when referring to meetings, and also criticised the methodology used in some of the analysis.

Cllr Apsley added that he concerned the public would feel ‘ignored’ if the LDP proceeded in the current form, and noted that the consultation response ‘was probably the best the council has ever had’.

Cllr Rob Walsh asked a series of specific questions over who decided what and how in site allocations, querying ‘if judgement or policy’ was used for decision making on if a section of Alyn Waters was public country park space.

Cllr Walsh pushed to discover if decisions were documented, and again the call for documents to be made public was made. It did not appear that any will be produced for the councillor to examine.

Cllr Graham Rogers was unhappy how recommendations from the Planning Policy Panel had been handled: “What is the point of having Planning Policy Panel for several years to come up with recommendations that the lead member supports, but are overruled by nine other people? It is a ruddy nonsense.”

Cllr Pritchard disagreed: “We are not on the same page on this. One the Planning Policy Panel have done their work, they make recommendations and it comes to us. Once you have made decisions you can’t ask for it to keep coming back or it will not make progress.”

Cllr Harper spoke documenting her long term campaign against large expansion of Wrexham, stating: “It will be a complete disaster if this plan is implemented. There is nothing local about this local development plan, no local people support it, there is no local need for it.”

Describing the LDP as a requirement due to a ‘policy of over development by Welsh Labour government’, Cllr Harper warned the Executive Board: “If you support this today the Executive Board will become accountable for it too”, urging them ‘not to endorse this plan.”

Cllr Pritchard took exception to that comment, stating a vote today would not endorse the plan, rather move it forward and progress to an opportunity for further consultation.

Several times the council leader encouraged councillors to back the LDP deposit, warning that Welsh Government would likely deposit it themselves regardless if it did not progress locally.

Similar repetition took place from Cllr Kelly, who was keen to point out the difference between the LDP as an over arching strategic document, rather than firm plans to what will be developed.

He said: “There is an assumption all of these will come forward and all sites will come to fruition. Some will never come to fruition, they will stand or fall on examination or planning.”

Cllr Mike Morris, who chairs the Planning Policy Panel, wrapped up the debate with a topical reference: “It is like Brexit, everyone has an opinion but no one has a solution.”

He added: “My view is I have things in my ward I am not happy with, but I am quite happy for it to go to examination in public as that is where those points will be tested.”

The vote passed the Executive Board (with Cllr Jones voting against) and the LDP will now progress to an already booked in Extraordinary Meeting of the Full Council at 4pm on Thursday 22nd.

Today’s debate is likely to be repeated in parts, with it almost certain a recorded vote taking place to decide if the LDP will be deposited or not.

Top pic: Cllr Paul Rogers and campaigners outside the Guildhall this morning.

BELOW – Our live tweets from the meeting , in reverse order!

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