Councillors to be involved in firming up specific detail of country park protection – as suggestion plan could ‘blow up’ LDP rejected
Local councillors will be involved in the process of exactly defining the ‘Green Spaces for Good’ designation, after it was revealed in a meeting today that maps before members were not all that they seemed.
As we reported last week Wrexham Council are looking to earmark a total of ten sites in the county borough to be preserved for recreational use, including Alyn Waters, Ty Mawr and Moss Valley.
The proposals would see the land dedicated as part of the “Green Spaces for Good” scheme run by the Fields in Trust charity.
Last week the Lead Member Cllr David A Bithell explained at a media brief the maps, as of then unpublished but contained in the report before councillors today (one pictured above), “….the green space will have a line across it, so effectively between that red line means that it’s protected for good in perpetuity. So effectively, it’s just like a covenant.”
Councillors today appeared to take the maps in that straightforward manner thinking what was inside the red line would be ‘protected for good’ as part of the Green Spaces for Good plan, with two expressing concerns what such designations could mean for the future of the much delayed and controversial Local Development Plan – which is in it’s second go after the first version fell.
However during the meeting it was revealed that the red lines were not exact nor a precise indicator of what would be protected, and the details have yet to be firmed up.
Cllr Dana Davies challenged the governance process, while describing the overall idea of protecting country parks as ‘really fantastic news’.
Cllr Davies said she had compared the maps provided to councillors in the report to ones in the Local Development Plan documents and said she was ‘really concerned about the risk to the LDP’, adding: “We now have two exact maps with the same boundaries where there’s planning on one map, and then today is protecting that land.
“Now, given the council haven’t made the decision yet, to make the major change in the LDP to remove the Llay site, and where do we stand on a procedural point? By making this decision today, are you blowing up LDP 2, moving us into an LDP 3 position? Because basically, it’s predetermining that your own LDP is unsound?”.
Cllr Davies pointed out that the LDP is currently with the Inspector as part of the examination process, with it due to come back to Wrexham Council for decisions – including possible removable of the gypsy and traveller candidate site in Llay.
Council Leader Mark Pritchard replied as Lead Member for Assets: “You mentioned blowing up, well, we don’t blow anything up. We discuss, we take it forward, and decisions are made via the democratic process.
“What I would say with country parks, as the leader of our group, our group came out publicly and made it crystal clear that we wouldn’t support putting gypsies and travellers in a country park in Llay.
“I would have expected other groups to come out, but they didn’t, but that’s their prerogative. I’m not prejudging anything.”
“Coming back to the LDP, that will take its journey, and it will come back to Full Council in the future for a decision. But no, this will not jeopardise the LDP. We’re making a decision here with regards to country parks to be protected for perpetuity.”
Cllr Pritchard invited the Legal Officer to advice, who told the meeting: “Although the report obviously refers to the country parks named, it doesn’t as yet specify the exact areas which is why we have the recommendation for the delegated powers to work up the specifics for each individual site.
“So we are not prejudging. That’s why the specific recommendation is they’re seeking that delegation.”
Cllr Davies asked: “The maps are identical. So why publish the maps if the report is telling us there’s no boundary?”
“It’s great for the people of Llay, but there is a proper way of making decisions. We have not put the decision to remove Llay, as well as Hanmer, through Full Council to formally withdraw it from the LDP.”
“This looks to be potentially blowing up LDP2 and putting us in a position where we are going to have to run the whole process again and we are in LDP3 waters. I can’t believe we’ve got this report in front of us be honest.”
Cllr Pritchard welcomed the voicing of an opinion in the democratic process adding he “completely disagree with reference to what you said” and called on the Legal Officer again to offer clarity.
The Legal Officer explained that unlike what Cllr Bithell had explained to Wrexham.com last week the maps before councillors and the sections inside the red line were not specifically protected, as the exact areas are yet to be known: “I can confirm that the naming of the Country Park isn’t specifying the exact area, although we have the outline of the maps, the specific exact areas are to be worked up in consultation as in the recommendation point two – and that’s why we’re specifically requesting that delegation this morning.
“The chief officer for planning is fully aware of this and it doesn’t prejudice or affect the process of the LDP.”
Lead Member for Planning Cllr David Kelly told the meeting: “This in my belief does not prejudice the plan in any way.
“It just reaffirms the protection for country parks by offering Fields in Trust status. The officers have also confirmed that the exact mapping of the green areas will be done under delegated powers.”
Cllr Paul Rogers appeared to share Cllr Davies’ concerns: “I did have some concerns around the issue of predetermination.
“I had been approached by several legal experts in the field of planning who were concerned about the impact upon the LDP, so I’d like to thank the officer for her answer in relation to that and the fact that it doesn’t predetermine the outcome of the LDP in this situation.
Cllr Bithell explained he had made it ‘quite clear’ what the maps meant and that there was ‘further work to do’, “These are only outlined plans, they are indicative proposals, because the country parks are quite wide and far reaching and cover many hectares across the county borough.”
As the meeting was held on Zoom and the public just see the video stream the details of what text based information or discussion was taking place is unknown, however Cllr Bithell said an officer had explained ‘in the chat’ that the maps “only show the extent of the country parks for members information, no predetermination, because we’re not presented presented definite definitive final areas.”
Cllr Brian Apsley welcomed the principles around the report, however expressed concerns based off ‘some negativity in the back of my mind because of of the last three years’, adding “when I heard delegated powers for specifics I must admit that I was very concerned about that comment”.
Cllr Pritchard attempted to find a way forward and indicated that the specifics and exact maps could be drawn up and brought back at a future meeting to be endorsed by the Executive Board and therefore allow all councillors to have a say.
The invite from Cllr Pritchard to Cllr Bithell to take that forward was rejected who said he was “a little bit reluctant in bringing it back” as it was not related to the LDP.
Cllr Pritchard had another go, asked Cllr Bithell for ideas on how to ‘reassure’ Cllr Apsley and other councillors on the discussions and consultation that will take place, “If I was a local elected member in any of these areas, I’d want to be informed on the progress”.
Cllr Bithell indicated that any delays to the report could impact a tree planting programme:”I wouldn’t want to delay the report. I would just like to remind everybody, we have declared a climate emergency, we are trying to develop some of our country parks and plant more trees and biodiversity.
“So clearly, we just want to make sure that we do everything as fast as we can to support our decarbonisation action plan.”
Cllr Bithell did offer a suggestion, that was agreed and passed, which was to ‘consult with local members to reach agreements on on the proposal for each of the sites listed in the report’.
Cllr Rogers pointed out that some wards now have a shortfall of public open space and invited a commitment to “….make this a priority to protect their open spaces from these people who try and take them by adverse possession”.
Cllr Pritchard agreed: “What I can do as lead member of assets, I can give you a commitment that we will continue to progress this, supporting all local members to protect areas within their wards.”
Cllr Rob Walsh asked if the designation could limit future developments that could enhance country parks, for example toilet blocks, and was told that such works would require ‘approval from Fields in Trust’, “Once the land is coveted, it doesn’t mean that you can’t do modifications. But, it all depends what type of proposal that is, you know, so clearly, if somebody come up with a proposal to build 90 houses on a coveted piece of land in perpetuity, that wouldn’t be agreeable.
“If it was something minor, which would enhance the visitor experience to a country Park, then they’d be more minded to support the proposal.”
Cllr Kelly explained: “I do have some concerns around Councillor Walsh’s concerns regarding the potential for future developments such as visitor centre cafe, toilet block or whatever, because some of these country parks will be featuring as part of our tourist offering.
“So we would want to have some sort of facilities in these. But, this designation will prevent development which we would not want to see in these areas.”
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