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!
LDP passes Exec Board vote so moves to Full Council next Thurs! Expect fireworks, bit of panto and an Ibiza loving ‘lad’ giving some cheeky antics🔥 …… outside the Guildhall as it is the Christmas Lights switch on the same evening! 🤓
Council’s Chief Exec says LDP is ‘one of the most important decisions’ that council will take, thanks public / councillors for respectful debate, and calls for that to continue. Next week’s vote has certainly been teed up…!
Clr Morris indicates not proceeding to deposit LDP would leave Wrexham in a ‘much weaker position’. Lots of talk of covenants earlier on various development sites, but wants Cllrs not to try and pre-empt courts and tribunals.
Clr Morris describes LDP situation “…it is like brexit, everyone has an opinion no one has a solution” notes process had election part way through, so there are new councillors coming up to speed on the whole thing.
Clr Jenkins keeps it brief – says he does not want to see Welsh Government to impose anything! Clr Pritchard has said if Full Council do not support next week, Welsh Gov will do just that.
Two more speakers to go – last likely Clr Morris who is Chair of the Planning Policy Panel. Now up Clr Jenkins though, this debate needs an hour to match the Groves a couple of years ago, so will he go for his usual elongated points to beat that? 🤓
Clr Mike Davies enquires if growth for Wrexham is matched elsewhere, and if not, should Wrexham be asking for cash upfront to improve infrastructure. Adds concern “we are losing our identity as a town, moving from a market town, to a commuter town”
Doing a bit of guesswork on the numbers based off views/manner today from some Cllrs – we think next weeks vote has potentially to be very very close. Will be lots of focus on individual councillors and how they vote on the night 🧐
Clr Atkinson says will support LDP to progress to Full Council as wants the debate to take place there. Adds nothing really in the LDP for Gresford, says that ‘fires the opening gun’ for developers to beat the LDP coming in.
Worth noting Clr Kelly is taking questions ahead of handing off to Officer, really as it should be, but is not always the case at Exec Board meetings.
Clr Parry-Jones says she is ‘horrified’ that a contamination report has not been shared with Exec Board, Cllr Hugh Jones spoke strongly earlier voicing his concerns as well – she adds it gives her ‘serious cause for concern’.
Cllr Kelly points out there will always be growth but ‘degree of growth is what is in dispute’, noting that peoples kids may want to stay in the area so would want to be accommodated somewhere.
Cllr Jones asking where the infrastructure for health will come from to support the ‘rapid growth’ that is accommodated in the LDP. (Quoted tweet is live from our hospital wait-time bot that just popped up) link
Clr Marc Jones describes LDP as a ‘poisoned chalice’ saying ‘it is a Welsh Government development plan’, carrying on theme from his group earlier that it is ‘not a local plan’.
Another workshop on the LDP will be held tomorrow for councillors, a private meeting, which some Cllrs in the break were unhappy about as it does not look good from public perception – more ‘behind closed doors’ discussions.
Meeting back underway – had some feedback on if they broke for ‘lunch’ or ‘dinner’, as you have your tea later, so lunchtime can be dinnertime… watch live (as we are, having our *lunch*) via: link
Exec Board meting suspended for lunch (or dinner as one Cllr who operates on Rhostyllen Mean Time said earlier) for about 30 minutes. Much longer debate than we were expecting on the LDP as wider site specific debates have been allowed.
Cllr Harper says the Local Development Plan ‘is not local’ as ‘no local need’ and ‘no local support’, says it is output of Welsh Gov ‘policy of over development’ says Exec Board would be ‘endorsing it’. Clr Pritchard says would be progressing to more consultation, not endorsing.
Clr Rogers speaks of Brymbo sites, says a risk assessment document has been FOI’ed but not released. Asks if Exec Board members have had that documented shared to make an informed decision today.
Clr Hugh Jones indicates a significant debate on the LDP will take place when (if!) the LDP is discussed next week – that meeting is due to start at 4pm… could be a late one, or artificial 7pm cut off like the arts hub one? ( link )
Cllr Rogers questioning whats the point of the Panel’s outputs, notes Lead Member supports, but Exec does not. Clr Pritchard says ‘nothing new’ compares to Scrutiny, ‘sometimes we please people, sometimes we vex people’
Interesting Exec Board nuggets appearing in public – Cllr Griffiths backs Cllr Kelly over a pre-Exec meeting over Planning Policy Panel recommendations suggesting split. Cllr Rogers on PPP: ‘unless it has support of Exec Board it is a waste of time’.
Comfort break over, councillors recharged with teas & coffees! Meeting restarts – will this be an all dayer? Will every single site get a mention or will business be pushed forward? Watch live link
Five minute ‘comfort break’ called by the Chair of the meeting, lunch arrangements being made as well to help public gallery work out what they are doing. 30 min lunchtime for Cllrs! Meeting suspended for now….
Polite barney between Lead Member Cllr Kelly and Leader of Council Pritchard – former trying to answer a point but being warned by Leader not to stray into confidential matters. Cllr Kelly rolls eyes & looks to sky, “I am not”, seems unhappy being er, guided, in such a manner.
Cllr Walsh asks why a site was not booted out due to the agricultural rating of the land ‘that site should have failed’. Clr Kelly replies ‘racking brains from 40 years ago’ as he has a background in such matters. More of a technical specific debate than we were expecting!
@wrexham This is fine, but the hope must also be that Council Officers will relent on their refusal on two occasions (first request and review) to release the PRA for Brymbo G&T site – a vital document for the process to be transparent.
Officer reiterates the gypsy & traveller site selection is required, “We cant go through the process and fail, we have to find a site.” Clr Walsh asks if opinion or in rules on selections, Officer equates judgement to opinion.
An energetic Cllr Walsh asking range of questions, asks for paperwork behind decision making from officer as ‘public are in the dark’. Clr Pritchard bats to Officer, “Lawerence, in the dark?” Debate refers back to earlier points of putting info into public domain.
Cllr Nigel Williams spoke of 700 people feeding back in Broughton that could be ignored, ‘What is the point of consultation?’ Clr Pritchard agrees, but uses argument as reason to pass plan locally to then move it to public inspection as further feedback opens up.
Cllr Apsley points out a typo in the LDP – notes meeting dates stated are actually in the future PIC:
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Interesting Q by Clr Alun Edwards, gives narrative about Glyndwr Uni over Gatewen site – requests copies of documents that may contain covenants. Legal Officer says it is specific contractual matter, and ‘not material’ and generally not insurmountable.
Cllr Pritchard asks for everyone to behave as he opens up the debate. Almost creates a riot of his own by moving straight to a vote by accident, vote cancelled so debate progresses!
Lots of mentions of the planning policy panel – which could be webcast shortly if plans to doso are approved. One Cllr told us was keen to see that happen to ensure public can see what cllrs say in that compared to elsewhere 👀
Long long presentation of the report by Clr Kelly, giving outline of further opportunities to take part in consultations if/when the LDP is examined in Cardiff, notes “we need this plan to prevent predatory development” & warns against cllrs demanding changes.
Public Qs complete and usual business proceeds, so now on to the formal presentation of the LDP report by Cllr Kelly. Predicts Qs from Cllrs will be about site specific ward issues, points out there is no perfect site.
Questions about info not being shared to public – one for Welsh Gov to look at how the process works? Bad feeling from public & Council Leader that reports & data exist but cant be made public *yet* in the process, resulting in accusations of withholding evidence.
Qs mainly on one topic – as we wrote on the report being considered, there were 2,448 objections to the LDP with 1266 of those being specific objections to gypsy and traveller site allocations link
Council Leader Mark Pritchard indicates he prefers to give the member of the public the data now if it is being submitted anyway. Officer not keen to deviate from process. Legal Officer backs Officer pov – Cllr Pritchards push for openness appears denied brands it ‘unfair’.
Officer replies it was officer & cllr based process. Officer assessed sites, takes to planning policy panel on 5 occasions (politically balanced panel) considering 16 sites – then ranked red/amber/green. Says data will be available at next stage of process in public examination.
Public questions are excellent so far, clear and precise. Supplementary Q probes the 396 considered sites, asks for the pros/cons and evaluation data on the rejected 393 sites to be made public. ‘Here here’ in the public gallery.
Public continue grilling – Q on who decided, why and when to readd two gypsy/traveller sites to the LDP – Officer says he did, and details ‘no option to say no suitable sites in the county borough’ & explains process. ‘No ideal site’ for anything, as all have various issues.
Public Q on Alyn Waters land that is used for model flying club and for horses – officer notes it is not accessible to public so covers eligibility for gypsy/traveller site – however is asked what if they stopped tomorrow & would become public again. No real answer to that!
Lots of interest here from public & councillors. Usually we tweet about media coverage, unusual today as BBC here too (camera outside!). No Leader, no Daily Post, no ITV. LDR here who will supply info, was meant to be more eyes not less – BBC saving Reach/Newsquest some £!
Question is how much ‘best and most versatile’ agricultural land is contained in the LDP as allocated for various uses – Officer answers 60% of land allocated, about 165 acres.
7 public questions submitted with 2 withdrawn, no cllrs have submitted question beforehand. Unusual to see any really – likely LDP related! (Looks like all Exec Board are here)
‘Never had so many thank yous’ says Cllr Pritchard on public response to Remembrance Day service on Sunday – thanks all who took part
Quite a few in the public gallery for this meeting – and more councillors than usual have turned up! Webcast going live link
Guildhall o’clock! LDP up for a rubber stamp to move it to Full Council – will there be mystery absences today, double debate on issues or will cllrs wait for meeting after? PIC:
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