Wrexham Council throw out 2013 to 2028 Local Development Plan in tight vote
Wrexham Councillors have voted not to adopt the Local Development Plan, after a lengthy, firm debate and a tight vote.
As readers will be aware, the troubled and at times controversial Local Development Plan is a second effort at getting a LDP in place locally.
The LDP could have decided where several thousand houses could be built across Wrexham with preferred sites across the area for housing, retail and employment developments also defined.
Today saw the final, decisive, vote in the Guildhall chamber with councillors asked to adopt – or not adopt – the plan.
David Fitzsimon the Chief Officer, Economy and Planning presented the LDP report to councillors detailing the ‘huge task’ to get to this point, telling councillors that inspectors ‘found the plan to be in compliance with policy governance’ which helps point to soundness.
He added: “It is inevitable that not everyone will be happy with certain elements. We can’t please everyone.
“As a result, members must consider the benefits of the plan as a whole, and the certainty it gives, and should not simply focus on elements of the plan that they don’t like.”
The Officer ran through issues raised around gypsy and traveller sites, the outcome of the roads review, and phosphates giving details why it was not felt they would impact the wider LDP or mitigation to address them.
David Fitzsimon called the meeting in late 2018 as the ‘no going back point’, explaining that the inspector has concluded the LDP is ‘sound’, going on to detail what the vote was – adopt or not adopt “there are no half measures’.
The addition of asking councillors, “Would we really be acting like a City if we decided not to adopt it?” prompted a flurry of messages to Wrexham.com from some in the chamber unhappy with it.
Councillors were reminded to re-run the LDP , nor ‘reopened the examination’ during the meeting.
Cllr Michael Morris proposed the recommendation to adopt: “Not perfect and not to up date, as it takes years, and no plan will ever please everyone.
“We can talk about LDPs for donkeys years and never get one over the line.”
Concluding a very long speech he noted consultants and experts had cost over £150,000 and ‘ten years of officer time’ to get to this stage, and that he saw an adoption vote as ‘getting something done to move forward, and start a review immediately’.
Cllr Phil Wynn seconded the recommendation, noting he was not a planning inspector, saying one reason why he was supporting it for ‘selfish’ reasons as Lead Member for Education: “We want to build as many new schools and refurbish, that means money, we have diminishing reserves and access to money. This will help us secure maximum financial contributions from developers to new schools.
“Unless we have a LDP we have nothing to hang our revised planning guidance notices on.”
Cllr Carrie Harper called the evidence base ‘simply wrong’, and ripped into the maths behind figures, “The level of affordable housing in this plan, calling them affordable is debatable, is less than 9%.”
Cllr Harper noted issues accessing local health services, pointing out a proposed Cefn Road site ‘is a new village of up to 1600 houses’, adding: “It would be sheer negligence, in my view, to give this plan the green light knowing residents won’t be able to access basic health services.
“This is a plan that will make landowners and developers millions but it’s going to cost the people of Wrexham for decades to come.”
Cllr Bryan Apsley referred to the ‘abysmal’ response from the local health board along with a range of problems he had with the plan, again he pointed to a vote in 2018 where he and others thought they were sending the LDP to public examination – and was told it was in the minutes it mentioned soundness as part of the vote (we cant spot it – here).
Cllr Terry Evans tried to introduce an amendment saying the LDP ‘does not meet the demand of the county borough’, to make representations to Welsh Government to ‘intervene’ and make it clear councillors could not adopt the report as it failed to accord with the Future Generations Act and the Wales Future Act.
Cllr Dana Davies immediately raised a point of order, saying she believed the amendment negated the original motion and therefore was invalid, adding it was to ‘basically kick it off to Welsh Government, but it does not do this’.
Cllr Davies stated she felt it would put the council ‘in a position of maladministration and risk of judicial review’.
It appeared to be a pre-prepared amendment as a paper copy was given to the legal officer, who ruled it out, clearly stating “intervention is not a legal position” due to how far into the process things had moved. The Mayor took the advice and ruled out the amendment.
Cllr Marc Jones gave a history of the LDP process, noting the population statistic changes with Wrexham now predicted to fall over the coming years and contrasted it to earlier projections that could have seen an extra 27,000 people locally.
Pointing to Welsh Government’s roads review: “On the one hand, the Welsh Government wants to reduce car use and reduce emissions, but on the other hand encourages the building of two huge estates on either side of A483, which will see cars needed to access work, leisure.
“It is a dereliction of government.”
Cllr Stella Matthews spoke of attending a planning induction meeting: “I was amazed to see we had a Local Development Plan 2013-2028 that was still not in place”, and went on to echo Cllr Harpers comments. “Where do we go from here?
“Do we turn it down and let Welsh Government look at it and impose it, and incur costs?
“Or do we accept it, start the review process and work towards a 2028 LDP and do some realistic work and address the major concerns as soon as we can? I can’t see the benefit of delay.”
At the same time we had a message noting there were ’14 ambulances outside the hospital’ Cllr Becca Martin spoke on local health issues:”The local doctors are beyond capacity. Many residents are unable to get much needed appointments. It is an issue across Wrexham. New housing will create additional strain and exacerbate these issues.”
Cllr Martin cited issues at the hospital, ‘a shortage of beds and long waiting lists’ adding that the LDP would be ‘detrimental to the residents of Wrexham’.
Cllr Malcolm King spoke in favour of adoption calling it “a horrible choice”, as he felt there was no other course of action, “I don’t see there is any other way out of it” as it was better than having one “imposed”.
Cllr Robert Ian Williams welcomed a ‘sense of unity breaking out’, pointing to Cllr Mark Prichard and Cllr Marc Jones sharing a viewpoint.
He noted he had zero contact from his constituents about the LDP, and looked forward to the debate before making his mind up.
Cllr Gary Brown called the LDP decision a ‘poisoned chalice’, speaking about the controversial gyspy and traveller site in Brymbo included in the LDP – making it clear he did not think the land was suitable for development of any kind. Cllr Brown said he wished to find ‘a different way forward’ and ‘search for locations that meets needs’ properly.
Cllr Pete Howell asked: “At the time when our new Hollywood friends are focusing on people of Wrexham and our working class heritage. Why are we even contemplating and LDP that is in the best interest of developers, rather than the people of Wrexham who live here and want to continue living here” saying that Gwersyllt is “in danger of becoming a dumping ground of highly priced executive houses”.
Citing communications with his residents he said: “The majority of residents are against the LDP and the loss of green space, the negative impact on biodiversity and the unnecessary urban sprawl that goes with this”, adding “Developers on the other hand, are strangely and brazenly confident that the LDP will go ahead that they will get exactly what they want.”
Cllr Rob Walsh praised the Inspector, however said “This process has been going on for years now, it’s a case of they just have to put forward a plan, which they have, and just hope for the best”. Cllr Walsh spoke on housing plans, “We will just put more more pressure on our infrastructure. I know the officer said without a plan the health board, education, highways can’t plan for the future. Unfortunately, that’s not what people want, the people I speak to say, we need to sort out the infrastructure now, first and foremost. Before we consider building many more houses, we need to know where are the doctor surgeries?”
Cllr Dana Davies said she was ‘annoyed’ and said the Lead Member Terry Evans told Brymbo residents to write to councillors asking for a vote against, stating that the Lead Member could have made the case to withdraw the LDP himself historically , “I am surprised you didn’t do that, but have us here at the 11th hour”. Cllr Davies said she had ‘concerns around housing numbers and affordable housing’ in the LDP but pointed to ‘affordable’ not being affordable, looking to the council administration to improve policies to enable building of more social houses to help tackle the 4,473 person strong wait list. Again a reference to lack of interest from the people of Wrexham was noted by a member, saying she had ‘less than a dozen of emails’.
Cllr Nigel Williams marked a momentous date, the 19th of April, a day “where I agree with everything colleagues in Plaid Cymru have said”. Having a big list of issues, and citing his historic consistent voting record, he added “We need affordable housing, not 4 or 5 bedroom house on estates”, “We all have children and grandchildren, they need 2 bedroom and starter homes”. Cllr Williams took aim at Welsh Government Minister Lee Water’s wanting active travel on bikes, “This is Wrexham not Holland”, and rejected Cllr Dana Davies pointing to the Administration to build more social housing. Cllr Williams asked her to ‘have a friendly word with Welsh Government colleagues to solve the phosphorus issue’ stating ‘you cant build a kennel in Wales, it has got ridiculous”.
Cllr Graham Rogers said it was ‘easy to criticise’, “we have got infront of us what we have infront of us” indicating he would prefer Wrexham Council to be involved in fixing the LDP rather than being excluded from that process. Getting quite passionate he said, “I take exception to what Cllr Williams said now to my colleague Cllr Dana Davies. She did not indicate, or accuse the administration on social housing, all she was doing was making reference to the lack of social housing.
Cllr Jeremy Kent said he was ‘torn’, saying he respected views of those who supported the plan and that no plan was perfect, “It does not provide the housing required for Wrexham”, “It does not provide the solution to many of the infrastructure issues and local public service needs that have been raised.”
Council Leader Mark Pritchard gave one of the longer speeches, “You should be voting for what is right for Wrexham, not second best”, he gave a brief history of the LDP1 and LDP2, and branded the latest version ‘unsound’.
“In the original plan there were three Gyspy and Traveller sites, we were told there was nothing wrong with them. I was not happy with them. We came out and said we were not going to support them. They were in a country park”. Blasting the proposed Brymbo proposed and remaining Gyspy and Traveller site, “It is a shambles that site” adding “it is not safe”. He added a range of other issues including ‘overdevelopment’, ‘building on green fields’, and phosphates.
Cllr Pritchard gave the meeting a lengthy run down of him visiting various proposed sites and getting stuck in traffic, “Cefn Road? You think there is congestion there, wait until those houses are built” and noted his friends and family having issues to get doctors and dental appointments.
He asked councillors, “Do you vote for it or against it? Local democracy is under attack. I am fed up being told, cost, judicial reviews, pressure, we are elected to represent our communities and we vote on their behalf.”
Cllr Paul Roberts welcomed the counsel opinion circulated, citing it where it asks if the council can ‘refuse’ to adopt the LDP and simplistically it said no.
With speeches winding up Chief Planning Officer politely said it had been a ‘really interesting debate’, clarifying some points including that the plan would only run until 2028 and therefore some issues would be ‘addressed immediately’, and that the Inspector work was professionally done in a very indepth manner. The officer warned it would be ‘the worst of both worlds’ if the LDP was not adopted, as planning issues do not go away. He ended by reiterating a ‘statutory duty’ to adopt the LDP.
The Council Leader Mark Pritchard stood and tried to read out counsel advice and ‘defend himself in the chamber’ and was asked to turn his microphone off.
The Legal Officer pointed to legal statements, and said there was no value in repetition.
The Council Leader was not happy, “What is said in the chamber is recorded. I want to read it out so members of the public know what I said was true and correct”
The Mayor rejected that and invited him to return to his seat and turn off his microphone, something that the Council Leader apparently accepted but at the same time effectively rejected by making a shorter version of his point anyway.
With the meeting heading past 7:15PM a recorded vote was taken by roll call, with councillors voting 23 to adopt the LDP and 27 voting to not adopt it, and one abstaining.
This article will be updated with the full vote list.
Top pic: Protestors outside the Guildhall before the meeting.
UPDATE: The full vote list is below…
An amendment was proposed and duly seconded as follows:
“Members have considered the Local Development Plan inspection report and concluded that it does not meet the demand of the County Borough in its overall provision and that the failure to comply with the Future Generations Act 2015 and the failure to comply with Wales Future Plan 2014 means that we cannot adopt the report as drafted but instead make representation to the Welsh Assembly Government to intervene in the process”.
The Monitoring Officer advised that the amendment was not valid as there was no provision within the legislation that allowed for intervention by Welsh Government.
In accordance with Standing Order 18(2), a recorded vote was then taken on the original recommendation, the voting being as follows:
For – Councillors Bryan Apsley, David A Bithell, Paul Blackwell, Brian Cameron, Krista Childs, Dana Davies, Frank Hemmings, Corin Jarvis, Steve Joe Jones, Malcolm King, Stella Matthews, John McCusker, M G Morris, Jeremy Newton, John Phillips, John Pritchard, Fred Roberts, Graham Rogers, Alison Tynan, Anthony Wedlake, Jerry Wellens, Derek Wright and Phil Wynn (23)
Against – Councillors William Baldwin, Trevor Bates, Beryl Blackmore, Gary Brown, Annette Davies, Mike Davies, Terry Evans, Andy Gallanders, Carrie Harper, Emma Holland, Peter Howell, Jon Jolley, Marc Jones, Jeremy Kent, Claire Lovett, Becca Martin, Beverley Parry-Jones, Paul Pemberton, Ronnie Prince, Mark Pritchard, Rondo Roberts, Ross Shepherd, Debbie Wallice, Rob Walsh, Andy Williams, Nigel Williams and Roberts Ian Williams (27)
Abstained – Councillor Paul Roberts (1)
RESOLVED – That Council do not support the recommendations
made within the report COEP/26/23.
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