Council should use Localism bill to allow Gorsehill residents the “right to buy” buy fields
On Thursday, I attended a public meeting at St Barnabas Church in Gorsehill about the plan to sell Pickards Small Field and Kembrey Grass Field to Habokus to build 241 houses. 106 would be affordable family homes, and the rest of the proposal included £30m of investment to support the Gorsehill area, and £1m for landscaping works. Habokus is a company that is partly owned by Kevin Mccloud.
I wasn’t invited by the Labour ward councillors but I thought I would go along anyway, and I spoke to many residents so it was an interesting evening.
The first time that I, and these local residents, saw the plans in any detail was when the Cabinet report was first published on Tuesday. The ward Councillors received a briefing approximately two weeks ago, and its been on the Forward plan for several months.
One of the local residents put forward the idea of an urban community forest, which I think is a great way to involve the community and protect this green open space.
My view is that Swindon Borough Council should use the Localism Bill that the Government has now made law. The Localism Bill puts forward the concept of local residents having the “Right to Buy” assets of importance to the community.
If Swindon Borough council wishes to sell the land to a developer then local residents should have the first opportunity to obtain it – whether it is through a land trust, community grants or another other mechanism!
This approach would allow the local residents to develop their idea of an urban forest and make it happen, and ensure that the green open space is always protected in the years ahead.
I am a big supporter of green space becoming Village Greens, and last year I managed to push the Rights of Way Committee to get the Chief Executive of Swindon Borough Council to write to the government minister asking for a change in the law to allow Councils to nominate areas of land they wish to see as having village green status wherever it wants them.
Currently this approach is illegal for Councils, and very strict rules and criteria have to be applied. I don’t believe the local Labour Councillors have raised this with the local MP, Justin Tomlinson, so I will do so and ask for his support.
I spoke with Labour Councillor Kevin Small before the start of the meeting and asked him to let me speak. I said I was happy to contribute in which ever capacity he would like – as an interested Councillor, Chairman of the Planning Committee or as a member of the Rights of Way Committee. Unfortunately the three Labour Councillors running the meeting refused to allow me to speak!
Since I am a Conservative this didn’t surprise me at all, because my views on this issue would be an inconvience to them. It is a real shame because they made several attempts to dress the meeting up to the audience as being non-political.
Labour Councillor Ballman did helpfully identify me at the end of the meeting so more residents came over to me, and I was happy to outline my position in support of local residents, and to correct Labour Cllr Des Moffats own comments about the Cabinet proposals.
It is all too easy for Labour leader, Cllr Jim Grant, to rail against “the Council” and blame the leader of the Council, Rod Bluh, for a situation that happens three months before all out elections. The decision that this area was “surplus” goes back to 2006, and whether someone agrees, or not, with that decision it hasn’t changed in the last six years.
I came away thinking that Labour clearly believe that if it is acceptable to cast doubt in public simply because it suits them and sounds plausible, regardless of the facts.
The Cabinet decision on Wednesday includes the condition that the deal is subject to planning permission being granted.
As the current Chairman of the Planning Committee, I want to be very clear with local residents that any planning application will be decided on it’s merits only. I have not had any involvement with the current discussions, and challenges like flooding will need to be overcome. This year has been controversial for the Planning Committee with decisions like the three Wind Turbines at Honda, and 900 houses near Coate Water Country Park being refused showing nothing can be taken for granted.
The Cabinet papers can be read at: http://ww5.swindon.gov.uk/moderngov/ieListDocuments.aspx?CId=285&MId=5066&J=2