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Alliance welcome meeting request

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The leaders of the progressive alliance that runs Stroud District Council have welcomed the Conservative group’s request for an Extraordinary Council meeting about the Local Plan, saying it will clear up the misunderstandings and inaccuracies shared by Conservative councillors, writes Sue Fenton.

The Conservative group petitioned for an Extraordinary meeting after their Leader missed the legal deadline to submit their questions to December’s full council meeting. This Extraordinary meeting – on Thursday January 25 – will incur additional cost to taxpayers: the cost in terms of staff time and resources of holding an extraordinary council meeting is over £1,400.

“We welcome this opportunity to update the public on the progress of the Local Plan, including the recent and positive letter received from the Planning Inspectors on December 18,” said Council Leader Cllr Catherine Braun, Leader of the Green group. “Having previously raised concerns about the capacity of two M5 junctions to support new housing developments in Stroud district, the Inspectors have now welcomed the “constructive engagement” of all parties and the Joint Action Plan which we have developed with partners to address concerns about transport capacity issues.

“This is also a good opportunity to talk about the importance of the Plan and its strong policies for community infrastructure, carbon neutral development, renewable energy and nature; and to clear up any misunderstandings and inaccuracies that have been spread by opposition councillors.”

“However, we are concerned about the additional, unnecessary cost that will be incurred by this meeting. It seems unfair that the taxpayers of Stroud will have to pay for the basic error made by the Tory Group leadership in not asking their questions when they had the chance to do so at the December meeting.

“The Conservatives are desperately trying to politicise Stroud’s Local Plan as a short-term gimmick for the local elections in May, but their political stunts keep backfiring. They don’t have any solutions to the complex issues in the Local Plan other than giving up, and they’ve shown that they couldn’t even get the basics right by failing to submit their questions in time for the Council meeting.”

Cllr Braun pointed out that she already updated councillors at the December Council meeting, and there will be nothing new for SDC councillors to discuss or decide at the January 25 meeting. At this stage of final examination, the Local Plan is now entirely within the control of the Planning Inspectors.

Cllr Natalie Bennett, Deputy Leader of the Council, and Leader of the Independent Left group, said: “It seems that the Conservative councillors and MP are kicking the local plan between themselves as a political football without doing anything constructive to actually resolve the issues. The MP has said our request for a pause in the planning inspectors’ examination to resolve the motorway network transport issues is ‘ludicrous’. But this opinion is quite at odds with the government inspectors, who have never ruled out a pause and who have said in their latest letter that they are open to a pause of up to 12 months.

“There are some obstacles still to resolve but we are pleased with the latest feedback from the inspectors mentioning our ‘detailed’ work with partners and ‘achievable’ timescale.

“These comments recognise the serious and constructive work we have been doing with National Highways, government, and the local transport authorities, who all recognise the importance of having a planned approach to new development.”

She reiterated the Alliance’s earlier call for all parties to unite behind the plan, saying that in the absence of a Local Plan, homes would be built without the roads, schools and infrastructure needed, and in places that are not suitable for development. “It would be like the Wild West; it would be like Christmas come early for greedy and irresponsible developers. But perhaps this is what the Conservatives want, given the fact that about 20% of their donations come from property developers.”

Cllr Robin Layfield, Leader of the Community Independent group, pointed out that district councils have no direct influence over motorways and highways, so resolving traffic capacity issues on the M5 junctions, as requested by the Planning Inspectors, requires the cooperation of National Highways, government and the local transport authorities – as well as funding from central government.

“Even the Conservatives acknowledge the M5 traffic problems, admitting that junction 12 is already ‘a safety hazard and at capacity’. So they should be backing our efforts to get the junction upgraded and asking our MPs to demand a commitment from national government to fund it. This district desperately needs new homes, which is why these new housing developments are an important part of the Local Plan.

“Effective and sustainable national and regional infrastructure planning is clearly best done in partnership by national government, public agencies and local councils.

“But ultimately, the national government is responsible for long-term infrastructure planning and funding – and integrating that planning with their own home-building targets and with transport planning at a regional and national scale. This is something that the government has consistently failed to do, having abolished regional planning and having failed to fund the additional infrastructure necessary to support new homes.

“Instead, they have put the burden on under-funded councils and local Tories are complicit in this, whether through ignorance or intention.”

Cllr Ken Tucker, Leader of the Liberal Democrat group, added: “Gloucestershire County Council has been helpful in working with us to respond to the Planning Inspectors concerns about transport issues and get the plan over the line. Now what we need is for everyone to get behind the Plan and campaign for the government to fund the necessary road improvements.”

He also called for the investment from central government to go further than just upgrading motorway junctions – the only part of the transport system that the planning process focuses on. “Instead of simply building more roads, we need properly integrated transport planning that includes an improved, reliable and frequent bus service (instead of further cuts to services) and safe routes for walking and cycling.”

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