BARNSLEY Council’s decision to not alter its blueprint for future development schemes across the borough has come under fresh scrutiny from opposition councillors.
Known as the local plan, which was adopted by the council in 2019 following public consultation, it sets out how the local authority manages the future of the borough’s empty sites for housing and business growth.
The 335-page local plan identified 28,840 jobs and 21,546 new homes but it has been mired in controversy due to large-scale building on former green belt land.
A review - called for by the town’s Liberal Democrats - was dismissed last month, but Coun Hannah Kitching has blasted the council’s decision.
She told the Chronicle: “I voted against the council’s local plan development blueprint in 2019, not because I didn’t want us to have a local plan.
“For as many criticisms I might have of ours, I see so many authorities who still, almost five years later, do not have a local plan, and that causes huge problems.
“But I looked at the plan, and I listened to what my residents in Penistone were telling me and I could not support it.
“The reasons I gave at the time were simple: insufficient planning for infrastructure - schools, doctors, dentists, roads - lots of building houses, not enough creating communities, insufficient commitment to building affordable and social housing, far too much re-designation of green belt for housing with insufficient urban regeneration and brownfield development.
“These issues have not changed, if anything they have worsened as the national housing crisis has spread across the country and hit Barnsley hard, with people priced out of private rentals and 8,000-plus people on the council housing waiting lists.”
Coun Kitching - who said ‘many residents’ across the town were open to giving feedback on a reviewed local plan and putting forward changes - accused the council of lacking transparency.
“A review would really be an opportunity for the council, so proud as it is of being an early adopter of the local plan - to prove its worth, to show that it has listened to five years of criticism, to make some changes if need be to make sure the local plan really is fit.
“But instead of openness, transparency and public engagement, we got a behind-closed-doors tick-box exercise, nodded through cabinet with no questions asked.
“Why would they settle for it to be classed as just fit for purpose, when they could aim for even better?
“Because that’s what a proper review would do: make the local plan better, make the borough even stronger.”
Council leader Sir Steve Houghton said the current plan - featuring no amendments - has the right balance between ‘green and growth’.
“Equally, it protects land against unwelcome development, it ensures 77.4 per cent of our land has some form of environmental protections - overwhelmingly green belt,” he said.
“Not to have agreed the plan would have meant an update process lasting three to five years.
“During that time, our plan would remain in place, but we would be open to speculative developers seeking to exploit the uncertainty to bring forward more sites, including green belt.
“The update and any changes would also require sign-off by the Planning Inspectorate and the Secretary of State of a government demanding more and more housing to be built.
“In the meantime, it would not change the current 900 housing units per year minimum delivery target the government demands.
“Our current plan creates enough capacity to meet the government requirement and to achieve our wider economic ambitions and local needs.
“I appreciate this won’t please everyone, but for the long-term future of our borough, we cannot afford to be without it.”