In the first full meeting of the new Conservative-controlled Vale of Glamorgan council, members were told last night that the Welsh Labour Government would step-in and force the council to adopt the contentious LDP [Local Development Plan] prepared by the previous Labour administration in the Vale.
The LDP – concocted by the previous Labour-run council – is wrongly based on what are now accepted as over-inflated, inaccurate and wildly-exaggerated estimates for the number of new houses (social housing and private housing) which will be required in the Vale of Glamorgan over the next few years.
On taking office, the Leader of the new Conservative administration on the Vale Council Cllr John Thomas had written to the Welsh Government expressing concern about the so-called “housing supply” figures in the Labour LDP and the dubious population projections on which they were supposed to have been based. Mr Thomas had demanded that the Welsh Labour Government cut the projected number of new houses deemed to be required in the Vale by 1,500 dwellings. (See http://tinyurl.com/y9oxrff5 )
Cllr Thomas got short shrift from the Labour Government in Cardiff Bay and from Labour Government Minister – Lesley Griffiths . In a formal letter read to councillors last night, Ms Griffiths said she will not allow any extra time – or any changes – in the previous administration’s document and has told the new Vale Council that “I expect you to adhere to your statutory duty and adopt the LDP by the 20th of July ” .
The new Conservative administration took over the Vale of Glamorgan Council after the May 4th local government elections. Many local residents voted Conservative because they did not want the excessive new housing development, choked roads, overcrowded schools and increased strain on medical facilities which the exaggerated estimates of the Labour LDP would bring about.
The clash with Cardiff Bay was being seen as a test of the mettle of the new Vale Council and whether it would stand up to – what Deputy Leader Cllr Jonathan Bird last night described as the “bully boy tactics” of the Welsh Labour Government.
The Vale Council however was warned last night if it did NOT adopt the Labour LDP, then the Welsh Labour Government had “default powers to intervene and to approve the LDP on behalf of the council” – and, what’s more, would charge the council £150,000 for one of their inspectors to carry out this work on behalf of the council.
Plaid Cymru leader on the Vale Council – Cllr Ian Johnson – criticised the Conservative administration for not issuing members copies of the Welsh Government Lesley Griffiths letter ahead last night’s meeting. He also noted that Conservative Leader Cllr John Thomas had to absent himself from the meeting [ because of conflict of interest]. Cllr Johnson said it was a “shambles” and not a great start for the new administration.
He said the LDP was the result of 11 years of work and had cost £3,000,000 but successive council leaderships had ignored the gap in the heart of the plan – caused by the recession which had begun in 2007 which had reduced economic growth and population change in the Vale . He said the economic backdrop had changed so much, Plaid Cymru could not accept the current LDP .
Cllr Johnson said the Welsh Government’s own housing projections issued in 2014 projected not the 10,000 houses required in the LDP, but just 5,600 houses. Subsequent Welsh Government housing projections came out even lower this year (2017) forecasting that from 2011 t0 2026 only 4,000 more houses would be needed in the Vale – not the 10,000 figure in the LDP.
Cllr Johnson also criticised the lack of any infrastructure improvements in the LDP to ease the pressure on roads – and noted that the long-hoped-for Dinas Powys By Pass was not included in the LDP.
Cllr Johnson said the Vale Council was being “bullied by Cardiff Bay” and said that the Vale Council should ignore the Welsh Labour Government – and he proposed an amendment recommending that the Welsh Office inspector should re-consider housing levels and transport infrastucture for South East Glamorgan.
However both Labour and Conservative councillors voted against the Plaid amendment. Labour Vale councillors weren’t going to oppose their Labour masters in Cardiff Bay and the Conservative councillors voted it down because they knew that if they didn’t adopt the LDP, the Welsh Labour Government would step-in and pass it anyway.
The LDP was then – for all its inaccurate population estimates – formally adopted by another majority vote.
It was not a great first night in the council chamber for the new administration . Conservative cabinet members seemed hesitant and lacking in confidence. Cllr John Bird apologised to members for “getting a bit mixed up” in spelling out the complexities of the LDP adoption and had to quickly order copies of the Lesley Griffiths letter from Welsh Government to be provided to members – which should have been available at an earlier briefing .
Chairing the meeting was the new Conservative mayor – Janice Charles – who ordered a vote to be carried out by “recorded delivery” [ she perhaps meant to say a “recorded vote”] and then voted “for the amendment” – even though votes were being taken at the time for the substantive motion.
Conservative Leader John Thomas said he took “full responsibility for the mess up in Item 3A “ [ there was no such item on the agenda] and also apologised on behalf of his administration for [at the council’s AGM] “erroneously appointing a chairman and vice chairman to the Joint Consultative Forum – contrary to the constitution of the JCF”
One former insider said afterwards “Voters who elected the Conservative administration into power may well have been hoping the new Tory-led council would put on a rather better show than this of opposing Labour and standing up for the interests of local residents.”