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Monday May 20 2019

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THE VILLAGE VIEW

Posted on April 29 2019 at 2:10:55

How often have we or someone else said: “At least we’ll be able to make our voices heard at the ballot box”? Well, it’s been a long wait, four years since the last local elections, but at last the time has come to make a change at Bromsgrove.

As far as we are concerned, there is one word that should make us all want to bring one-party dominance to an end in the council chamber: Barntchurch.

For those who don’t remember, this was our shorthand for a report into where overflow housing from Birmingham should be built.

The Greater Birmingham Housing Market Area Strategic Growth Study, led by GL Hearn, a “real estate consultancy . . . focused on project delivery”, outlined an idea for a “garden town/village” in the Green Belt between Barnt Green and Alvechurch with 10,000–15,000 new homes.

As we wrote in April last year: This would be the end of village life as we know it.

You might have thought that Bromsgrove District Council would fight back against such an idea on behalf of its residents. This, after all, was the council that at the turn of the millennium was “waving its fist in defiance” at threats to the Green Belt and launching a Green Belt Protection Campaign with a phone line for people to pledge support.

Not this time. Something has changed in the fabric of the district council and it looks like they are rolling out the red carpet to the developers and swinging open the gates to our green fields to allow their bulldozers on.

The council is particularly keen on this Barntchurch report. Instead of shelving it as some housebuilder’s pipe-dream while Bromsgrove’s consultation into its next local plan was being carried out, council chiefs told councillors to consider it “a thorough evidence base to take matters forward through the district plan review process”.

They even considered it worthy of being listed on its website under the title: “Planning Policies”, with the sub-heading: “These are the planning policies that help to guide development in Bromsgrove District.”

After The Village contacted planning chiefs last month to point out that the leader of the council had said it was “not a policy statement”, the response was to leave the Hearn report listed with the council’s planning policies, and merely to change the title of the page to: “Planning Policies and Other Planning Information.”

We would say this document which, as our MP Sajid Javid has stated, is “nothing to do with Bromsgrove”, should be nowhere near the council’s official planning policies. Leaving it there signals that the council could countenance such a disastrous idea as Barntchurch.

We should not forget that this council exists to serve us, the residents; the people who pay the wages of officers doing a job on our behalf.

Have we ever told them we want 15,000 new homes on the Green Belt around Barnt Green, Alve-church and Blackwell? Well, this is where your vote on May 2 can make a real difference by telling them we don’t want that.

When the Hearn report first surfaced, the independent councillors at Bromsgrove immediately pushed for an emergency debate on a motion that it should be set aside completely and that the district continue its local plan deliberations as if it did not exist.

But, as we reported last May, the controlling Conservative group at Bromsgrove voted together to defeat the motion.

This bears repeating: The Conservative councillors representing us, the residents, at Bromsgrove District Council, banded together to make sure Barntchurch remained part of the consultation on the district’s future.

They voted in favour of a study suggesting 10,000–15,000 new homes could be built on Green Belt fields around Alvechurch, Barnt Green and Blackwell.

We promised last April: “We will be following the positions taken by our readers’ representatives closely so we will know whether or not we should be supporting them at the ballot box in May 2019.”

For the record, the Conservative councillors representing Village-area wards who voted in favour of keeping the Hearn report on the agenda were: June Griffiths (Alvechurch South), Kit Taylor (Lickey Hills), Richard Deeming (Cofton), Peter Whittaker (Tardebigge), Brian Cooper (Marlbrook), Caroline Spencer (Slideslow), Phil Thomas (Aston Fields).

Most of these people are hoping for your votes again on May 2 – and for a long time, the Conservatives could just breeze into Bromsgrove, but a strong wind of change has been blowing across this part of the district ever since Charlie Hotham won in the new Barnt Green and Hopwood Ward as an independent candidate.

Alvechurch Village Ward elected the independent Kate Van der Plank in a by-election two years later and independent candidates have now been inspired to stand in a number of other wards, knowing that it will only take a shift of two seats away from the Conservatives to bring change.

(There are currently seven “independents ‘ alliance” councillors, seven Labour and 17 Conservative.)

The independents have pledged that if they hold the balance at Bromsgrove, they will break the mould of party politics and work with both Conservative and Labour councillors for the benefit of the people of Bromsgrove rather than that of a political party.

That sounds like just what Bromsgrove needs – and perhaps top of the list of joint decisions could be the shelving of the Hearn report out of sight in a cupboard, in a dark room, down a corridor, never to be seen again . . .


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