Hundreds of thousands spent on under-fire development plan

Hundreds of thousands spent on under-fire development plan

A CONTROVERSIAL Kirklees Council planning strategy has cost taxpayers nearly £600,000 so far.

The figures were released under Freedom of Information (FoI) after a request by campaigners fighting to save green fields in Dewsbury.

Data shows the Local Development Framework (LDF), which could be axed, has cost £587,192 in known expenditure.

Consultation across 2009 and 2010 saw officials spend more than £100,000 on public meetings and printing documents.

The biggest single cost, £80,000, was for the amount of time spent devising an open space and ‘green’ infrastructure strategy.

A traffic impact assessment on Dewsbury South, where Thornhill would be targeted for new homes, came to £18,691.

An assessment of the development potential of Cooper Bridge, Mirfield, cost a further £14,950.

Taxpayers also footed a £30,241 bill for legal advice, amounting to nearly 320 hours of internal and external counsel.

The council’s FoI response states the total cost is unknown as staff mixed their LDF work with other duties.

It stated: “... Policy planning staff also undertake additional work duties and their time is not recorded against individual work areas.”

Officials insisted in their FoI response the figures do not represent “abortive work” as it will used for a revised core strategy or new plan.

That move is now on hold after Kirklees Council’s Labour cabinet decided on Tuesday to delay withdrawing the LDF.

The issue will now not go to a meeting of the full council next week as had been expected.

Kirklees were told think again over their LDF over a lack of consultation with other councils and the land allocation for new homes.

A report, which recommended withdrawal, was considered by cabinet members at their meeting on Tuesday.

The document stated: “It is not anticipated that withdrawal will lead to additional costs beyond those budgeted for the LDF in 2013/4.

“Any longer term implications will be considered by the council as part of the medium term financial plan.”

Coun Peter McBride, joint cabinet member for place, said after the meeting: “We need to assess the options for our LDF.

“The planning inspector examining the LDF plan for Leeds will be holding a meeting within the next week on this issue.

“It would seem sensible to await the outcome of those discussions before we take our next step.”

Members of the Chidswell Action Group, fighting to save land off Leeds Road, Dewsbury, exposed the cost the LDF so far.

Mark Eastwood, of the action group, said: “The decision to postpone withdrawal is quite clearly a delaying tactic.

“It is nothing more than a cynical attempt by the Cabinet to avoid having to justify nearly £600,000 of expenditure.

“They’ll also be thousands more spent in the future as a result of their failure to produce a viable local plan.

“And this comes at a time when they are claiming essential services will be adversely affected by government cuts.

“The LDF should be withdrawn straight away to enable the council to produce an alternative local plan which has the support of local residents.”

LDF axe delay is ‘sensible’

DELAYING the withdrawal of Kirklees Council’s planning strategy is a ‘sensible’ move, Tory leader Robert Light said.

Coun Light (Birstall and Birkenshaw) believes legal action taken by Leeds City Council makes it necessary to await the outcome.

He explained Leeds is challenging a ruling that the authority failed to consult with other councils over its Local Development Framework (LDF).

The same criticism was made of Kirklees, with any precedent set by Leeds likely to affect how other councils proceed.

Coun Light said: “The logic put forward by the cabinet is to wait and see what happens in Leeds and I think that’s sensible.

“Leeds are challenging an aspect that Kirklees has also been criticised for and so I think the cabinet have made the right decision.”

Lib Dem leader Coun Kath Pinnock (Cleckheaton) agreed, but laid some of the blame on the Government.

She said: “Duty to co-operate only became law a couple of months before  the council finished its core LDF strategy.

“That’s what Kirklees was partly criticised for. The planning inspector said the council should have known the law was coming.”

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