Garth Harkness

Liberal Democrat Councillor for Saddleworth North Ward on Oldham Council Learn more

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Liberal Democrats ask Conservatives to stop virtue-signalling and lobby government in Green Belt homes fight

by Garth Harkness on 17 December, 2020

At tonight’s full meeting of Oldham Council (16 December), Saddleworth Liberal Democrat Councillors called on the Conservatives to lobby their own government over the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework housing plans. 

Saddleworth North Councillor Garth Harkness proposed an amendment to a Conservative motion, backed by his Saddleworth West and Lees colleague, Councillor Sam Al-Hamdani. 

Councillor Harkness said:  “I am glad that Labour’s plan to build homes on our Green Belt has finally galvanised the Conservative Group sufficiently to submit for the first time, during my time in public office, a motion in their own right for consideration to a full meeting of Oldham Council.  Liberal Democrat Councillors submit three motions to every Council meeting, on a very wide range of issues.

“It is said that imitation is the highest form of flattery. The Conservative motion called on Oldham Council to develop a Local Plan for the Borough and for house building to take place on Brownfield sites and through the conversion of redundant mills, shops and offices into housing.  These were exactly the aspirations that the Liberal Democrats included in a motion that we took to Council in March 2017, when we called for withdrawal from the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework almost four years ago.” 

At the March 2017 Council meeting, the majority Labour Group proposed an amendment which removed the Liberal Democrat demand for Oldham to leave the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework, in favour of developing a Local Plan for the Borough.  However, the amended motion did retain the following paragraph written by the Liberal Democrats, which was adopted as Council policy:

‘Council firmly believes that new housing development should first take place on brownfield or derelict sites, on sites with existing planning permission; and by converting long-term empty mills, shops and offices into homes; and that existing long-term empty homes should also be brought back into use, before any consideration is given to allocating green-belt or other protected open land for housing’.

In their amendment to tonight’s motion, Councillors Harkness and Al-Hamdani proposed this policy be reaffirmed, and they also sought changes to make the motion more accurate and focused. 

Councillor Sam Al-Hamdani explained:  “Garth and I were happy to oblige in making some wording changes which, as you would expect in a first motion, left a lot to be desired.  We wanted to ensure that blame for this environmental disaster was appropriately assigned to Labour’s Greater Manchester Mayor, the nine remaining local authorities in Greater Manchester still on board with GMSF, eight of which are Labour, but one of which, Bolton, is Conservative-controlled, but also to the Conservative Government itself.

“For the facts are that it is the Conservative Government that has imposed the requirement to build an unrealistic number of new homes upon Oldham and the other nine local authorities in Greater Manchester, it is the Conservative Government that is failing to put pressure on developers to build out housing on sites that already have planning permission, and it is the Conservative Government that is failing to provide sufficient finance to enable the remediation of more Brownfield sites to enable housing development to take place.” 

Councillor Harkness concluded:  “It is good that after almost four years the Conservative Group now seems finally to be backing the Liberal Democrats with a motion to change the Council’s policy in favour of a Local Plan for our Borough, but, if they really want to make a difference, I would suggest that rather than virtue-signalling they lobby their own Government Ministers to abandon this madness, and allow us to work with local people to develop the right plan for Saddleworth and Oldham”.

The original motion proposed by the Liberal Democrats in March 2017 read:

Council 22 March 2017 – Notice of Opposition Business

Motion 1 – Withdrawal from the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework

This Council notes that:

·           all councils are required by government to have a Local Plan which identifies land for housing, offices and industry;

·           the proposed Greater Manchester Spatial Framework (GMSF) is one approach to fulfilling this requirement; however other local authorities have fulfilled this requirement by developing their own Local Plan;

·           the GMSF is a twenty year plan, requiring a third more housing land to be identified than would be required by typical fifteen year Local Plans produced by many other local authorities, and is based upon pre-Brexit growth assumptions over such a long period, which cannot be verified;

·           the GMSF proposals include significant releases of green-belt in the Borough of Oldham, particularly in Shaw, Crompton, Chadderton, Royton and Saddleworth;

Council further notes that:

·        these early proposals were developed without sufficient involvement of residents or ward members;

·        many residents and local politicians, particularly in Shaw, Crompton, Chadderton, Royton and Saddleworth, are strongly opposed to many of these proposals; 

Council firmly believes that new housing development should first take place on brownfield or derelict sites, on sites with existing planning permission; and by converting long-term empty mills, shops and offices into homes; and that existing long-term empty homes should also be brought back into use, before any consideration is given to allocating green-belt or other protected open land for housing.

Consequently, Council condemns the current GMSF proposals as they fail to identify such sites that are available for development and are instead predicated upon developing new housing on green-belt land in the Borough of Oldham.

Council therefore resolves to:

1.      Formally withdraw from the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework process and make arrangements to ensure that the GMSF does not apply to the Borough of Oldham;

2.      Pursue Oldham’s own local plan. This should be a fifteen year Local Plan for the Borough which identifies that new housing development should first take place on brownfield or derelict sites, on sites with existing planning permission; and by converting long-term empty mills, shops and offices into homes; and that existing long-term empty homes should also be brought back into use, before any consideration is given to allocating green-belt or other protected open land for housing.

3.      Make arrangements to comply with the duty to cooperate with other planning authorities;

4.      Review existing development plan documents and build in a review process every five years;

Proposed by                                               Seconded by

Councillor Howard Sykes MBE                        Councillor Dave Murphy

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