Watford’s MP has written to all Watford Borough councillors ahead of a crucial vote this evening (Monday, July 19) on the Local Plan.
The letter follows Mr Russell MP’s question to the Secretary of State for Housing earlier today in which he received confirmation that Housing Needs targets are not ‘set in stone’ and that it was ‘the local authority’s responsibility to challenge housing targets in their local plan’.
Following meetings and correspondence with the Housing Minister and the Housing Secretary, Mr Russell MP asked for confirmation to the rights of local authorities when it comes to development in the area that they represent.
The Secretary of State noted that Mr Russell had “spoken about this on a number of occasions” and agreed that “housing targets are only a starting point” to agreeing a “sensible and credible way forward”.
Mr Russell MP’s appearance followed a recent letter from the Housing Minister, who also confirmed that “the standard method is only the starting point for local authorities in identifying housing need in a local area” and specifically states “that not everywhere will be able to meet their full housing need and depends on local individual circumstances”.
Mr Russell MP said: “Whilst I have no remit over planning, I have had many meetings and correspondence with the Housing Ministers to raise local concerns.
“Given the contents of the main Local Plan document being voted upon tonight does not include any obvious mention that the targets are too high, or lay out a section to challenge them explicitly, I felt it important to ensure all locally elected Watford Borough councillors were aware of the comments by the Secretary of State and Housing Minister as a point of information.
“Like many residents, I do not wish to see tall towers imposed on our town or large-scale developments that impede on existing residents. We do need new homes, but there is a balance to strike.
“Any government has a responsibility to ensure that young people, first-time buyers, and those on lower incomes are given more affordable opportunities to move into good-quality homes. However, this should not be at the expense of existing residents who must be listened to.”
You can read the letter Mr Russell MP sent the councillors in full here: FINAL Signed WBC letter.
The Watford Conservative Association (WCA) has now criticised the Liberal Democrat Watford Borough Council for “playing politics with planning” after major Local Plan failure is revealed ahead of crunch vote today (19 July).
Deputy Chair of Watford Conservatives, Binita Mehta-Parmar, stated: “The Liberal Democrat Mayor and his councillors have been playing politics with planning whilst failing to do their homework. Tonight, they risk locking our town into the proposed housing numbers without challenging them in the appropriate way.
“It is perplexing that despite persistently slamming the government, the Local Plan for which the Lib Dems are responsible, does not appear to challenge the target nor present a credible alternative for the Planning Inspectorate to consider.
“It is also ironic that whilst the Watford Lib Dems have been putting out leaflets filled with mistruths claiming our hardworking Conservative MP, Dean Russell, hasn’t been standing up for the town, it has taken our MP’s own intervention to establish the fact that they have failed to raise this important point in their own Local Plan
“No doubt, the local Lib Dems will say they tried everything to reduce the figures, but how could they fail to raise these concerns in their own Local Plan and provide credible alternatives for discussion with the National Inspectorate, in the way other local authorities have? They could have written it on every page – Instead, they don’t even mention their opposition to the numbers.
“Even the Mayor’s own foreword to the document doesn’t mention anything about over-development or the housing needs numbers being too high – let alone offering credible alternative solutions. The Local Plan is possibly the most important document to make these points and they are nowhere to be seen.
“The truth is the Lib Dems have been pro-tall buildings and the party of over-development for years across Watford, well before the new targets were set just a few years ago. Local people know Liberal Democrats = Local Developers.
“Watford residents don’t understand why Lib Dem Councillors don’t just own up to the fact that they actually want these developments and stop blaming everyone else for their planning decisions. Sadly, the Lib Dems just blame the Government whilst approving the 28-storey buildings soon to be towering over the town – without even trying to oppose the idea. No wonder local people have started calling them ‘Taylor’s Towers’.
“For too long, the Lib Dems have been far too busy playing politics with planning. In doing so they have overlooked the day job and failed to do the one thing that could raise concerns with the targets to the National Inspectorate.
“Watford Conservatives see that, by voting through this Local Plan in its current form tonight, the Lib Dems will finally show their true colours and willingly and deliberately lock Watford into housing targets they claim publicly to oppose yet privately support.”