A prominent borough councillor has hit back at swingeing criticisms in the Clitheroe Advertiser and Times of the council’s track record on opposing large-scale housing developments.
Coun. Terry Hill, chairman of Ribble Valley Borough Council’s Planning and Development Committee, was reacting to comments made by Steve Rush, chairman of Clitheroe Residents’ Action Group.
“In last week’s Clitheroe Advertiser and Times we were confronted by another ill-informed, inaccurate, misleading and one-sided diatribe from Mr Rush about the Core Strategy and the process by which it has been produced by Ribble Valley Borough Council,” retorted Coun. Hill.
“Evidently Mr Rush does not appreciate or understand the facts, nor does he appear to have made any serious attempt to discover them.
“Just as he declined an invitation to be part of the group that met the Planning Minister in the House of Commons, Mr Rush also declined an invitation from the planning inspector to participate in the recent examination in public, where his views on the process and outcome would undoubtedly have been listened to, with an opportunity for them to be debated and challenged.”
Setting the record straight from the council’s viewpoint, Coun. Hill added: “For the benefit of your readers, the facts surrounding the Core Strategy are; The Core Strategy process is a long, involved, bureaucratic and expensive exercise regulated by rules drawn up and monitored by the Government. Those rules have changed several times during the process, which dates back to 2006.
“This process includes statutory public consultation at every stage in accordance with the regulations at which any individual, group, or public body can submit their comments, which must be supported by evidence.
“At no time during this process has the council shown any favour to, much less worked ‘hand in glove’ with, any particular interested party. The planning inspector has not at any stage rejected the strategy.
“His task is to judge its soundness, when measured against laid down standards, the main requirement being the quality of the evidence base. This evidence must be backed by measured facts and, contrary to Mr Rush’s view, does not include opinion, conjecture, anecdotal claims or selective choice of statistics.
“Prior to the examination in public, the planning inspector asked for the strategy’s evidence base to be updated, as he considered some of it outdated and envisaged it being challenged.
“After the examination in public – which took two weeks of discussion and questioning and which Mr Rush could have been a party to had he so chosen – the inspector has asked the council to:
1 – consider using the top of the range number for houses (280 per annum, instead of 250);
2 – distribute the 200 Longridge allowance within the main settlements, rather than throughout the villages;
3 – strengthen the hierarchy of the villages, rather than consider them an amorphous whole.
“He has done this in ‘a spirit of assistance’ to enable him to consider the strategy sound and has since expressed satisfaction with the work plan set out by the council, which indicates this will be completed by early April at the latest.
“Again, this will be subject to a six-week consultation, as laid down in the regulations, in which Mr Rush, his group or any other interested party are welcome to take part.”
Summing up, Coun Hill said: “The Core Strategy has been produced following a great deal of hard work by officers, with little support from a Government hell-bent on increasing the number of houses at any price, and has been a stressful undertaking for those councillors directly involved, who, unlike the still unelected Mr Rush, have had responsibility for overseeing a challenging and exacting process.”