Plaid Cymru councillors walk out of controversial Local Development Plan vote
Plaid Cymru councillors have walked out of a council meeting that was voting on a controversial Local Development Plan, stating that they refused to be part of “an undemocratic farce”.
The meeting – the third time Wrexham Council had voted on its LDP – was called on the order of a High Court judge after a consortium of housing developers challenged the two previous votes not to adopt the plan.
The authority – which has no overall control – has already rejected the LDP twice, arguing that it favours private developers who want to build executive housing estate.
Legal advice circulated by council officers in advance of today’s meeting warned elected members they could face “a period of imprisonment, a fine, confiscation of assets or other punishment permitted by law” if they fail to approve the plan and are judged to have acted in contempt of court.
The LDP sets out council policy on the future development of the city and is meant to provide legal guidance for planning decisions that are made.
Would-be developers who believe the council has deviated from the LDP when judging their applications can challenge such decisions at appeal and in the High Court.
The proposals would allocate land for nearly 8,000 homes – including large strategic sites of more than 1500 homes apiece on either side of Wrexham.
Opponents of the plan believe these greenfield sites in particular amounted to urban sprawl and destroying green spaces between the town and neighbouring villages.
Before walking out, Plaid Cymru group leader Marc Jones said: “This is not a good day for democracy. Being told to vote a certain way or face prison or seizure of assets is not democracy. It’s because a bad law – one that urgently needs changing – is imposing a development plan on Wrecsam that developers clearly approve of.
“It’s the large housing developers who took this council to court because they will benefit from this development plan. They will benefit but the people of Wrexham will lose: Lose green fields under concrete, lose playing fields under Tarmac, lose a sense of community as town and villages merge. Overstretched services such as health, education and infrastructure will be under further pressure.
“The Labour Government has ducked its responsibility on the LDP – it could and should have accepted the vote in April and entered into further negotiation with this council. It chose to hide behind the developers.
“If some people here today feel they’ve won a victory, then it’s a very hollow victory. The people of Wrexham will ultimately judge who the winners and losers are.
“And we’ll see very soon what voting for this LDP means in terms of added pressures on our health services and other infrastructure. There are developments of hundreds of houses in the pipeline that will affect communities already struggling to access a GP – but apparently the health board’s concerns are not relevant planning grounds to object. That’s why this LDP vote is so important.
“We won’t be a part of this undemocratic farce. As a group we’ve made our case consistently for the past decade. Plaid Cymru councillors voted against sending the plan to examination in 2018 because we knew then that it would be bad for Wrecsam. In 2020 we were misinformed about our opportunity to vote again. Now we are told we have to vote a certain way or face sanctions.
“As a group, we’re not going to grace this vote with our presence. That’s why we’re now going to leave and take our place where we have always been – with the people of Wrexham, fighting on their behalf.”
Cllr Becca Martin, Plaid Cymru councillor for Acton and Maesydre, added: “We are elected by our residents to represent them, to work in their best interests. When they vote for us in those polls they are putting their trust in us as elected members to do this. Here, today, under the threats we have received, we are effectively being forced to vote in a way that does not represent our residents and will be more detrimental than beneficial for them. This vote completely throws out political freedom and the door this will open, frankly, leads to a terrifying place. It is a sad day for democracy.”
Cllr Carrie Harper, Queensway ward said: “Here we are for a third time, being told to vote for a housing plan that most of us don’t support. There will be councillors who have stayed away from the meeting today because they’re afraid of the repercussions of voting against this plan given we’ve been threatened with prison.
“This is a plan that is set to make developers hundreds of millions. A plan that will eat up our green fields, coalesce villages, damage local identity and put pressure on our services and infrastructure. It’s a plan we know people locally don’t want but don’t you dare vote against it.
“This isn’t a free vote, councillors now effectively have a gun to their head. Because the formal legal advice we’ve had is that every councillor individually faces the threat of prison, a fine, the seizure of assets or ombudsman complaints unless we vote for this plan.
“The Welsh Government legislation that underpins this, is literally criminalising the democratic process. Whatever your stance on the LDP, that is fundamentally undemocratic.
“It’s an affront to democracy and it’s precisely why the Welsh Government should have stepped up when they were formally asked to, after the first vote rejecting this plan. We all know the had the power to intervene any time before adoption, to work with Cllrs locally to find a way forward but they have refused to do that.
“They have refused because they do not want to be accountable and because they know that politically, this housing plan is hugely damaging, hugely unpopular and they can’t justify it on any level.
“Labour in Wales have gone into hiding over this, they’re dodging the discussion and avoiding accountability. And that, in my view, is unforgivable.
“This isn’t a local plan. The housing numbers, which everyone acknowledges are wildly inaccurate, come from the Welsh Labour Government. The Planning Inspectors, answerable to the Welsh Labour Ministers, reduced the affordable housing quota in this plan to just 9%, despite current Welsh Gov policy on affordable housing requiring it to be 53%.
“What we’re being forced to put up with in Wrexham flies in the face of current Welsh Government policy, it completely contradicts Future Wales 2040 and the Well Being of Future Generations Act.
“The Welsh Government also backtracked on a statement of common ground and pulled funding for key road improvements on the A483, which makes one of the key sites undeliverable. Yet they tell us the plan is sound. It clearly isn’t.This is Labour’s development plan, backed by them and backed by the developers, let them vote for it.”
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