Document changes row ahead of next hearings into Calderdale Council's Local Plan
Changes campaign groups claim have been made to a key draft Local Plan document about air quality have triggered a row with Calderdale Council in the run up to more hearings into the plan.
This has also drawn in an issue of whether or not Place Scrutiny Board councillors should have been able to debate it when it meets tonight (June 3), ahead of the hearings being conducted by Planning Inspector Katie Child in virtual form from June 15.
The Local Plan if approved, will determine where thousands of new homes might be built into the 2030s.
Community and environmental groups participating in the examination process say they have discovered a large number of changes were made by the council to an important report concerning air quality whilst it was out for public consultation, but that no one was told that these changes had been made.
The groups have now written to the council asking for an explanation, and posing questions they argue need to be answered in a public forum about why the changes were made but not disclosed to consultees or councillors.
They say they eventually uncovered the changes while reviewing documents ahead of the next hearings and argue the scale and detail of the amendments is so extensive as to require an explanation.
Anthony Rae, for Calderdale Friends of the Earth said the undisclosed changes meant the integrity of the Local Plan process has been undermined.
“We’ve asked that the council’s Place Scrutiny Board, whose remit includes the local plan, should investigate this matter at their meeting on June 3,” he said.
Lyndsey Ashton for the Greetland Pressure Group said: “As a community group, we are incredibly shocked to have discovered that the council made significant changes to the evidence base for air quality during the consultation period, without informing the public.
“Air quality in West Vale directly impacts on the young children of West Vale Primary School.
“We feel incredibly let down, but we will not stop campaigning for the safety of the children in our area.”
In response, a council spokesperson said: “We are looking into the concerns which the community and environmental groups raised with us, and we will respond to the groups when we have completed our investigations.
“We have made the Planning Inspector aware of the concerns raised.”
The Conservative group leader on Calderdale Council, Coun Steven Leigh said Place Scrutiny Board had now been told by senior officers they could not alter their agenda to discuss the issue tonight.
Coun Leigh (Ryburn) said in his view that meeting would be the only chance ahead of the June hearings to debate the groups’ complaint.
“I think they have got a point and we should hear it through a vehicle, and the only vehicle that can is Place.
“I am disappointed at the reply and it is a disservice to democracy that we can’t talk about it,” he said.
A spokesperson for the council said there would be the chance for the concerns to be debated publically at further hearings.
A council spokesperson said: “Whilst Calderdale-wide air quality is not included on the stage 3 hearing agendas, it is open to the Inspector to consider it further at a future hearing, if she considers it to be necessary in the light of feedback from the environmental groups and the council.”
Documents which have been sent to the Inspector ahead of the new hearings also include one submitted separately by Clifton Village Neighbourhood Forum with an accompanying air quality report it has commissioned, urging her to recommend the council to withdraw the plan because of those concerns, and ones about transport and infrastructure.