By Andrew Topping, Local Democracy Reporter
Controversial plans to allow the building of 3,000 houses on greenbelt land at Whyburn Farm in Hucknall have been dropped.
Councillors have approved the major change in direction for Ashfield District Council’s local plan document.
It follows widespread concern over the development’s impact on wildlife and infrastructure in the town.
The plans were first revealed this time last year as the Ashfield Independent administration put forward its housing vision for the next 15 years.
The document included several proposed sites where a total of 8,226 houses would be built between now and 2038, as set out by Government housing calculation methods.
But people in Hucknall strongly opposed the inclusion of the Whyburn Farm settlement, rallying to create an almost 8,000-name petition opposing it and submitting hundreds of objections during a public consultation.
It led to Councillor Jason Zadrozny (Ash Ind), leader of the council, confirming last month that he had “listened to their concerns” and planned to drop the settlement from his housing plan.
Now the authority has moved forward with a plan to reduce the number of homes within the plan to about 5,000 and remove development on the greenbelt.
This option, accepted by the local plan development panel on Friday (September 23), involves removing Whyburn Farm altogether in a bid to “call the Government’s bluff” on potential changes to national housing policy.
It follows remarks made by Prime Minister Liz Truss during summer hustings events where she described housing target calculations as “Stalinist” and indicated more planning powers could be given to local leaders.
These comments came after former Prime Minister Boris Johnson and former housing secretary Michael Gove made similar remarks, leading to the council pausing the local plan process earlier this year.
Members of the local plan panel had four options on the table, with two including continuing with the pause or submitting the local plan as it is for inspection.
The third option was the removal of parts of the plan in response to Government comments, while the fourth proposed a “complete rethink” of the plan.
Councillors voted in favour of the third option, with the recommendation to now be taken forward for approval by cabinet members on Tuesday (September 27).
It means the authority will now launch a second round of public consultation on the same plan but without Whyburn Farm, with the results going directly to the Government for the plan to be assessed by inspectors.
This option will also highlight the employment elements of Ashfield’s local plan, including new space for jobs on the M1 corridor near Junction 27.
And it will draw on “special circumstances” for allowing the 8,226-home housing target not to be met, by outlining how the district only being able to build 1,100 homes on brownfield sites without “encroaching” on the greenbelt.
Speaking during the local plan panel meeting on Friday (September 23), Cllr Zadrozny said: “This is the only option that proves the council is listening and is trying to do its best, and it makes a very clear case for the constraints the council finds itself in.
“We need to make that case to Government – we’ve got that evidence base.
“It will be a positive plan that can deliver a hugely ambitious set of economic targets in terms of jobs and housing for our young people, and for employment sites, that have the least harm possible.
“We simply can’t accommodate 8,226 homes without causing harm – 5,000 houses is enough and will deliver what we want.”
However, the move was questioned by some opposition members on the panel before it was approved by eight votes to one.
Cllr Keir Morrison (Lab), who represents Hucknall South and has been opposed to the local plan since it was first published, said he favoured the fourth option and called for the housing plan to be rethought in its entirety.
He said: “I think this affords us more flexibility, space and time to look at this again and revisit the whole plan – to rewind and go back through it.
“That’s the only viable option I can see out of this. I’ve always been in opposition to [Whyburn Farm] right from the outset.”
But Cllr Kevin Rostance (Con), who represents Hucknall West, voted for the scrapping of Whyburn Farm through the third option.
He said: “We’re going to be bombarded from all sides and option C will probably be my preferred choice today because that’s the best option we’ve got on the table.”
All other elements of the controversial plan – including the 1,000-home settlement on Cauldwell Road, Sutton-in-Ashfield, will continue to be taken forward under the reduced document.