Council Cabinet urged to suspend proposed sell off of public open spaces

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08 Feb 2011

Newcastle MP Paul Farrelly has urged members of Newcastle’s controlling Cabinet to suspend the proposed sell-off of public open spaces amid mounting criticism from residents across the Borough.

In an open letter to Simon Tagg, Conservative Leader of the Borough Council, Mr Farrelly called for the controversial disposal plan to be halted pending “proper consultation and an explanation”  to local residents.

“This is clearly all part of a pattern which knows the price of everything, but the value of nothing. Nationally, the Conservatives and their Liberal allies are planning to flog off our precious forests. Locally, it’s our valuable green spaces. For neither is there any public mandate, as both policies were kept well-hidden at the elections.”

The Council decided last July to go ahead with proposals to sell a number of sites across the Borough for housing development in order to raise money for its dwindling reserves.

But when the first tranche of sites was disclosed it provoked uproar among residents in the Westlands, Clayton, Bradwell and Chesterton who have since formed action groups and held public meetings to co-ordinate opposition to the policy.

“Two of the green spaces in the Westlands are no more than small corner plots, typical of a suburban, non-terraced housing area and residents who have  been to see me are baffled as to why they should have been chosen,” Mr Farrelly said.

He said the disposal policy took no account of the environmental and recreational value which local communities placed on the green spaces and said that many of the sites had been previously designated as open spaces by the Council itself and had been earmarked as areas where development had been resisted.

And he warned that if the Council pressed ahead with the proposals it ran the risk of a conflict of interests as both a supplier of land for development and as the planning authority with a duty to regulate their use.

“The Council, therefore, needs to be as open as possible over this issue, but residents are particularly aggrieved by the inadequate consultation they feel has taken place to date and the reluctance of some elected members to discuss the matter with them in person.

“By refusing to attend such meetings, or by asking paid officers to attend instead, councillors are effectively depriving the electorate of the important opportunity to hold their decision-makers to account and some of those who have contacted me feel badly let-down,” he said.

It was also important, he said, that Mr Tagg and local councillors should ensure that any planning applications for development on the green space sites are ‘called-in’ for debate and determination in public by the Borough planning committee and not be delegated to officers to make a decision behind closed doors.

“I hope you will agree that the objections that have been expressed to me are matters of substantial public concern and that you and your cabinet colleagues will now carry out a careful reflection before pressing ahead with the sale of publicly owned open space,” added Mr Farrelly.