Council urged to ditch ‘shameful’ sell-off of public open spaces

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25 Feb 2011

Newcastle’s Labour MP Paul Farrelly has demanded that the Borough council withdraw the first two planning applications for housing on public ‘green spaces’, pending proper public examination of secret Council decision-making.

The move follows a motion, moved by the official opposition, this week to refer the Council’s plans to sell-off public space and playing fields across the Borough to a Scrutiny Committee for a proper review.

In a letter to Simon Tagg, the Council’s Conservative Leader, Mr Farrelly repeated his criticisms that the authority had acted secretly by excluding the public from a meeting last July when it agreed to the sell-off parcels of land they deemed ‘surplus to requirements.’

Residents had only learned of the plans, said Mr Farrelly, when applications to develop the first two sites - at Repton Drive and Winchester Drive in the Westlands - were submitted by the Borough itself at the beginning of February and after the Cabinet published the agenda for its meeting of 9th February.

“Hitherto, you and your Cabinet conducted discussions in secrecy, which is entirely unacceptable,” he told Mr Tagg. “While keeping residents in the dark, these two sites have nonetheless already been marketed to developers and residents feel they have been ambushed and bushwhacked by you over this.”

“I have since met with residents from all the areas affected – Westlands, Clayton, Chesterton and Bradwell – and such is the strength of feeling that over 2,500 have already signed petitions opposing this sell-off of public open spaces,” said Mr Farrelly.

Repeating his demand on the Council to scrap the sell-off, Mr Farrelly also warned  that that if the authority did not withdraw the first planning applications it could risk the costs of a judicial review to challenge its handling of the policy before proper scrutiny takes place.

His comments came after the leaders of action groups from across the Borough presented him with a petition which they have asked him to hand over to the Council before the first applications go before the Borough planning committee on 8th March.

The petition presentation took place at one of the threatened sites – at Winchester Drive, Westlands – on the day after the Tory/Liberal Democrat Council bowed to opposition demands for the policy to be referred back to scrutiny committee for investigation.

“It is inappropriate for the applications to go to the planning committee and they should be withdrawn,” he added. 

Photo Caption:
Save Our Green Spaces: Paul with action group members and protesters at the Repton Drive site.