Newcastle’s MP challenges Council ‘concealment’ over green spaces sell-off

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21 Mar 2011

Newcastle’s Labour MP Farrelly has issued a formal complaint to the Borough Council over its insistence on withholding key details of the scope of its controversial plans to sell off  green spaces and playing fields.

Mr Farrelly wrote to new Council Chief Executive John Sellgren last month with a detailed series of requests under Freedom of Information legislation over the policy, which the Council’s leadership had kept secret since last July.

The letter has now been answered - but a request to reveal the full list of sites drawn up by Council officers last year has been refused on the grounds that the alleged ‘public interest in concealment outweighs the public interest in disclosure’.

Mr Farrelly has now challenged this, on grounds of public interest, too, as residents have the right to know.

‘I will be looking at all the Council’s answers, including the sections they are still blanking out in the supposedly ‘confidential papers’ which they considered last July and December,’ Newcastle’s MP said.

‘In the meantime, I have complained strongly about refusal to release details of all the potential sites on the ‘hit list’. There is already confusion about the reasons behind this policy. It seems driven by the Council’s reserves running out, and this needs explanation.’

‘I am also concerned that the sell-offs effectively circumvent a public consultation – already a year late – which the Council is supposed to be having over a new development plan across Newcastle. Clarity over all these issues is a matter of keen public interest.’

The affair only blew into the open weeks ago when residents in the Westlands said they were ‘ambushed’ by planning applications by the Borough for housing on two local greens.

The Council Cabinet also only revealed the first two tranches of sites – which include much-valued playing fields in Clayton, Chesterton and Bradwell – at its meeting early in February.

After a public outcry, and strong opposition from the Council’s Labour Group, the policy has now been put on hold, pending review by a scrutiny committee.

Following further protest, joined by Newcastle’s MP, Council Leader Simon Tagg was also forced to withdraw the first two planning applications in the Westlands in the meantime.

Mr Tagg - who represents May Bank on the Borough and Westlands at the County - has since announced his intention to quit as Leader of the Council at May’s Borough elections.

A site in May Bank was removed from the initial sell-off programme behind closed doors in December – on the grounds, the Council says, that it was only being considered for an office expansion, which has now gone away, and not for housing development.

To read a copy of Mr Farrelly’s latest challenge to the Council, just click here.

To read more about, or to join, the campaign against the sell-off policy, click on the website: