Reporting Back: Liberal Democrats work on Bury Council

Last Wednesday (1 February 2017) was the regular ‘Full Council’ meeting of Bury Council, the one meeting where all 51 councillors meet to discuss the main issues facing the area.

This was a very busy meeting of the Council, with a full public gallery – mostly people concerned about the proposals in the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework to build 12,500 new houses in Bury, including many on green belt land.

Because of the number of members of the pubic there, we proposed that on this occasion we move straight to the debates on motions, rather than the usual 90 minutes or so of questions to the Leader and joint authorities. This was agreed – most questions were therefore answered in writing which we’ll report on over the coming weeks.

Voter Pilots
We supported a motion (in an amended form) which noted the Government’s current proposed pilot schemes to ask for ID at polling stations. The Government is proposing to pilot this in some areas (not Bury). In general we support proposals to make sure voting is always fair and without fraud – as long as whatever is proposed does not exclude people from voting (ie making sure that many different forms of ID are acceptable, as not everyone has a passport or driving license).

NHS Funding
We were happy to support a motion raising significant concerns about the current crisis in the NHS, particularly around funding and the acute pressures on emergency care and hospital beds.

Greater Manchester Spatial Framework
The Liberal Democrat group proposed a motion asking Bury to withdraw from Greater Manchester Spatial Framework (GMSF). This is the plan, currently being developed by the 10 Greater Manchester Councils, to build 227,000 new houses in Greater Manchester over the next 20 years.

We said:
– We recognised the need for more housing – but that this needs to be housing that people need, including young people getting their first homes and housing suitable for older people who might want to ‘downsize’
– We recognised the need for more jobs – but that these need to be high quality jobs.
– We DON’T think that the GMSF is a good deal for Bury. Across Greater Manchester the GMSF proposed to build houses on 8% of Green Belt land – in Bury it is 20% of Green Belt land (and in Prestwich and Whitefield nearly 50%).
– We DON’T think that the GMSF has made the right approach – we think local people should be in the driving seat about deciding the future ‘shape’ of our local communities, but the GMSF has started with asking land owners and developers about where they want to build.
– We are very concerned about issues like traffic congestion, air pollution and loss of green space that should be at the forefront of any new plans.

Our proposal was:
– That Bury should instead develop its own Bury Plan – recognising that we will still need to make difficult decisions, but that they will be decisions closer to Bury.
– The the plan should be a 15 year plan, not a 20 year plan, which means that 1/3 less land for housing needs to be identified at this stage.
– We support higher levels of development in our town centres, which are close to existing public transport and facilties.

Unfortunately our proposal was defeated, by 31 votes to 19 votes. Every single Labour councillor voted to remain in the GMSF.

There were some concessions made, which in some ways are a small victory, which was the Council agreed to remain in GMSF pending:
– The Government’s Housing White Paper
– The Greater Manchester Metro Mayor election result (some of the candidates are opposed to building on the green belt)
– The GMSF stage 1 consultation outcome.
In addition the Council is to proceed in developing its own Bury Plan alongside GMSF, with all-Party involvement.

We’re going to continue to fight these proposals. We do need more housing, but we must protect our green spaces too.

You can read our Group Leader, Cllr Tim Pickstone’s speech to the meeting here. The meeting is available to watch online – the GMSF debate starts at 1 hour 57 minutes….