Council 'blackmailed' to reconsider building 5,500 homes in North Herts countryside
AN unelected quango is putting pressure on a council to rethink a planning u-turn that could save thousands of acres of North Herts Green Belt. In a move that threatens to undermine the democratic process, GO East, which acts as a go-between between centr
AN unelected quango is putting pressure on a council to rethink a planning u-turn that could save thousands of acres of North Herts Green Belt.
In a move that threatens to undermine the democratic process, GO East, which acts as a go-between between central and local government and espouses accountability on its website, is threatening to withdraw Government funding for future projects if Luton Borough Council (LBC) does not reconsider building 5,500 homes on North Herts countryside.
Last month LBC pulled its support for the joint planning project between Luton and Central Beds councils after bowing to huge public pressure. Councillors decided the road infrastructure would not be able to cope and it would destroy "an exceptionally attractive landscape offering much needed rural breathing space".
But a letter, seen by The Comet, from Paul Pugh the regional director of GO East to the leader of LBC, Hazel Simmons, shows that behind the scenes financial pressure is being brought to bear on the council.
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Mr Pugh wrote: "A considerable amount of growth area funding has been invested in your area, to support the joint working and assist in delivering growth and regeneration.
"The joint working arrangements have brought significant benefits to the communities in Luton and the wider sub-region and given confidence to central government to invest in Luton. As we enter a period of significant constraint in public sector funding, Luton will need to do all it can to maintain that confidence. This episode has shaken it considerably."
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Peter Lilley, MP for Hitchin and Harpenden, "It is quite outrageous for government to dictate to a local authority how it deals with its own planning issues.
"Even worse, the clear message is that if Luton does not toe the line and agree with GO-East, government funding for Luton will be withheld.
"This is tantamount to blackmail. What sort of government tries to micro-manage every planning decision? This shows a complete disregard for local democracy and local accountability."
David Barnard, North Herts District Council's Southern Rural Committee chairman, said: "It would seem the policy of this government is to run roughshod over local democracy. We at North Herts are dismayed that it may be that there is undue pressure and influence being brought to bear on Luton Borough Council, and that their local knowledge is being undermined. This cannot be right. At local level we have specialist knowledge - we know the needs and aspirations of people and can make considered decisions on that basis. It's the end of democracy if this is allowed to flourish.