A dispute over the planned release of green belt and construction of homes at a golf course in Flixton triggered a Labour walk-out of Trafford Council’s meeting on Wednesday, as the issue of housing becomes even more contentious as councillors vie for votes ahead of local elections in May.
In its submission to last year’s call for sites to be included in the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework, Conservative-led Trafford put forward William Wroe golf course, playing fields, Flixton Park and the land around the listed Flixton House as suitable for redevelopment into 750 homes.
A rewrite of the draft GMSF is underway, under the direction of Mayor Andy Burnham, and a new version is expected to be released in June 2018.
As part of Trafford’s review of its submission, in response to local opposition, last month the council reduced its Flixton proposal to 370 homes.
However, the release of the green belt land for housing development remains contentious, leading to the Trafford Labour Party to put a motion to Wednesday’s full council meeting, opposing “any and all building on Flixton’s green belt”.
In response, Cllr Sean Anstee, leader of Trafford Council, moved an amendment and blocked a vote on the Labour motion “as members cannot circumvent the GMSF process that is currently being undertaken.
“It’s easy in opposition to say you could look at how you want to interpret a process that’s being undertaken, but there are consequences for applying a view that isn’t possible,” he said.
“Labour Group has not set out how it would meet future housing challenge, which puts at risk all land across the borough to future uncontrolled development,” pointing out that all nine Labour-led councils in Greater Manchester are also planning to release pockets of green belt in order to meet the housing targets set out in the GMSF.
On confirmation from a legal officer that Cllr Anstee’s amendment was constitutional, Cllr Andrew Western, leader of the Trafford Labour Group, led his fellow party members out of the session mid-meeting, leaving several agenda points undiscussed.
In a statement following the meeting, Cllr Anstee said: “The Conservative group moved a legitimate and appropriate amendment that was ruled acceptable by the council’s independent statutory and most senior legal officer. We are shocked and confused as to why the Labour group chose not to accept this professional advice and walk out.
“The amendment indicated the executive’s latest thoughts around how we address a growing housing crisis in Trafford whilst outlining progress in Flixton including the retention of land at Flixton House, park and the playing fields in the green belt.
“Pulling out of the GMSF, which would appear to be the outcome of Labour’s continued stance on housing, would mean we have to find land for an additional 2,000 homes over and above those already planned as other Greater Manchester boroughs have taken this number from our allocation so far.”
“Negation of a motion is explicitly disallowed by the council’s constitution and, as you would expect, Labour councillors immediately sought a legal ruling from the council’s monitoring officer as to the validity of the amendment. In an incredibly unusual step, the monitoring officer was unable to make a ruling and the meeting was adjourned.
“Labour councillors were unable to have confidence in the legal determination that was then made, and felt the democratic process was being undermined. We remain of the view that a decisive vote on whether to allow housebuilding on Flixton’s green belt should have been permitted. As a result, we felt we had no option other than to leave the meeting.”
Speaking to Place North West, a local campaigner flagged their concern for how the debate over the Flixton homes had been managed. “While I’m against any homes being built on the Flixton green belt, it’s totally the wrong site, we need to work within the GMSF process or run the risk that the 2,000 homes taken out of Trafford’s allocation by other councils are all piled back on us.”
A draft of Trafford’s submission to the GMSF is due to be voted on next year. Local elections, where a third of all Trafford councillors are up for re-election, are due to take place in May.