Calls to halt 5,000-home South West Rugby Plan this evening - but ruling group says that debate ended in 2019
The lead-up to a routine meeting to decide on some of the finer points of the 5,000-home South West Rugby development has brought forward calls to halt the plan entirely.
The South West Rugby development was approved in 2019 as part of Rugby’s 12,400-home Local Plan and since then a series of meetings and consultations have been held to develop the SW Rugby site's 'Supplementary Planning Document'.
This SPD outlines how schools, green space, play areas, cycle networks and a fire station should be delivered and it also includes suggestions as to how big the buffer between Rugby and Dunchurch should be.
The SPD is due to go before Rugby's councillors at a meeting in the Benn Hall at 7pm this evening, June 17 - but before it has even started there is fierce debate.
Rugby's Labour group argues that recent concerns over the validity of population estimates that our borough's Local Plan is based on mean the council should halt discussions on the development and wait to hear back.
Labour group leader Cllr Maggie O'Rourke told the Advertiser that in Coventry, the city council has been advised to pause some plans because the The Office for Statistics Regulation has expressed concern over ONS population estimates upon which it based its Local Plan.
The same should be the case for Rugby, Cllr O'Rourke said, adding that she fears the 5,000 homes set to be built may not be needed.
She said: "This is relevant to Rugby as the number of houses needed according to the Local Plan contains an ‘overspill’ of housing from Coventry.
"If the population estimates for Coventry are inaccurate then this will have a knock-on effect in Rugby too.
"We should not be paving the way for a large new development of 5,000 dwellings while this question mark still hangs in the air, which is why we are calling for a pause on the adoption of the SPD until this is resolved.
"My main concern is that, whilst Rugby is building more and more houses, we are still not meeting the needs of people on the waiting list for council housing or people who desperately need affordable housing.
"The way to solve the housing crisis is to invest in social and affordable properties in order to directly address the needs of people in Rugby who are struggling.
"We need to think too about the effect that new developments have on our existing infrastructure and what effect approving large new developments will have on our green spaces, town centre, traffic levels and waiting times for GP surgeries and school places.
"We cannot do this until we have all the accurate data and information in front of us."
The Advertiser understands that the Labour group has spent today trying to have the above included in an amendment to be discussed at this evening's meeting.
But council officers are reluctant to include such an amendment, arguing that it is not technically relevant to the proceedings.
Rugby's Lib Dem group also intends to call for a delay to the adoption of the SPD, but they plan to do so to allow for a rethink on how the plan might be changed to better protect the environment.
A spokesperson said: "The proposed SPD will lead to urbanisation not seen in Rugby for years with the potential loss of biodiversity, trees, and green spaces.
"Liberal Democrats councillors have brought forward six key points that need to be addressed.
"These include guaranteeing a 30-metre buffer zone to safeguard biodiversity along with adopting the latest National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) rules with tree lined streets. "
Lib Dem group leader, Cllr Jerry Roodhouse said: "If this SPD is adopted, we will see poor development that is not future proofed with more tarmac and concrete creeping urbanisation."
Cllr Neil Sandison added: "The SPD must be strengthened to produce a sustainable and biodiverse environment that is more viable for wildlife and residents."
Cllr Seb Lowe, Rugby council leader and head of the ruling Conservative group, spoke with the Advertiser, branding attempts to delay the SPD nothing but 'playing politics'.
Referring to the town's Local Plan, which saw the approval of the SW Rugby Plan two years ago, he said: "Whatever people think about it, this is going to happen.
"The debate on whether to build the 5,000 homes is over and now the question is - do we want to have these homes built with or without infrastructure?
"Having the Local Plan and deciding on this SPD allows us to rinse developers for infrastructure.
"If we don't have these plans, they will build anyway but they wouldn't have to provide infrastructure. It would just be a free-for-all."
Earlier today Cllr Lowe also issued a statement to argue that some of the claims of campaigners regarding the SPD are false.
He said: "Residents should be reassured that supplementary planning documents cannot add new policies and cannot contradict the local plan or the national planning policy framework.
"All existing protections, such as buffer zones, Tree Preservation Orders and traffic assessments, will continue to exist if this SPD is adopted, and none of the recent changes to the draft document weaken any protections in any way.
“An SPD cannot unilaterally change how planning applications are assessed, and nothing in this document should be interpreted as doing so. Quite simply, that is not what supplementary planning documents are for.
“What the SPD does do is add important supplementary information on a variety of themes including tree protection and green infrastructure, on transport, and the phasing of GP surgeries and roads.
"It reflects all of the requirements set out by the local plan inspector.
And, it sets out how infrastructure will be phased and funded through S106 payments in a proportionate way across the development site.”