BRADFORD Council has voted against extending the time period in which people can have their say on its controversial Local Plan, despite claims that the consultation should not be held during a pandemic.

The plea to have the consultation stretch into the Summer came as numerous campaign groups have raised concerns about the inclusion of some sites on the list of possible housing land.

The Local Plan is a document that sets out where development should, and should not take place in the Bradford District between now and 2038.

A draft of the plan, which is hundreds of pages long, lists hundreds of possible housing sites, as well as sites for future business developments.

To meet housing targets imposed by Government around 1,700 homes need to be built in the District each year – over 30,000 in the lifetime of the plan.

A consultation on the plan began early in February and ends on Wednesday.

But there have been concerns from Councillors, Town and Parish Councils, campaign groups and residents that the entirety of the consultation will have taken place during a period where the District was under lockdown restrictions.

At a meeting of Bradford Council on Tuesday evening once Councillor put forward a motion calling for the consultation to carry on until the Summer – making it possible to hold events at libraries and community centres.

Councillor Geoff Winnard (Cons, Bingley) brought forward the motion, and at the online meeting he pointed out that the current restrictions made it very difficult for people who were not computer literate to have their say on the consultation.

Despite support from much of his own party and Liberal Democrat Councillors, the motion was lost.

And the Council’s Executive said over 3,000 people had already had their say on the plan.

Local Plans are a requirement for all Councils. They allocate sites for future housing growth, business developments and detail which sites should be protected.

Once the local plan is adopted it will dictate where developments take place over the life of the plan – in Bradford’s case, up to 2038.

It will make it more difficult for objectors to block development on allocated sites. But it will also make it much more unlikely that developers will be able to build on sites not allocated in the plan.

Over 2,000 possible housing sites were looked at when drawing up local plan

At the last full meeting of the Council before May’s local elections, Cllr Winnard said: “The Local Plan is a big deal for all of our District. It is very significant – when it is finalised it will set out how the District will grow in the period up to 2038.

“Plans for Green Belt sites will cause concern and need to be discussed and debated at a local level.”

He added: “Bingley Town Council has publicly expressed concern about the short duration of the consultation and the refusal to extend the deadline.

“The reputation of Bradford Council will be damaged – the local plan needs community buy in. It is not possible to have a meaningful consultation while living in Covid lockdown.”

He pointed out that to take part in the consultation, people would need to read reams of documents online and have their say over the internet.

Cllr Winnard added: “The most disadvantaged will be shut out of the consultation.”

He said if the consultation was extended into Summer months, people could be invited into libraries and community centres to hear of the proposals and have their say.

Councillor Alex Ross Shaw, Executive for Regeneration, Transport and Planning, said the council’s core strategy – a document that would shape the local plan, had been delayed by a year when Shipley MP Philip Davies “called in” the document for Government scrutiny in 2017.

He added: “You should acknowledge your own Government’s part in delaying Bradford in developing the Local Plan.”

He said the Council needed to submit its draft Local Plan by the end of 2023 – and extending the consultation could jeopardise this. He said: “If we don’t meet this deadline then the Government will impose its own plan – and that certainly won’t have a wide ranging consultation.”

Which city centre sites have been allocated for housing in Bradford's Local Plan?

He said there had already been over 3,000 responses to the Local Plan consultation, adding: “We have already seen a wider level of engagement than in the pre-pandemic period.”

He questioned whether extending the consultation would lead to greater engagement, as libraries and similar facilities will still not be in a position to welcome groups for several more weeks.

Councillor Alun Griffiths (Lib Dem, Idle and Thackley) said the party would support the Conservative motion, saying the consultation has been “as unsatisfactory as possible.”

Councillor Martin Love (Green, Shipley) said the consultation had been “badly managed,” adding: “People in leafy areas can organise campaigns and contact neighbours so they know what is going on, but that isn’t going to be happening across the District.

However, despite the support from different parties, there were not enough votes for the motion to pass.

It means the consultation ends next Wednesday.

The issue had also been raised at a meeting of Bingley Town Council last week.

Stuart Eteson, Chair of Cottingley Green Belt Conservation Group, said at a Bingley Town Council Planning Meeting last Wednesday that he feels the local plan has been “badly conceived”. He is concerned that the proposed developments are for three or four bedroom houses, rather than affordable homes.

Mr Eteson also explained that similar projects were put forward back in 1985 and rejected due to the pressure it would place on drainage and infrastructure.

He claims these are all issues that have not gone away. Many people have also raised the length of the consultation period as a possible problem, given the current restrictions due to the coronavirus pandemic. This has often related to residents being unable to meet up and discuss matters properly, or even having the right means of providing a response to the consultation, which is all done online.

Mr Eteson said this is a particularly prominent issue in his area.

He added: “A lot of people in my area, in March Cote Lane and directly opposite one of the proposed developments, are elderly.

“They don’t have access to and don’t like using computers.”

Mr Eteson explained that the group ran an internet café back in 2019 when a planning application was put forward, to help residents respond to the matter.

He said: “There were 259 objections. My worry is these people are not going to have a say with this town plan.

“It’s unfair and under the Equality’s Act it should not be allowed to stand. Councillor Paul Sullivan (Bingley Rural, Con), who was at the meeting, echoed Mr Eteson’s sentiments about extending the consultation period.

He mentioned one development, which was to be based in Shipley, but said it encroaches on the Bingley boundary and would see the areas become “one big urban mess”.

He added: “We should press the council to extend the consultation to just simply further local democracy, because it’s not democracy to push it through.”