Chorley Council elections 2021: The Big Debate
Ahead of the Chorley Council elections on 6th May, the Local Democracy Reporting Service brought together representatives of the four main parties to discuss the big issues in the borough.
You can watch the full debate in the video above or read the highlights below.
Taking part in the event were Cllr Alistair Bradley (Labour leader of the authority); Cllr John Walker (Conservative opposition group leader); John Wright (representing the Liberal Democrats in the district); and Andy Hunter-Rossall (Chair of Chorley Green Party).
Alistair Bradley championed the investment that he says Labour has brought to the borough in the nine years since the party took control of Chorley Council – but some of his opponents accused him of allowing rural areas to be left behind.
Alistair Bradley: “We have to go above and beyond what others think we should do, because our residents demand that and we’d be failing in our duty…[not to]. I think our investments are well-calculated, they bring millions of pounds of extra money into Chorley Council.”
John Walker: “He doesn’t mention the rural areas. We have not got any investment in the last few years into places like Brindle, Hoghton, Mawdesley – and I’m certain if you went to the residents in those areas, they’d say Chorley Council doesn’t look after them at all. Bus services are very limited in rural areas to get into Chorley town centre – young people can’t get into Chorley, especially of an evening, because the buses don’t run. We have got the doctors surgery being built in Whittle, which is a great investment and I applaud that. We do need further investment outside the town centre area.”
John Wright: “There is always a balance of risk and benefit to any investment strategy. We need different voices in Chorley Council to bring scrutiny to those decisions, to help shape strategy and hold decision-makers to account. We need more investment in our villages, but it’s a bit rich to come from the Conservatives who have cut and cut local authority spending for years on end. We need a fair deal for funding for Chorley Council. We lost out on the Town Deal – this council has tried to invest in development and [the government put] big money into other towns which perhaps need it less than Chorley.”
Andy Hunter-Rossall: “You don’t have to go very far out of the town centre until you get to communities where there are new-build estates with no shops and no amenities locally… It feels like the whole of Chorley is designed at the moment around the private car, commuting into the town centre. One of the big ideas I’d like to push is ‘15-minute communities’, where people have access to all the services they need – health services, schools, shops, but also access to green spaces – within a 15-minute walk of where they live, so you are not dependant on being able to drive, which young people aren’t.”
Alistair Bradley: “There is a myth…that we only invest in the town centre. We invested £1m in flood defences for Croston. We’re building a £5m doctors surgery in Whittle-le-Woods [and investing] £125,000 a year in outreach work from the Youth Zone. We have put hundreds of thousands of pounds into bus services, particularly into our rural villages. It’s important everybody feels part of the borough, but you cannot have every facility in every village.”
The politicians grappled with the challenge of meeting Chorley’s housing targets, in the wake of a planning inspector’s ruling last year which saw the minimum number homes the borough is expected to build more than double to 569 per year. That prompted a series of applications from developers – rejected by the council, but which could yet go to appeal – to build on land not currently earmarked for development.
Andy Hunter-Rossall: “We want to protect safeguarded and greenbelt land – we need to build developments that are sustainable…in terms of the lifestyles they encourage. There are lots of bits [of brownfield land] where I’m not opposed to development. And we shouldn’t be building homes now that we’re going to need to retrofit in 10 years’ time to meet our zero carbon emissions. If we want to be zero-carbon by 2030, the homes we build today need to be zero-carbon houses. Is the need for big four-bed detached houses, because that seems to be what most of the new developments are?
Alistair Bradley: “There aren’t brownfield development sites available – we have less than about six acres across the entire borough. Our largest brownfield site is Camelot…at the side of the M6 – that is not sustainable for anybody. What’s nonsensical is government targets being applied in different ways by different inspectors in a game of Russian Roulette with developers as to which way the result goes. If we are allowed to get on and discuss [targets with Preston and South Ribble] and come up with a plan, [we do] – the problem is a planning inspector rides in from London and decides arbitrarily to carve it all up in a different manner.”
John Walker: “We have to build houses, there is no getting away from that – it’s all very well blaming the government . In 2012, when the last local plan was approved by the council, the Conservatives put an amendment in to extend [it] to 2023, which was defeated by the Labour administration. So the Labour group have only got themselves to blame for the situation we are in. Safeguarded land is no longer safeguarded. We have had the consultation out for the next local plan – that was in January 2020 – and we haven’t seen the results of that consultation. So we must bring the local plan forward as quickly as possible.”
John Wright: “We have certainly seen our fair share [of development]. We need more truly affordable low-cost starter housing for families, we need good quality social housing for rent – so there are some priority areas. Our view is that we have to protect our green and open spaces – we ought to be looking at whatever brownfield sites still exist and they should be made a priority for development. But measures should be under way with other neighbouring authorities to have a more coherent approach. We need more housing – but let’s focus on those areas where they can be sustainably developed without impacting on our green and open spaces.”
Chorley Council has committed to being carbon neutral by 2030 and, in its budget this year, set aside £500,000 for tackling climate change.
John Wright: “Having an environmental impact assessment on every policy that the council brings forward [is] so important, because everytime the council makes a decision about delivering a service or building something, it has to look at what the impact is on the environment of doing that. The council needs to lead the way on the provision of electric vehicle charging points, where the infastructure is so poor – [and] having better cycling routes and walking routes.”
Andy Hunter-Rossall: “We don’t just want the council to have zero emisiosns – it needs to be a plan for the whole borough. Our lives can change for the better in so many ways. If we make our homes less leaky, not only is that good for climate change, but we’re stopping fuel poverty as well. If we design our communities around active transport and having local services, then that is good for people’s health and tackles loneliness.”
Alistair Bradley: “We are working across Lancashire [and] the North West about what we can do at scale together – and some of those things are quite well advanced. I’m particularly excited around [using] hydrogen in place of gas…as opposed to ground source heating pumps. We have got a lot of new housing stock in Chorley – a lot of those heating systems will run on a hydrogen mix with easy conversion – why are we not a trial area?”
John Walker: “I’m in agreement with what’s happening in Chorley now – we’re planting trees and it’s been agreed that by 2030 we will be [carbon neutral]. I’m concerned, though, about building houses – if we do build more, we have got to build them in the correct way, not with boilers, but with heating pumps. This won’t happen in my time, but I’m concerned that we do become eco-friendly for my grandchildren.”