Tory rebel Brian Crowe sounded a warning that Conservatives face ‘political obscurity’ locally if big business is allowed to dismantle the green belt around Chester.
Cllr Crowe tackled a proposal to build 22,000 homes in Cheshire West between 2010 and 2030 which is included in the draft local plan recommended for full council approval.
It includes a proposal for 1,300 new homes on green belt land off Wrexham Road south of Chester.
Cllr Crowe, one of four Tory councillors to have the whip removed by council leader Mike Jones, argued the housing numbers were not an objective assessment of housing need but a political aspiration.
But his claim that officers were acting under instruction was staunchly denied by council bosses at the Local Development Framework Panel.
Cllr Crowe, who fought against a student village on green belt land in his Mollington ward, told the committee the 22,000 housing figure had come from the Cheshire and Warrington Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP).
“The council leader signed us up to that at that time,” said Cllr Crowe, speaking in front of Cllr Jones, whose concerns were echoed by fellow Tory rebel Cllr Neil Sullivan and Conservative Cllr Razia Daniels.
Cllr Crowe said the latest government forecast for new homes in Cheshire West had dropped by 40% to just 495 per year. LEP partner Warrington Borough Council had reduced its forecast for new homes across Cheshire and Warrington from 71,000 to 45,000 – meaning the Cheshire West housing figure should be around the 15,000 mark.
“Their officers have not received the same instructions as us – enough houses to require building in the green belt,” continued Cllr Crowe.
“That’s what this is all about. It’s about big business wanting to make a start on dismantling our green belt, as sure as eggs is eggs that is why our housing requirement is so high.
“I’ve said it before and I make no apology for saying it again: woe betide any political party that breaks into the green belt in and around Chester as they will face political obscurity, here, in this place, in 2015.”
Jeremy Owens, the council’s strategic manager of spatial planning, responded: “Officers have had no instructions in terms of what figures to work to. The figures we have presented are an objective assessment of housing need and, Cllr Crowe, I really cannot work out the derivation of your housing figure.”
He reminded the meeting that the draft local plan would be examined by an inspector at a public inquiry where representations would be considered including Cllr Crowe’s views.