The recent clash between High Peak Borough Council (HPBC) and Tom Levitt is of particular interest to Keep High Peak Green because it demonstrates the usual weaknesses in Tom Levitt’s arguments.

HPBC’s position is that the saturation point has been reached with housing. The Council has been meeting new onerous housing quotas for as long as living memory, and having decided enough was enough imposed a “moratorium” on new build except for affordable housing. They consider the latest ratcheting up of target figures by the Government of the East Midlands as incompatible with preserving the character of High Peak. Anyone who cares about the environmental quality of this area would certainly agree.

Tom Levitt claims more housing is wanted to meet the housing waiting list but he appears to refuse to look at empty housing in the borough though there is plenty enough to see. This suggestion is repeatedly made yet he shows no signs of looking at the option. The welter of unoccupied properties undermines his argument. He gives the impression of only being interested in new development and happy to see housing stretching into the distance and the future as far as the eye can see.

When he condemns the Council’s concern at targets imposed until 2026 and then soon after to 2036 for over 300 new houses per annum (excluding windfall sites) the MP’s position is that they are selfishly failing to recognise the local housing needs of the Borough. However the truth of the matter is that the government quotas are based as much on projections of inward migration to the area as they are on meeting local need. So this is a cynical distortion of facts to apply a false moral pressure on the Council whilst they are simply recognising that planning should not exclude factors such as quality of life and the environment.

Additionally we wonder how the list represents verifiable current need, and not just past data. Is it regularly reviewed and updated by Mr Levitt we wonder, or simply trotted out to keep recalcitrant councils on board for more housing.

Worse still, the Government, supported by Mr Levitt, hands out taxpayer cash incentives to the Council to find land for this excessive housing, which means effectively that planning applications are not decided through a balanced consideration of the issues involved but are rushed through to secure this financial bounty. How can this be other than an abuse of planning process? Yet in the last financial year, Council Planners gained a government pay-off of £250,000 by railroading through applications in the teeth of furious local opposition. They even issued a self-congratulatory Press Release on the subject.

What an extraordinary way to “plan” the environment; but really who in High Peak can see much evidence of “planning” as opposed to wholesale running after short term gain whatever the consequences? But it is the government supported by Tom Levitt that is responsible for this.

Typical of Mr Levitt’s approach is his refusal to concede that people need amenity space to simply live, that there is more to living than being crammed into little boxes without social space. For example at Lambgates, Hadfield, Tom has been vociferous in criticising a Village Green Application that simply confirmed that land designated for amenity should remain as such and not be reallocated as a high density housing block, placing intolerable further demand on overstretched local services and infrastructure.

On this occasion, irrespective of the Planning Department’s no doubt financially incentivised support of Mr Levitt’s position , the Development Control Committee unanimously threw out the application with very good reason. The public recognition by the current council that enough is enough, and that the area has shouldered more than its fair share of the housing burden in current years is also welcome.

The problem remains with Tom Levitt’s one dimensional approach to housing and planning, where money is placed between an application and the fair consideration of the issues involved. This is perhaps characteristic of his masters within the Labour Party, with their interest in reforming Planning with a new Bill to exclude the public from a say in major infrastructure decisions. This narrow, almost blind approach to a sensitive issue can only do irremediable harm, and the fact that it very much government policy backed up by publicly acknowledged financial pay-offs to local services only makes things worse, and shows what a grim situation we are in.

Keep High Peak Green will give every support to the Council in its resistance to these measures to impose excessive housing in an environmentally fragile area that borders a National Park. The consequences for our national heritage otherwise can only be disastrous. Mr Levitt and his peers must be made to think again and justify their position more carefully.

If you care about the future of the High Peak now seriously under threat and want to know more about KHPG you can contact us at our website.