Full Council in Gateshead on Thursday 26th March included taking a final decision on the Gateshead local plan. This document sets the planning policies for the years ahead. Liberal Democrat Councillors have been in battle with the Council over the greenbelt. We argue that no land needs to be taken out of the greenbelt for house building. Labour on the other hand are arguing the opposite - they support calls to build on land at places such as Dunston Hill, Crawcrook, Ryton and so on.
When the draft plan was debated by Council last year, a number of Labour councillors voted against it. This was the biggest rebellion I have seen in my 28 years on Gateshead Council. In the wards affected by greenbelt loss, there was an attempt by the Labour party to portray themselves as the guardians of the greenbelt and that they were dead against building on it, at the same time as they were defending the local plan and its contents. We saw that in their election literature last year.
Whilst this smacks of fence sitting with a foot in both camps, how would these Labour councillors vote last Thursday? The answer is they didn't. Whilst we would expect some absences for perfectly good reason, Labour numbers were down by 21 on Thursday. There will be a variety of genuine explanations for many of the absence but the no-show of the great majority of Labour councillors from affected wards was very, very noticeable. Even the deputy mayor Alex Geddes, who I am pleased to say was in good health in the morning at the freemen ceremony which I also attended, was absent. I fear there has been a sudden outbreak of injuries caused by sitting for too long on the fence. All that rusty barbed wire, jagged fence posts and thorny brambles must have taken their toll.
I wish them all a return to good health as soon as possible and look forward to their speedy return to Gateshead Council meetings.