Friday, July 06, 2012

Petition handover - the history of a "myth"

Dunston Hill petition Jul 12 12

Gateshead Council is currently carrying out a strategic land review, one of the consequences of the Planning Act (2004) and subsequent planning regulations passed in 2008. A Local Development Framework, effectively the council's planning policies, is a statutory requirement and the results of the review will feed into it. As part of the review, Labour are proposing the end of greenbelt status in various parts of Gateshead and their use for house-building. One of these areas is at Dunston Hill. Local Lib Dem Councillors, myself included, have helped to get a residents' campaign group off the ground to fight the proposals. The group is now self-supporting so the councillors can step back and allow the residents to show that this is not a party political campaign.

We did however attend the handover of the petition  to the council today run by the residents which called on Dunston Hill's greenbelt status to be retained. The above photo is of Cllr John McClurey (Whickham South and Sunniside - one of my ward colleagues), Dave Fawcett from Lobley Hill and Bensham (who collected nearly 200 signatures on the petition over the weekend), Councillor Peter Maughan (Dunston Hill and Whickham East), Cllr Peter Craig (Whickham North) and myself holding the petition.

The photo below is of the residents' group.

Dunston Hill petition Jul 12 4

The person holding the petition on the left is Steve Potts, one of the residents who has taken a leading role in running the campaign. He became involved after we held a public meeting in Lobley Hill in February.

The greenbelt issue has had something of an interesting history, especially in recent months. Labour in the three Whickham wards, all being defended by Lib Dems in May, came up with the absurd claim that the house-building proposals we a "myth". This rather overlooked the fact that Gateshead Council had been working on developing the local development framework since 2008 and it has been before the cabinet a number of times. Quite how Labour thought they could get away with a claim that something which had occupied thousands of hours of officer time and had already been out to public consultation was a "myth" was beyond me. On our side, we made sure this preposterous claim was exposed.

People knew the claim was total rubbish. They had read enough about it in the local press, seen Gateshead Council's own publicity about consultation meetings and heard plenty about in from the Lib Dems. They knew Labour were attempting to pull the wool over their eyes, and people responded accordingly.

My ward was not a serious target for Labour in May but the other 2 Whickham wards were. All are affected to some degree by the house-building proposals and as a result, much of the election battle revolved around them. So, whoever came up with the "myth" claim in the Labour party certainly helped to boost our chances in what were very difficult defences in Dunston Hill and Whickham East and in Whickham North. In the former, Labour won with a majority of 630 last year. This year, we won with a majority of 220. In Whickham North, last year we held on by 24 votes. This year, our sitting councillor (my mother) retired, making the defence doubly difficult. Our new councillor, Sonya Hawkins, however, was elected with a majority of 100.

In our own ranks we joke that whoever came up with the "myth" claim in the Labour party is our very own secret weapon which we had managed to embed in the Labour organisation! We are looking forward to this person's influence continuing to grow amongst the "socialist" brothers and sisters.

I wonder what this person will come up with next.

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