A Lichfield councillor said the benefits of allowing land to be sold off for housing “outweigh the negatives” caused by the loss of the public open space.
The cabinet at Lichfield District Council agreed to push ahead with the disposal of two sites at Leyfields and Netherstowe.
A meeting heard how a contract had been agreed to sell the sites to housing provider Bromford – a move leader Cllr Doug Pullen said had left him in an “impossible situation” due to the agreement being signed off without his knowledge.
While the decision means the sale of the land can now go ahead, planning permission will still need to be granted before any homes can be built.
A petition has been signed by more than 1,000 local residents objecting to the plans.
But deputy leader Cllr Iain Eadie told the meeting that not continuing with the sale could actually have a negative impact on people living in the area.
“This is a decision that was taken before the current cabinet, but I do recognise it was fully in accordance with the ambition of the council at that time – which was to bring forward more affordable housing.
“If we chose not to carry on with the prior decision we would be putting that housing in jeopardy.
“I don’t think we should lose that housing as it’s in a ward that needs it greatly.
“Because we’ve got to the point where a contract has been signed, as an authority we would now count that money and it would be vital in terms of going towards the new leisure centre we’re looking to see delivered in that ward.
“That is something else I wouldn’t want to see put at jeopardy.
“While I understand what we would like to do going forward, given the situation of where things have progressed to and it what it does do for the benefit of the people in the ward, on this rare occasion the benefits do outweigh the negatives of the loss of the public open space.”Cllr Iain Eadie, Lichfield District Council
“Distressing, uncomfortable and embarrassing”
One of the issues relating to the sale of the sites was that consultation did not happen before the contract was agreed as it should have under the Local Government Act 1972.
Cabinet member Cllr Rob Strachan described the failure of the process as “an embarrassment” – and said he did not agree with Cllr Eadie’s position on affordable housing being more beneficial than keeping the land as open space.
“If this pandemic has shown us anything it’s how vitally important it is for use to have amenity space for enjoyment and exercise close to our homes, particularly in more deprived areas.
“I used to live close to the land at Netherstowe – it is very valuable green space.
“I desperately hoped that when we came to revisit this disposal we would be in a position to change our minds, but we find ourselves in a position that is distressing, uncomfortable and, if I’m honest, embarrassing.
“By virtue of that contract being signed and that it didn’t come before us before being signed is an error, but I believe that we are legally compelled to agree the disposal.
“Unlike Cllr Eadie, I can’t agree that the benefit of bringing forward affordable housing outweighs the loss of this specific space – it does not.
“I am very, very uncomfortable with this action, but the presence of the contract forces our hand.
“All I will do in agreeing with enormous reluctance to the disposal of the land is to seek a reassurance that this will not happen again.”Cllr Rob Strachan, Lichfield District Council
Cllr Andy Smith said that while he felt there was no choice but to approve the disposal of land, he did not agree that there were sufficient benefits to outweigh the loss of such sites.
“For me, a housing need does not trump the need for well-used public open space.
“I’m extremely against the development here. However, like my colleagues I’ve looked at the process and what happened and where we are in terms of the legal agreement being signed.
“We cannot sit as a cabinet and jeopardise the use of taxpayers money in fighting an agreement with large legal fees to get out of a contract that has been signed.”Cllr Andy Smith