Council votes in favour of St George's Barracks homes plan and Local Plan for Rutland
“Shame on all of you!” came the cry from one woman as Rutland county councillors voted in favour of a plan to build a new 2,215-home town in the county.
The final (and in some residents’ minds inevitable) decision came after an intense six hours of debate spread across two meetings.
As was the case on January 27, the council chamber was packed with members of the public on Monday night, most if not all of whom were opposed to the controversial St George’s Barracks plan.
Councillors were deciding on whether to approve the wider ‘pre-submission’ Local Plan, which is a blueprint for how the county might develop.
A key element of this is to provide a ‘garden community’ at the barracks to include new homes, workplaces, a school, quarry and distribution centre.
It aims to address the rising demand for housing and help the Government hit national home-building targets.
However, it has proved unpopular with many residents who feel the Ministry of Defence (MoD) site could be put to better use, such as becoming a country park.
Opponents to the plan were ready with a host of new put-downs and metaphors for the plan, which had already been described as having ‘more holes than a kitchen colander’.
This time it was a steamroller that could not be stopped and was even compared to a Soviet-style masterplan fitting of Brezhnev.
Coun Abigail MacCartney (Lib Dem) told the meeting: “I’m a specialist on Russia and what I can see here is the best example of Soviet masterplanning I’ve ever encountered!”
Coun Andrew Brown (Ind) had tried to derail the Local Plan at the start of Monday’s reconvened meeting by proposing to claw back 650 homes handed to South Kesteven District Council to help them hit their own quota and holding fire on St George’s Barracks.
Quoting philosopher Edmund Burke, he said: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”
His amendment was narrowly shot down by 15 votes to 11 amid warnings from the monitoring officer that it could be unlawful and leave the council vulnerable to legal challenges.
The debate then got into full swing, with councillors lining up to have their say.
Coun Gale Waller (Lib Dem) said the whole process felt rushed and questioned whether the MoD would ever vacate the barracks.
She added: “We are in a mess and our residents aren’t impressed with our handling of this.”
Coun Gordon Brown (Conservative), portfolio holder for environment, planning, property and finance, said he had received a letter pledging that MoD chiefs remained “wholeheartedly committed” to the St George’s Barracks garden community.
There would be a ‘phased vacation’ of the site from 2021 with any development work ready to begin the following year.
Coun Miranda Jones (Ind) said she felt like she was standing in front of an unstoppable steamroller while Coun William Cross (Con) said he was “appalled to be labelled Conservative” and could not back the plan.
“Members are taking not a blind bit of notice of the worries of a large section of our community,” he said.
However, Coun Lucy Stephenson (Con) described the Local Plan as a “labour of love” by members who cared deeply about the county.
“This is about ensuring that Rutland is protected,” she told the meeting.
And Coun Alan Walters (Con) said he also backed the plan having heard no “groundswell of opposition” to it - a statement that was met with disbelief by residents in the public gallery.
When the vote came at around 10pm, the proposal to back the ‘pre-submission’ Local Plan was approved by 15 votes to 10 with one abstention.
“What a load of rubbish,” said one resident as she got up to leave in disgust.
“Thanks for the debate,” another man added sarcastically.
Having now been approved by the full council, the plan will shortly be published for further statutory consultation.
The document and all supporting evidence, together with all responses to the consultation, will then be submitted to the Government for public examination by an independent Planning Inspector.
Coun Brown, Cabinet Member for Planning, said in a statement: “This is an important step in the process of finalising a Local Plan that will ensure Rutland has a robust and up-to-date set of planning policies to guide future development in the county.
“The plan is also intended to make sure we have the right supply of housing and business space, in the most suitable areas, in order to meet local needs over the next 15 years.”
Several residents spoke to the Mercury during and after the meeting to voice their concerns.
Simon Boston said: “This to me is just murdering the county.”
And Les Wilson added: “We have been ignored from the start. This has been pushed and pushed, totally undemocratically.”
A spokesman for Rutland County Council stressed the community had been “extensively consulted” on both the Local Plan and the St George’s Barracks plan.
This included surveys, events and workshops with more than 600 people providing responses to the barracks plan.