Stockport town hall chief hits back at ‘cynical’ attacks over new delay to long-term housing plan for borough

Stockport Council’s Liberal Democrat leader has responded after Labour accused the party of a ‘dereliction of duty’ over pausing the strategy document.

A Greater Manchester town hall chief has hit out after coming under fire following a decision to put a long-term housing plan on hold for a second time.

Stockport Council leader Coun Mark Hunter says the decision to ‘pause’ a public consultation on the borough’s emerging Local Plan was taken after ‘considerable thought’ and cross-party discussions.It comes after Labour accused the Lib Dem administration of a ‘dereliction of duty’ following last week’s announcement.

While accepting talks were held beforehand, they insist it was not a ‘collective decision’.

What is the argument over the housing strategy about?

Stockport is pursuing its own long-term plan for jobs and homes after dropping out of the Greater Manchester Places for Everyone strategy back in 2020 – largely due to the then-Lib Dem opposition voting to go it alone.

A public consultation was due to be launched at the end of the month having already stalled once – under Labour – after the government hinted councils could get ‘greater leeway’ over the number of homes they need to build each year.

But the Lib Dems opted to push it back again, to await ‘clarity’ on planning policy once a new prime minister – since confirmed as Liz Truss – was in place.

What has the leader said about the decision to pause the plan being attacked?

Coun Hunter has now issued an angry rebuttal to the Labour group’s attacks.

“Are Labour now saying that we should have ploughed ahead and spent £200k on a consultation which could have been rendered obsolete within a few days of launch? ” he said in an official statement.

“That wasn’t their position at the group leader meeting, so what has changed since Wednesday?”

Councillor Mark Hunter. Photo: Nick Statham

The leader stresses that the decision to pause the consultation was taken after ‘considerable thought’, following a meeting of the council’s political group leaders last Wednesday (August 31).

“Having outlined the increased risks of dramatic policy change in the wake of the current national Tory Party leadership election, there was no dissent from the view that the correct way forward was to pause whilst we await clarity about the level of house building required,” he added.

“Specifically the unresolved question of whether the current Local Housing Need figures have any status at all, or whether they are firm targets or just guidelines.”

What else did the leader say in response to Labour attacks on the Liberal Democrats’ record?

Labour also savaged the Lib Dems after their first 100 days in office, branding them a ‘walking dead administration’, that had ‘ridden roughshod’ over promises of cross party working, ‘plunging’ the borough into uncertainty.

But this was dismissed by Coun Hunter as an attack piece ‘prepared in advance and then cynically expanded to include the Local Plan’.

“We don’t want to play politics with housebuilding and we do not want to release an acre of Green Belt if this can be avoided,” he said.

No new dates have been set for the consultation, but the council says it will ‘review the process in due course’.