Councillor Leader Teresa O’Neill opened the debate by saying “we as a
borough are up for growth, all Members have signed up to the Growth Strategy but
it has to be the right sort of growth”.
“We hosted an event for the Deputy Mayor last month [January] and all the tickets went, a very good take up by residents. A number of guests said that the London Plan was not cogniscent of life in Outer London and especially Bexley with no tube stations etc.”
The responsible Council Officer Seb Salom said the Plan would be highly influential and the Council would have to conform to it until 2041. “Its main focus is on providing more homes and optimising the use of remaining sites but there are significant differences between the London Plan and Bexley’s Growth Strategy which are of particular concern. It is much too detailed and prescriptive. It goes too far. Our housing target has been increased threefold and small sites by eightfold. We consider it to be undeliverable based on flawed methodology and the promised consultation was not forthcoming.”
“There is an emphasis on zero parking and it will include Bexleyheath town centre which is wholly dependent on the bus network which is not particularly resilient.”
Cabinet Member for Growth Linda Bailey was “so annoyed about how it was going to be put into the borough with no consultation, it was a bit of a farce. The Deputy Mayor stood in front of a hall full of people discussing the London Plan but said he was not going to take anything back. When we do consultations we have to take notice of residents. I am disappointed but it is not my main gripe.”
Increasing the housing target “threefold is not achievable. Our Growth Strategy called for 33,000 homes over a longer period. This [the London Plan] is not building communities, it is really disappointing and the loss of parking spaces is just not on”.
The Leader added that Bexley’s Growth Strategy was produced before the London Plan and was extensively consulted.
Cabinet Member Don Massey said that there is “much in the plan that we would agree with but there are also a lot of things which are very very worrying and problematic. It will set neighbour against neighbour and I find it unbelievable that the Deputy Mayor supposedly came down to listen to people and took nothing out”.
Councillor Danny Hackett (Labour, Lesnes Abbey) contrasted Bexley’s response to the plan with that of GLA Conservatives who he suggested were less negative about it. Council Leader O’Neill stopped him in his tracks saying “please don’t play those games”. Councillor Hackett said he did not understand the Leader’s point; the Leader of GLA Conservatives was a Bexley Council Member. Teresa O’Neill became very annoyed with Danny for stating the obvious.
Councillor Hackett tried again but Cabinet Member Linda Bailey said his behaviour “was quite appalling” and again attempted to close down the issue raised by the opposition.
When Councillor Hackett tried one more time Council Leader Teresa O’Neill reminded him who was chairing the meeting and denied him the right of reply. Councillor David Leaf (Conservative, Longlands) was given the opportunity to speak instead. He said the Council’s response to the London Plan was “excellent”. He too was concerned that the Deputy Mayor had ignored all the comments made by residents and others at the local event.
He said to the accompaniment of ironic laughter that Bexley was exceeding its housing targets.
Councillor Hackett, referring to the former Civic Offices site, said the GLA had concerns about the number of affordable homes to be built there. They are “part rent part buy so not truly affordable housing”.
“We do not want garden grabbing but we do need to take maximum advantage of every site.” The Council Leader reminded Councillor Hackett that the application for the Civic Centre site was “strongly rejected, are you listening Councillor Hackett?”.
Councillor Hackett said he was listening while taking notes and that the Leader was “wasting everyone’s time”.
Councillor Seán Newman (Labour, Belvedere) reminded Members present that the Labour Group was wholly behind Bexley’s Growth Strategy and “has been from Day 1”. To suggest otherwise was wholly wrong but 1,500 houses had been approved in Bexley without a single one of them being affordable.
Cabinet Member for Transport Alex Sawyer commented on the Plan’s target of “80% of journeys to be made by foot, cycle or public transport. It’s a fine aspiration but not for a borough with no tube and no light railway. The target is laughable, for some in this borough cars are a necessity. Pushing the Crossrail extension scheme back to government is a mistake. Nothing in our lifetimes will impact Bexley residents more than Crossrail. The Mayor should get stuck in.”
The Council’s response to the Consultation was approved. The Consultation has now closed.