Democracy has consequences
On Tuesday evening, the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework was once more derailed, this time courtesy of Liberal Democrat councillors in Stockport. On the verge of collapse the council moved to postpone the vote. If the other boroughs follow suit this means that it is now unlikely that the GMSF will go to public consultation in December.
The Labour response was understandably furious, with Salford City Mayor Paul Dennett denouncing the actions of the Lib-Dems as “shameful politicking”, and Oldham’s very own Sean Fielding branding their objections as “faux concern”. In reality though, it is Labour who have been shamefully “politicking”. The Labour controlled councils of Greater Manchester cynically scheduled the most important public consultation of a generation during a national lock down in a deadly pandemic, with Christmas bang in the middle. What started off as a land grab in Greater Manchester has turned into an egregious attack on democracy itself.
The first GMSF consultation was four years ago, and the deadline for Greater Manchester to have an up-to-date plan is the end of 2023, so a short delay will make absolutely no difference in the grand scheme of things. However, it will make a huge difference to Labour. Lock down and the distraction of Christmas were the perfect cover to sneak this deeply unpopular plan through. It was scheduled purely to undermine the public consultation process. People without internet access, and especially those who are shielding, will be disenfranchised.
What is most galling is that after elections were suspended this spring, many of our politicians no longer have a mandate from their constituents to represent them, and that includes Mayor Andy Burnham and Leader of Oldham Council, Sean Fielding. They are de facto dictators, making decisions that will be irrevocable, and they currently have no democratic mandate from the people to do this.
Councillor Fielding was facing an insurgency in Failsworth, and would have almost certainly been swept aside if the elections had gone ahead. He used his reprieve wisely, by leveraging his influence to have the Woodhouses allocation in his neck of the woods all but dropped from the GMSF. In the world of Labour, this is known as “saving the Green Belt”, a cause for celebration. Yesterday, the Stockport Tories succeeded in having a 500-house allocation pulled. No doubt Labour will accuse them of “holding the GMSF to ransom”.
It is no coincidence that when Labour politicians find themselves in trouble they are able to pull Green Belt out of the mix. I wonder how Royton’s councillors feel about this? Or Chadderton’s? They are facing a super-election in 2022 when they will all be up for election, so how do they feel about their leader saving his own skin but hanging them out to dry?
The GMSF is up before Oldham Council on Wednesday, and thanks to the Stockport Lib-Dems they now have a great excuse to vote for a postponement of the consultation. Our advice to them would to be use the reprieve wisely, as their leader did, and arrange for the removal of Royton’s remaining Green Belt sites from the GMSF.
We have extended a huge amount of good will so far to our councillors, but the time is coming when they will no longer be able to sit on the fence and they will have to pick a side. They need to realise they represent the people of Royton first, and the Labour party second. If our councillors refuse to respect their covenant with the people of Royton they run the serious risk of being replaced.