A HOUSING masterplan for all of South Worcestershire is on the verge of collapse after councillors in Malvern Hills voted to send it back to the drawing board.
During a five hour meeting that ended after midnight councillors shot down a motion declaring the emerging South Worcestershire Development Plan (SWDP) “deliverable and sound”, opting instead to call for further investigation of alternative housing sites flagged up by a council task group.
That decision destroys any hope of the SWDP being ready for sign-off and approval next month as originally planned.
And Malvern Hills District Council leader David Hughes, who had urged members against making significant changes, admitted his council’s decision could spell the end of the SWDP altogether.
During the meeting he warned that Wychavon and Worcester City councils - who have been working with Malvern Hills on the SWDP - had made it clear that they would not tolerate any delay and would go their own way should that be the case.
Coun Hughes, who is due to meet with the leaders and chief executives of the other councils later today (Wednesday), admitted: “I think it will take a few days to absorb tonight’s vote but at the moment I am not confident that Wychavon and Worcester City will remain in the process.
“It has been made absolutely clear to me that if Malvern breaks rank, as has happened, then they will be minded to pursue their own plans.”
Coun Hughes had also warned that delaying the SWDP would leave councils without recognised plans and at the mercy of the new developer-led National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) when it comes into force in March.
But Coun John Raine, who chaired the task group that produced the pivotal report, accused Coun Hughes of “calculated” scaremongering and trying to rush the SWDP through “irrespective of public opinion”.
He said his report was the first time councillors had been given a genuine choice over where housing allocations should go.
“If we cave into peer pressure we will be letting a lot of our own folk down very badly,” he added.
Coun Raine said he was “absolutely delighted” that the council had “held its nerve”.
He said he hoped Wychavon and Worcester City stayed on board with the SWDP process during the delay.
“I hope that we will stick together and that there is tolerance, patience and understanding on all sides,” he said. “But if they can do a plan on their own then so can Malvern.”