Breakdown in cross-party talks aiming to review Green Belt development sites

Labour and the Tories appear to have reached an impasse over the future of Enfield’s Green Belt, reports Simon Allin, Local Democracy Reporter

Council leader Nesil Caliskan (inset left) has clashed with Tory group leader Alessandro Georgiou (inset right) over the Green Belt
Council leader Nesil Caliskan (inset left) has clashed with Tory group leader Alessandro Georgiou (inset right) over the Green Belt

A cross-party review of Enfield’s draft Local Plan has descended into acrimony as Labour and Tory councillors accuse each other of backsliding on the talks.

The two rival political groups agreed last year to look again at the borough development plan’s most contentious points, including proposals to allow thousands of homes to be built on parts of Enfield’s vast area of Green Belt.

But the future of the talks now appears uncertain after the two sides traded blows over who was responsible for a series of setbacks to the review, which began six months ago.

First published in June 2021, the draft Local Plan sparked an immediate backlash over plans to de-designate areas of the Green Belt to allow more than 6,000 homes to be built. The Conservative group at Enfield Civic Centre strongly opposed the move, while Labour’s London mayor Sadiq Khan also criticised it.

The council is currently preparing a revised Local Plan after considering the responses to an initial consultation on the draft. This next version will undergo further public consultation before being submitted to the government’s Planning Inspectorate, which will decide whether it is sound and legally compliant.

Tory group leader Alessandro Georgiou proposed the cross-party review during a full council meeting in October in a bid to break what he called “deadlock” over the draft Local Plan – and Labour council leader Nesil Caliskan agreed.

But speaking to the Local Democracy Reporting Service this week, a Conservative source appeared to cast doubt on Labour’s commitment to the talks. Claiming the Labour group had cancelled a meeting scheduled for 27th April, they said: “The council clearly will not listen on the Green Belt, or tower blocks, or density, and therefore we will be considering our options as to whether to proceed with the [cross-party] group.”

On the Green Belt, the source claimed that what Labour wanted to discuss was essentially confined to looking only at particular types of restrictions on building and not the question of whether or not to build at all, suggesting they had “already made their mind up on that”.

The comments prompted a furious response from Cllr Caliskan, who claimed Conservative councillors had “refused to engage with the cross-party working group from the beginning”.

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The council leader said the Tories had “initially tried to make the terms of reference for the group an issue”, after which she suggested there would be no explicit terms of reference. Although this was “welcomed”, she claimed the Conservatives “disengaged again, providing no good reason”.

Cllr Caliskan accused the Tories of not bothering to turn up to the first meeting, where members agreed the work plan and a list of sites that should be visited, or to a day of site visits across the borough, which was organised so members could discuss sites and provide “granular feedback to council officers as part of the development of the Local Plan”.

The council leader said opposition councillors had not indicated they would attend the meeting scheduled for 27th April, which was cancelled because of “staffing sickness” and is due to be rescheduled “within the next few weeks”. She also claimed the Conservatives had not submitted any additional sites for the Local Plan, despite being asked to do so.

Cllr Caliskan added: “Needless to say, I do not believe that the Conservative group ever had any real intention of adding anything constructive to the development of our Local Plan. They are out of touch with understanding what is required to develop a sound Local Plan and they simply do not care about the housing challenges in the borough.”

Conservative leader Alessandro Georgiou hit back at the council leader’s comments, saying members of the Labour group were “divorced from reality and wouldn’t know the truth even if it hit them in the face”.

He said: “It was our proposal to scrap the terms of reference, it was our proposal to work collaboratively and do what is in the best interests of the borough, and it was Conservatives that signed up to what the leader initially agreed to but has since rowed back on, probably because she didn’t know what she was agreeing to in the first place.”

Cllr Georgiou dismissed the claim the Tories did not propose any sites, claiming they had emails to prove they had put forward “reasonable proposals” but officers “rejected them out of hand”. He added that the Conservatives “will always reject any proposals to build on the Green Belt or build tower blocks in inappropriate places.”

Building homes on the Green Belt now looks set to become a key issue during campaigning for the next general election. Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer this week said a Labour government would give councils more powers to build on Green Belt land to help them meet housing targets. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak subsequently pledged to protect the Green Belt from development.

Enfield Council previously said that an updated local development scheme would be published early this year, providing updated timescales for the publication of the next version of the Local Plan and a submission timetable. But although it is now almost two years since the initial Local Plan consultation was launched, there is still no sign of an updated timetable.

The Local Democracy Reporting Service asked the council when the timetable would be published but has not received a response.

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