Councillors in Lichfield agreed to dispose of land at Netherstowe and Leyfields to Bromford Housing Association, saying they were fearful of the potential for costly legal action if they kept hold of the land.
More than 1,000 local residents have petitioned against the housing plans at Netherstowe alone but the councillors said that the original decision had been made in 2018 prior to the formation of the present cabinet.
“It was made in a bid to increase the provision of affordable housing,” the Leader of Lichfield District Council, Doug Pullen, told a virtual meeting of Lichfield District Council’s cabinet on Tuesday.
“This newly formed cabinet has taken a different direction where we recognise the need for affordable housing but don’t believe it should be built on public open space and have stopped other similar proposals coming forward.
“I am opposed to the disposal of this open space.
“However we have a conditional contract, signed with Bromford in July 2020 to dispose of this land which means if we vote against it we put ourselves at risk of breaking the contract and open ourselves up to an expensive legal challenge.
“The remedy would likely be that we dispose of the land to Bromford anyway so we risk spending taxpayers money on a legal challenge which would put us back to square one.”
Tuesday’s discussion was distinct from the planning process and focussed solely on the land issue.
The triangle of land off Netherstowe is earmarked for eight apartments while 16 homes are set to be built at Leyfields if planning permission, which Bromford has submitted, is approved.
The cabinet meeting did recognise a failure by the council to conduct a consultation before the contract with Bromford was entered into.
This consultation was immediately ordered by Councillor Pullen and conducted last November.
The cabinet meeting also noted that the £527,000 received for the land sale would be used to support other projects in Lichfield.
The other cabinet members, Deputy Leader Councillor Iain Eadie, Councillor Angela Lax, Councillor Elizabeth Little, Councillor Andrew Smith, Councillor Ashley Yeates and Councillor Rob Strachan unanimously voted for the disposal of land fearful of the implications of breaking the contract.
“If the pandemic has shown us anything it is how vitally important it is to have amenity space for enjoyment and exercise close to our houses particularly in more deprived areas,” said Councillor Strachan.
“To find ourselves in this position is distressing, uncomfortable and embarrassing.
“I desperately hoped when we came to review this disposal we would be in a position to change our minds.
“But it represents over half a million pounds and I would be reluctant to take any action which would risk its loss to local residents.
“All I will do in agreeing with enormous reluctance to the disposal is to seek a reassurance that this will not happen again.”