In 1954 Elvis Presley had his first hit record - and York started creating a new Local Plan to shape future development.

Before long the Soviet Union put the first satellite into orbit. The Berlin Wall went up. A heart was transplanted.

Credit cards appeared. Humans walked on the Moon. The UK joined the Common Market. Barcodes. Oven chips. Home computers became a thing. Keyhole surgery. Debit cards. Mobile phones. The Berlin Wall came down again. The Internet. Photoshop. Nintendo. Harry Potter. Smart phones. COVID.

… and still York is waiting to adopt a Local Plan. Sixty-seven years later!

So what’s going on? Why has York been unable to agree a plan and why does it matter?

Local Plans sound dry as dust to most of us, boring bureaucratic documents that belong in a filing cabinet alongside a list of how many shades of beige exist in a perfect universe.

In reality, our lack of a Local Plan is one of the biggest challenges facing our city.

That’s because a Local Plan is like a wardrobe. Imagine you have a pile of clothes you want to hang up and tidy away. Without a wardrobe and a bunch of coat hangers all you have is a floordrobe. As many a student will testify.

If we want to define how houses are built, how renewable energy should be incorporated into every new building, how care must be taken to protect the natural world, how developers should contribute to ensuring we have decent public transport and cycle routes, how the future can be delivered while protecting our history and so on, then we need what are called Special Planning Documents (SPDs). They are the coat hangers on which the city can hang its ambitions for a better York and they need a wardrobe.

Sixty per cent of all York’s carbon emissions are related to energy use and energy loss in buildings. A Local Energy SPD could include a map of the low carbon energy potential of the whole of York - from renewable energy to geothermal energy - then require developers to demonstrate they were making best use of local energy to power the buildings in their application, if they want to secure planning approval.

Another SPD could, for example, require all new-build homes to be built to passive house standard to cut carbon emissions and save owners a fortune in heating bills; or set out rules to protect wildlife and the natural world.

So what is the obstacle? It is political. But let’s not blame any one party; this has gone on for decades.

York is a weird place: power switches between parties in ways that are unusual in the UK. York has been run by Labour, Conservatives, Lib Dems, and combinations of the above. At the moment York has a Lib Dem / Green administration.

The parties have squabbled over how many homes should be built, and where they should go: 867 a year? Or 996? Back and forth like ping pong. Like the medieval arguments about how many angels could sit on a pin.

To coin a phrase, we have been going round the houses. For generations. One councillor has sat on the Local Plan Working Group for 15 years and there are, no doubt, council officers who have spent their entire working lives trying to fix this.

Meanwhile, national governments have come and gone, rules have changed, bureaucracy has stalled and restarted, and never reached a destination.

So why now? Because, in the first six months of 2022, there is just a chance that this purgatory might finally come to an end. If all the politicians - councillors and MPs and Government - park their differences long enough to adopt a plan.

Once we have the wardrobe we can create the SPDs that will hang in it, and thereby enable the city to act decisively on tackling climate change.

As a city councillor I know that ALL councillors want to see York deliver a zero carbon future. So please let us all – MPs and councillors - make it our pledge for 2022 that we will, by hook or by crook, get this draft Local Plan over the line. The draft isn’t perfect, nothing ever is, but let’s stop counting how many shades of beige exist in Purgatory and instead empower future administrations to shape our wonderful city’s climate action future.

  • Christian Vassie is the Liberal Democrat city councillor for Wheldrake and chair of the council’s climate change scrutiny committee.