The race to take control of City of York Council is entering its final stages, with voters going to the polls on May 1. Over the next few days, Political Reporter Richard Edwards questions leaders of the four largest groups on key York issues. Today, he asks about York's draft Green Belt.

The Questions

Many Huntington residents are furious with the proposals to remove Green Belt land from their community for development. Can you give guarantees that York's draft Green Belt will not be cut back further, ensuring the city's unique rural atmosphere is preserved, and will your party back the university expansion plans?"

The Answers

Steve Galloway,

Liberal Democrats

Housing growth numbers have been dictated by central government. It is not only Huntington residents who are concerned about Labours plans to comply by building on the Green Belt. Liberal Democrats will change the plans by putting a greater emphasis on the use of brownfield land - eg building 3,000 homes behind the railway station.

Liberal Democrats believe in genuine consultation, and we will judge the university's current proposals when residents have had an opportunity express their views. We recognise the importance of the university as a driver for sustaining well-paid jobs. Any expansion must offer tangible improvements for the York community - for example, the first leg of a light rail system.

Mark Hill, Green Party

We question the need for York to expand. We oppose plans for Huntington, where the land is badly drained and not suited for development, but provides valuable habitat for a diverse wildlife that should be protected for future generations. The indecent haste to build will put greater pressure on local roads and make it less likely the development is environmentally sustainable.

University expansion should not go ahead without a public inquiry and impact assessment looking at the overall effect on the city and local residents. We support the inclusion of student accommodation to ease pressure on local housing.

John Galvin, Conservative

The Green Belt proposals as agreed by the council and which will eventually go before a public inquiry are the only way that we can protect many of our villages from further development. The proposals must be robust and defendable; any weakness in the arguments would threaten many of our villages from rapid expansion. However, we cannot provide low-cost family housing in high-density brown field developments. Some green belt has to be sacrificed, as is proposed in the council's submission.

My party supports the university expansion plans in principle, as we must not lose sight of the fact that the university has brought huge benefits to York and will continue to do so.

Dave Merrett, Labour

Labour's Green Belt proposals, once agreed, will protect York's rural setting for 20 to 25 years - longer if the York Central development behind the station goes ahead. But York Central faces enormous start-up costs (access, transport arrangements, decontamination), and it's far from certain to happen. Liberal Democrat proposals risk York's future employment, housing supply and Green Belt permanence. They'd build high-rise apartments, axe four future housing sites suitable for family housing, and rely completely on York Central, against officers' continuing professional advice and what they'd previously agreed. Labour supports the university's expansion plans in principle as vital to York's future.

Updated: 10:10 Wednesday, April 23, 2003