Kelly wants to 'root out' Nimbys - now, though, it turns out she is one

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Indy Politics

Ruth Kelly faced fresh embarrassment as she was branded a hypocrite for denouncing Nimbyism while opposing a series of housing developments in her constituency.

Local planners said Ms Kelly, the new Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, was a regular campaigner against new housing in her Bolton West constituency, despite saying she wanted to "root out" the not-in-my-backyard attitude of householders.

She had campaigned against at least nine housing developments in Bolton. Last week she backed a campaign to block plans by a housing association for eight two and three-bedroom houses in the Deane area of Bolton.

The criticism came a day after Ms Kelly was attacked by gay rights campaigners after refusing to say whether she believed homosexuality was a sin. On Tuesday Ms Kelly said she wanted to end the culture of householders being "protective of their own space" and objecting to social housing. She said she wanted to change "the social culture in this country where too often the case has been that people have been protective of their own space and not wanted to see more affordable housing being built. That is something we need to root out."

Other plans attacked by Ms Kelly included proposals for 65 houses on a former hospital site, and plans for 30, one- and two-bedroom flats in Heaton.

She also sided with residents opposing a plan to build 600 homes in Westhoughton, in 2000, telling her local paper: "Clearly the developers have seen the strength of opposition against their plans."

Ms Kelly praised the failure of a 1999 scheme for a separate 1,100-home estate nearby, saying it was "a victory for people power". She said: "We must savour this sweet victory over developers." Ms Kelly also spoke out against plans to sell off land at a railway station in 1998.

Yesterday the chairman of Bolton Metropolitan Council's planning committee, Margaret Rothwell, said she laughed when she heard Ms Kelly herald her crackdown on Nimbys.

She said: "It is not just big housing developments, it could also be something quite small. You get a number of objections to it, and they write to Ruth Kelly. She has always sided with the objectors. You could hear me guffaw. There are posh bits of Bolton West that will protect their own space."

Alan Rushton, leader of Bolton Council's Tory group, said: "Her behaviour is a bit rich. She was representing her electorate's views but she will have to change that point of view now. I would like to see her reaction to a similar proposal now.

"If she makes the case and says, 'I got it all wrong, I want housing everywhere now', I think she would face a few fireworks in Bolton."

Caroline Spelman, the shadow Communities Secretary, said: "This is breathtaking hypocrisy from a minister who has repeatedly opposed development in her own constituency yet is happy to steamroller people's objections elsewhere."

Andrew Stunell, the Liberal Democrat Communities spokesman, said: "Ruth Kelly must learn that grand gestures won't solve the problem of hundreds of thousands of people with nowhere to live, and a generation priced out of the property ladder."

A spokeswoman for Ms Kelly said: "Ruth Kelly said it was a personal priority for her to provide more affordable homes and to change the attitudes of people who were opposed to new houses being built.

"But this doesn't mean accepting every development which is put forward. New developments need to be high quality and well designed with good infrastructure and public spaces.

"It is perfectly legitimate for an MP to reflect constituents' concerns when they do not feel new housing fits these criteria."