DOZENS gathered outside the town hall last night in protest of the council “silencing” efforts to protect the countryside.

They made their feelings known to Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham who was greeted with a hostile reception from the Bury Folk Keep It Green campaigners.

He stepped out of his car to address the angry crowd who were chanting “shame on you” and calling him a “traitor”.

The protest was sparked by a series of controversial decisions by Bury Council including the removal of the campaign group’s petition from its website.

James Mason said he counted around 170 people outside the town hall at one point and thinks there may have been more.

He said: “We feel we are being silenced. It’s crossed over to a democratic issue.”

An e-petition opposing the city-region’s masterplan which would see thousands of homes being built on Bury’s green belt was taken down from the council’s website with staff citing pre-election rules as the reason.

This followed the borough solicitor’s decision last week not to allow the Conservatives to put forward a motion about the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework (GMSF) at last night’s council meeting.

Mr Mason said: “It’s probably the biggest issue that Bury has faced in quite a long time and we are just being silenced.”

Bury Times:

He was grateful for Mr Burnham speaking to the hostile crowd during their protest and offering to meet leaders of the group.

The mayor, who was at the town hall to discuss changes to the fire and rescue service, told protestors that the housing numbers proposed in the GMSF are as low as they can be.

He said: “My aim has been to reduce it as much as I possibly can but if you look at what the government are saying, they are saying I’ve gone too low. The minister has said that in the house only this week. So, if I could reduce it further, I would. But I’m under pressure.”

The revised draft of the controversial masterplan proposes building 201,000 homes across Greater Manchester with 9,500 of them allocated in Bury.

This means the net loss to green belt land has been cut by 40 per cent since the original draft, but 12 per cent of the borough’s protected beauty spots would still be released if the new plans go ahead.

Conservative councillors stood with protestors before the council meeting began, choosing to boycott the annual photograph of all elected members.

READ MORE: Politicians banned from making political comments at 'farce' council meeting

Tory leader James Daly paid tribute to the organisers and all those who attended.

He said: “The protest not only was part of the fight to protect our green belt but was a statement in support of those who felt this crucial issue should have been debated by their locally elected representatives.”

Bury Times:

Council leader Rishi Shori praised the protestors for their peaceful behaviour despite emotions running high.

He said: “From my perspective it was good to see members of the campaign group expressing their right to peaceful process in relation to what is a very controversial issue.

“I would like to thank members of Bury Folk for the manner in which they conducted themselves outside the council meeting and in the chambers during the council meeting.

“We will be actively analysing the results of the consultation and as I said last night, I have already begun engaging with the planning inspector to look at how we can mitigate the impact on green belt land."

A council spokesman said: "In the period immediately before an election or referendum, the council has to deal with petitions differently. This is because the council is subject to legal restrictions which apply to the use of council facilities, resources and publicity during this period. This is to ensure that the council is not using public money to influence the outcome of the election.

“The matter of the draft Greater Manchester Spatial Framework is a politically contentious issue. Accordingly, while we can accept the petition, a revised timescale will apply and the petition will not go on to the council website until after the local elections (which take place on May 2). It was purely due to an administrative oversight that resulted in the petition going on our website briefly.

“The petitioner has asked for the petition to run on our website for six months, so there will be plenty of time for anyone to sign it if they wish.”