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15-Year-Old Tells Council ‘The Green Belt is Not Yours to Give Away’

Published on: 15 Dec, 2013
Updated on: 16 Dec, 2013
Helen and Alice Jefferies

Helen and Alice Jefferies, mother and daughter who spoke about green belt protection at Guildford Borough Council’s full meeting.

A 15-year-old schoolgirl told the borough council, face to face, at Thursday’s (December 12) full council meeting why protecting the green belt was important to her.

In the first Guildford Borough Council (GBC) meeting to be webcast, Alice Jefferies appeared undaunted as she spoke to the assembled councillors and council officers, as well as 50 members of the public in the gallery. She told them that the green belt was not the councillors’ to give away.

Speaking, she said, as a representative of the next generation and in support of a petition her mother had organised requesting the removal of the Wisley airfield site from the Local Plan documents, Miss Jefferies  hoped to remind councillors that they were the custodians of the countryside and that had been elected to represent their constituents, adding a threat that they would lose their seats in the 2015 election if they did not listen.

She said: “The green belt is not yours to give away… This petition calls for the removal of a large scale development in the green belt from the options in your consultation that ended last month….The only beneficiaries in a large scale development are the developers who are not the electorate.

“In Ockham our lives would be blighted by a huge increase in traffic. The massive disruption of an environmentally sensitive site where huge numbers of protected species live, all because of a well connected … registered developer who has been bending your ear.

“Yes, I too would like an affordable home, most of us would. We are young people.  You may remember being young. I don’t imagine that my expectations are that much different to yours when you were starting out.

“In any case, you haven’t even published any housing requirement…. much of the evidence base is out of date or inaccurate. What kind of example are you setting to my generation?

“I am a scientist. I believe in evidence. I say it is premature to say that you do need to build on the green belt if you haven’t even established a housing number.

“To me it is clear, if you do not withdraw your assumptions that you have to build on the green belt you should be aware that you will definitely not be sitting in these seats after the election in 2015.”

In response to the petition the lead councillor proposed a motion that included: reassurance that no decisions had yet been made on housing numbers, development strategy or strategic sites; an undertaking that the evidence base would be reviewed; agreement that the treatment of villages would be carefully considered; and a statement that government policy would be heeded and green belt boundaries only altered in exceptional circumstances.

Cllr Juneja said that the council had been overwhelmed by the response to the Local Plan consultation and the concern expressed over the green belt. She continued: “The green belt has provided us with a beautiful setting for our town and villages. It is not something we want to destroy. As your representatives we wish to protect it the best we we can going forward. …The proper way [to do that] … is through the Local Plan.

“Central government and the planning inspectorate have made it very clear that they expect us to make every effort possible to find land for new homes. This is required because of our ever-growing population.

“Obviously, we have 89 per cent of the borough covered in the green belt… it may be that we need to release some land but that is not something we have agreed as of today.

“The proper time for this debate is when we have all the material evidence before us in the new year  as we draft the new Local Plan. Officers are analysing the responses we have received from the consultation.

“Planning, I must remind you, is not a referendum.  It is not the case that the number of comments received on a particular matter determines how we will proceed.

“I welcome the petition… it shows how well our democratic systems work, with people having freedom to express their feelings.

The three Conservative borough councillors from the Horsleys, Jenny Wicks, Andrew French and Jen Powell,  were keen to echo Cllr Joneja’s statement that no decisions have yet been taken. They have been much criticised by some green belt campaigners, who feel that they have not been vociferous enough in opposition to any consideration of green belt development.

Cllr Wicks observed that there had been some unfortunate drafting in the consultation documents and that the green belt survey was widely regarded as flawed. It was understandable, she said that Ockham residents were alarmed.

Cllr Liz Hogger, (Lib Dem, Effingham) said: “I have huge sympathy with the views expressed by the petitioners.

“I think that the root problem is that we went out to consultation before we knew what the housing number was going to be, as Miss Jefferies said.

“It is too simplistic to say that everybody misunderstood. Anybody reading that consultation document would naturally fear that the housing number could end up at the high end of the scale, maybe 22,000 houses. They could also fear that all the potential sites might be built on.

“The Liberal Democrat councillors believe that the council should stand firm against any central government pressure for growth at all costs. We should plan for new homes for Guildford town and villages and no more.

“We do need new homes… Sky-high house prices… mean that many young people have little help of ever affording there own home in the borough.

“What we do not need is houses gobbling up our countryside merely to meet an arbitrary growth target dictated by central government.”

She concluded by saying that regarding the Ockham site specifically, existing infrastructure, including roads, could simply not cope with significant expansion. Her speech was one of the few from the councillors that was met with applause from the public.

“The petition organiser Helen Jefferies (mother of Alice) responded after councillors who wished to had spoken. She said: “You don’t have a housing number, you say that there are 2,000 people on the waiting list and following an FOI [Freedom of Information] request I understand that there are 996 houses or homes empty in the borough, of which 450 have been empty for more than six months.

“In this part of the country housing demand is completely infinite. It is not the same thing as need. They are different. Guildford is cheaper than London so this [further demand] will always be the case.

“Higher supply will result in lower prices but lower prices drive higher demand. The more we build, the more we will need to build. This is a circle.”

“I suspect that none of you are aware of the Appeal Court court decision today… which says that housing need is not considered to be ‘very special circumstances’ [sufficient to allow green belt boundaries to be changed].

After the meeting Helen Jefferies said about her daughter: “Alice is 15 years old and attends Tormead School in Guildford.  She is in her GCSE year and hopes to study science at university.

“She has done three public speaking competitions in the past, winning the Guildford round of the Rotary Club’s ‘Youth Speaks’ competition at her first attempt.  She thinks that public speaking is an important life skill and is not phased by it, at all.

“I asked her if she would speak to represent the younger generation mainly because GBC had issued a press statement about affordable housing for young people.

“Alice understands that living in a nice area means that it is expensive and that will be a problem when she’s older but already she finds it hard being a teenager in the countryside because you have to rely on others to ferry you around.

“She thought that councillors needed reminding that young people want to live close to where they work and play which, after all, is why many of us lived in London in our youth and then move out when we have children.

“She’s not too happy that the councillors had not bothered to read the exact wording of the petition or that they were not prepared to add that they would only build on the green belt as a last resort.”

“I started the petition principally because Ockham is a small hamlet of 154 households which has been identified as a potential site for 2175 houses.  We needed the wider population to back our arguments about the former Wisley airfield not being a sustainable site.

“We were also concerned about the proposals in neighbouring villages and the fact that residents were unaware of the consultation process.  By embracing the wider green belt issue we are now a significant force.

“The petition attracted 1149 signatures in the end which I think is the largest petition GBC have had.”

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test 7 Responses to 15-Year-Old Tells Council ‘The Green Belt is Not Yours to Give Away’

  1. Mary Bedforth Reply

    December 16, 2013 at 10:03 am

    Well reported Dragon and well said Alice. She spoke for me on the green belt.

    I watched the webcast. I felt that the council is adrift. Some of their number are meeting Nick Boles, a minister responsible for planning matters in the DCLG, for further determination on the matter.

    His father headed the National Trust for eight years in the late 70s and he has just been quoted:”Under new draft planning guidance, local authorities will be required to take into account house price inflation when planning how many new homes are needed, in addition to using population projections from the Office for National Statistics.”

    He said that areas with soaring house prices were demonstrably not doing enough to ensure that enough new homes were meeting demand.

    Read the Daily Telegraph article here.

    It does not bode well. We will see.

  2. Stuart Thompson Reply

    December 16, 2013 at 5:22 pm

    Is it possible for the Guildford Dragon to clarify whether or not the old Wisley airfield is a brownfield site?

    It sounds like it should be and it certainly looks like one, but the planning law definition is quite complicated and it is not clear to me if it applies in this case.

    I ask this question as your editor has argued eloquently, and to some acclaim, that future developments should be concentrated on such sites.

    • Martin Giles Reply

      December 21, 2013 at 1:22 pm

      Having referred to those knowledgeable on the subject, the definition we have been given is: “Land which is or was occupied by a permanent structure, including the curtilage of the developed land (although it should not be assumed that the whole of the curtilage should be developed) and any associated fixed surface infrastructure. This excludes: land that has been developed for minerals extraction or waste disposal by landfill purposes where provision for restoration has been made through development control procedures; land in built up areas such as private residential gardens, parks and recreation grounds and allotments; and land that was previously developed but where the remains of the permanent structure or fixed surface structure have blended into the landscape in the process of time.

      Regarding the old Wisley airfield site, it is thought that the runway might be considered as previously developed land, and possibly the land where there were previously buildings associated with that use. But such a view could be contentious and subject to challenge.

      Hope this helps. Ed.

  3. Martina Watson Reply

    December 16, 2013 at 7:29 pm

    If “the Liberal Democrat councillors believe that the council should stand firm against any central government pressure for growth at all costs” and really and truly stand firmly against touching our green belt, I might well vote for them.

    Any councillor acting to protect any erosion of the green belt get my vote, come election time. As ever, actions speak louder than any fine words, so we’ll see…

  4. Trevor Harris Reply

    December 16, 2013 at 9:14 pm

    Remember all the Liberal Councellors voted in favour of building 400 new houses on green fields in Ash. I would not trust the liberals on preserving the green belt.

  5. Mark Payne Reply

    December 17, 2013 at 4:12 pm

    I have voted conservative all my life. I voted conservative when they were a good party :-). I voted conservative when they were a bad party :-(.

    Conservatives cannot be trusted with our Greenbelt. I will help vote them out at the next opportunity.

  6. Liz Hogger Reply

    December 20, 2013 at 2:53 pm

    Regarding the planning application for 400 houses in Ash which Mr Harris refers to, he seems to overlook that it was a cross-party decision. In fact nine Conservatives voted in favour of that application, as well as eight Liberal Democrats and one Labour. Two Liberal Democrat councillors voted against, just demonstrating that in Guildford we do not decide planning applications on political grounds. Long may that continue.

    Determining planning applications is a quasi-judicial procedure, and we have to follow current planning rules. The debate about the Local Plan is about setting planning policy which is quite a different thing.

    You can find the principles of the Liberal Democrat approach to the Local Plan and Housing Numbers set out on our website, at http://guildfordld.org.uk/lib-dems-principles-guide-local-plan-housing-numbers/

    Liz Hogger is the Lib Dem borough councillor for Effingham

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