Fringe Box



Comment: Why Did We Lose Green Belt, And What Can We Do About It?

Published on: 16 Oct, 2020
Updated on: 17 Oct, 2020

Fiona Curtis, in her October 13 letter We Protect Green Belt, Say Tories, As 20,000 Hectares Surrendered To Developers referred to the government report that revealed Guildford contributed almost 50 per cent of all English green belt land surrendered for possible development in 2019/20.

The “Statistical Release” from the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government gives “National Statistics on estimates of the area of land designated as green belt in England as at March 31, 2020” and shows a breakdown of the decrease in green belt between March 31, 2019 and March 31, 2020.

The table included in the report listing Guildford with other local authorities that had their green belt reduced in 2019/20.

The report says: “Guildford contributed 46% [1,470 hectares] of this change alone, with a reduction in its green belt of 6%. The resignation came into force with the controversial adoption of Guildford’s Local Plan in May 2019, days before a borough council election.”

The national picture.

We asked local political parties:

  • What do you think this says about the Local Plan, the planning policy and the planning system under which it was drawn up?
  • Is it inevitable that Guildford borough, which was 89% green belt, needed to contribute more to take its fair share of planned housing development?
  • Even if you want to, is it simply too late to do anything?

Cllr Paul Spooner

Former Conservative GBC leader Paul Spooner (now Conservative ‘independent’), who oversaw adoption of the Local Plan said: “While the period presented is statistically correct, it is for a one-year period where few authorities passing Local Plans involving site allocations and green belt had villages that were still ‘washed over’.

“A significant proportion of the green belt removed in the local plan when adopted in April 2019 involved the process (as directed under government guidelines) of insetting villages rather than ‘washing over’ areas of previous development.

“This is because the developed villages did not fulfil the criteria of contributing to the openness of the green belt. This has the advantage for residents in areas inset allowing extensions and additional small-scale outbuildings without the exceptional circumstances test being required.

“It would be interesting to see the 15-year statistics and the splits between washed over and insetting over the extended period. The previous 15-year period would show no reduction in Guildford green belt whereas the same cannot be said for many other local authorities.

“The Conservative administration cared deeply about green belt and green field sites and locally in Ash South and Tongham we were devastated by the effect of the removal of ‘Countryside beyond the greenbelt’ protection and the effect of that is clear to see in my area of the borough.

“The statistics should also be taken in the context of the accepted need for housing in the borough. As of today and through to the end of the plan period in 2034 we have 83.5% of the borough classified as green belt and further protection for the green field sites outside the green belt that are left after the damaging period in Ash South and Tongham.

“A significant proportion of green belt protected by the Conservative administration was AONB and we did our utmost to protect highly sensitive areas of green belt in a situation where very many landowners were offering us their land for development, many in totally unacceptable sites in areas of outstanding beauty and these were rejected and development protected against them through the adopted Local Plan.

“The only way to protect the biodiversity and openness we all appreciate in our borough is through the Local Plan process and I make no apology for putting that protection in place as soon as we were able to do so in a legal and appropriate way.

“The focus should be on protection and enhancement of our environment for existing and new residents and continuing the drive for reversing the effects of climate change and sustainability of our wonderful borough.”

Cllr Joss Bigmore

New council leader Joss Bigmore (R4GV, Christchurch), said: “This report shows other local authorities were able to meet their housing numbers with a much lower impact on their green belt.

“To be fair, I think we should only be looking at Lichfield, Rugby, Rushcliffe and Wycombe where there seems to be a similar level of green belt but even compared to them Guildford is a significant outlier.

“I will never understand the political choices made by the Conservatives in the site allocations of the Local Plan. They were in power from 2003 till 2019 but consistently ignored the opportunities for urban regeneration in favour of unsustainable sites in the countryside.

“It’s wrong to think we could meet our housing targets without any encroachment into the green belt but the impact on our countryside from this inherited Plan was avoidable.

“Like it or not we have an adopted Plan. GBC took new counsel who could find no issues with the adoption process and three judicial reviews failed.

“The new Planning White Paper or a formal review may give an opportunity to redress some balance but the recent reports indicate housing numbers will go up, therefore any benefits may come at the cost of having to find even more sites.

“There is an enormous amount of uncertainty in the planning system but if there is a way to improve this Plan we will find it.”

Cllr Ramsey Nagaty

Ramsey Nagaty, leader of the Guildford Greenbelt Group said: “The Local Plan must be reviewed and the green belt protected.

“GGG have long expressed concerns at all stages of the Local Plan development. The green belt study was skewed to achieve the result they wanted. At each stage we were told now is not the time to object only later to be told too late to change.

“At each stage, time constraint was given as the reason to press on and agree that stage of the Plan. Adoption of the Plan during the ‘purdah’ period running up to the local elections was wrong.

“That an authority has a high percentage of green belt does not automatically mean a larger amount is required to meet the housing need because constraints can legally be applied in respect of transport, flooding and green belt.

“Woking successfully applied constraints due to their 50% green belt. Guildford, despite our raising the question at every opportunity, neither requested nor applied them.

“The notion that the more you have, the more you are expected to lose appears to contradict the underlying premise of the green belt which is to prevent urban sprawl (thus encouraging urban renewal). The Metropolitan green belt around London is the size it is to protect the Home Counties from being swallowed by London, not just in terms of sprawl but also the impact of pollution, such as light, noise and air.

“GBC argued the Local Plan removes 5.5% (6% is rounded-up figure) of which 4% are the villages inset from the green belt in the Local Plan and was not earmarked for specific development. I find this hard to swallow as many sites are earmarked for development within villages taken out of the green belt.

“Discussions held within GBC indicated climate change and the introduction of the Local Plan during the purdah period were, along with other reasons, possible options to change the Local Plan.

“And the Plan clearly states: ‘infrastructure first’. Despite GBC transport officials indicating to the planning inspector that A3 improvements could be deliverable, no supporting evidence was provided and the statement was not in line with the statement from Highways England.

“So either the Local Plan should be strictly followed, and sites for which infrastructure is not available should be mothballed, or a new revised updated Local Plan should be adopted taking into consideration climate change and constraints.

“A reason given for the extra 4,000 homes (actually looking more like 6,000 by GGG calculations) was that some sites would not be delivered.

“We must protect the green belt. It is supposed to have permanency. Once lost, it is lost for ever.”

Brian Creese

Brian Creese chair of the Guildford Labour Party, said: “The green belt was created by a Labour government with the intention of preventing ribbon development and urban sprawl at a time when the population was smaller and housing more plentiful.

“While it has successfully benefited people on the fringes of large towns and cities, it has left our town centres short of green spaces for residents to enjoy, something all too evident during the lockdown.

“We also note that the green belt was never intended to protect the view of a small number of wealthy homeowners nor to prevent new houses being built for local communities.

“Guildford Labour therefore welcome a wider approach to greening our town centres and ensuring new developments are carbon-neutral, built within substantial green spaces and sympathetically integrated with existing communities.

“We do not support developments that lack adequate infrastructure or have a negative impact on adjacent communities. We all need a bit of green belt in our lives, not just a tight band of land around London.”

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Responses to Comment: Why Did We Lose Green Belt, And What Can We Do About It?

  1. Jules Cranwell Reply

    October 16, 2020 at 3:16 pm

    I can’t believe the bare-faced nerve of Cllr Spooner claiming his Local Plan was devised to protect our green belt, given the enormous damage the plan has done to it.

    He says “the developed villages did not fulfil the criteria of contributing to the openness of the green belt”. This is because the green belt and sustainability studies were a joke, and created to prove a pre-determined outcome.

    I doubt we will ever know the motivations for this ruinous plan, but it won’t prevent some of us continuing to try and find out.

  2. Katharine Paulson Reply

    October 16, 2020 at 3:56 pm

    What Mr Creese fails to recognise is that green belt is land that is, more often than not, agricultural land. It is worth pointing out that today (October 16)is World Food Day. Most of the world is in extreme food poverty and food security is a real issue and here in the UK there is a specific a section in the Agriculture Bill 2019-21.

    The UK had its worst harvest this year since the 1980s; soil quality is real concern If we relied on the amount of food the UK produces we would run out of food in August, yet the Local Plan seeks to knock out forever over 100 hectares of best quality.

    Does Guildford Borough Council (GBC) really think it a wise move, in the long-term, to build on what is left of its good quality agricultural land, that could be part of a viable agricultural enterprise just outside London?

    Have they learnt nothing from Covid-19?

    Housing allocation should be relocated to potentially empty commercial retail space, failing high streets, and empty care homes, not on good quality hectares of the best and most versatile land which should be kept for the production of food.

  3. Ben Paton Reply

    October 18, 2020 at 7:36 pm

    Much of the land around Ockham that was designated as green belt after WW2 was purchased before and during the war.

    Ockham and Wisley Commons immediately north of Three Farms Meadow was consolidated by Surrey County Council over a number of years from 1936. London County Council contributed to the cost of buying Ockham Common and on January 2, 1940 LCC and Surrey County Council entered into a Deed of Covenant under the Green Belt (London & Home Counties) Act 1938 whereby SCC declared Ockham Common to be part of the Metropolitan Green Belt.

    In 1959, Sir Cyril Black, former MP for Wimbledon and an Alderman of SCC, personally purchased Wisley Common and donated it to SCC.
    Brian Creese is wrong to try to give all the credit for creating the green belt to the Labour Party.

    The green belt is our collective heritage and it is a shame that the Labour Party in Guildford was so ineffective at protecting it from a clique of local Conservative politicians in the Guildford Local Plan process.

  4. Vicky Thornton Reply

    November 19, 2020 at 3:06 pm

    I am not sure how Cllr Spooner’s words: “The focus should be on protection and enhancement of our environment for existing and new residents and continuing the drive for reversing the effects of climate change and sustainability of our wonderful borough” fit with the fact that there are six significant planning applications likely to be granted for the area within a three-mile radius of East Horsley

    They are:

    20 The Street / 23 Dwellings (52 Car parking places)
    Lollesworth Field / 110 Dwellings (possibly 220 vehicles)
    Manor Farm / 139 dwellings (possibly 278 vehicles)
    Waterloo Farm / 120 dwellings (possibly 240 vehicles)
    Howard of Effingham / 295 dwellings with a possible further 55 (probably 700 vehicles)
    Wisley Airfield / 2,500 dwellings (possibly 5,000 vehicles)

    The above add up to 3,242 dwellings with a possible 6,484 vehicles.

    Taking into account that in the 2011 census, East Horsley only had 1,343 dwellings with possibly 2,686 vehicles

    How will the current infrastructure in the three-mile radius of East Horsley cope with these new developments?

    I don’t think Cllr Spooner’s comment: “The focus should be on protection and enhancement of our environment for existing and new residents,” reflects what is likely to happen in the Horsley area.

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