Fringe Box



Councils ‘Ignoring’ Powers to Limit Green Belt Development

Published on: 10 May, 2017
Updated on: 10 May, 2017

A view from the Hog’s Back, just west of Guildford, across to the green belt designated Blackwell Farm site.

Councils such as Guildford Borough Council (GBC) are failing to apply planning guidance that is designed to protect the countryside, according to the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE).

The campaign group claim their research shows that, since 2012, 24 councils out of the 62 local authorities for which there is clear data have heeded national policy and established housing targets in approved local plans lower than their OAN (objectively assessed need), with the majority reducing their targets due to environmental or countryside constraints.

According to the CPRE, councils like Guildford, who are choosing not to apply constraints, are setting targets for thousands of houses more than necessary. In GBC’s current draft Local Plan over 7,000 have been included to be built on “strategic sites” within the green belt that makes up 89% of Guildford Borough. The green belt was designed to prevent urban sprawl.

Councils who have adopted plans with lower than OAN figures are nearby Reigate & Banstead South, as well as Chichester and Lewes in Sussex. Reigate & Banstead South and Chichester reduced their targets by 23% and Lewes by 30%. Other local authorities, such as Brighton, Watford, Hastings and Crawley, all in the South-East, have reduced their targets by 50% or more.

CPRE’s planning campaign manager Paul Miner said in a press release: “Government planning rules state that councils should reduce their numbers if faced with significant constraints. A number of councils around the country have done just this. One has to ask, therefore, why the Government is allowing councils to ignore national guidance…”

Miner told The Times: “Reasons include pressure from developers and also the political leadership of the council seeing an opportunity to make quick money from the new homes bonus.”

In the press release he added: “We need to build more genuinely affordable homes. But current rules promote urban sprawl and cause the unnecessary loss of countryside. A more transparent and less damaging method of planning for housing is urgently needed.”

Cllr Susan Parker

Cllr Susan Parker (Send), leader of the Guildford Greenbelt Group at GBC said: “CPRE has shown that it’s possible for councils to build fewer homes than numbers proposed by OAN. Councils can choose this. Unfortunately, our council Executive is committed to building far too many homes, mostly detached homes on green fields.

Their motives may be financial i.e. the “New Homes Bonus”, more council taxes etc).  GGG formed to protect our local countryside– but we’d need more councillors to change policy direction.

“Our borough has 89% Green Belt, and has 44% AONB (Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty).   The countryside beyond the green belt is protected by EU Thames Basin Heath Special Protection Area status.   We do have the power to oppose building on countryside and should use it. All our countryside is precious.

“Central government and local government blame each other, but they are the same, tightly controlled, political party.  Our Tory council is deliberately following central government policy in building everywhere on our green fields.”

Cllr Liz Hogger

Cllr Liz Hogger (Effingham), deputy leader of the Lib Dem Group at Millmead said: “The Conservative government’s approach to planning for housing has been a complete disaster, as CPRE have demonstrated. The Tories seem hell-bent on growth at all costs in the South-East, regardless of the impact on our environment, and threaten dire penalties on councils that struggle to find the land to meet high housing targets.

“In Guildford we want some more housing to meet desperate local need, so that our young people can afford to live here and are not forced to move away from work, family and friends. We do not need excess houses forced on us by central government policy to meet their growth-at-all-costs agenda, eating up our countryside and urban green spaces.

“Lib Dem councillors said from the start of Guildford’s Local Plan process that the OAN housing figure should not be the same as the housing target: it could be reduced if our infrastructure could not cope and to take account of green belt and environmental concerns. CPRE have demonstrated that some councils have been brave enough to do this, but the Conservatives here are pushing on with a high housing target apparently for fear of something worse being imposed on Guildford by a Conservative government.”

Government ministers recently pledged to create a new method for councils to calculate their Objectively Assessed Need. The proposals were expected in early summer, but the general election is believed to have delayed their release. CPRE is calling for a method that better reflects local need, protected countryside and current building rates.

Leaders of the Conservative and Labour groups at GBC were also invited to comment.

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Responses to Councils ‘Ignoring’ Powers to Limit Green Belt Development

  1. Jules Cranwell Reply

    May 10, 2017 at 2:33 pm

    Let’s hope common sense will prevail, and the planning inspector will quickly establish that no constraints have been applied, and that also the OAN figure has been produced using a ‘black box methodology’. This makes it impossible to reproduce, or to scrutinise.

    The GBC Executive appears to believe it can flout all the rules within the NPPF, with no opposition, or scrutiny.

    They should be prepared to be highly scrutinised and will need to explain why they are so hell bent on changing, and destroying, the nature of our countryside and villages.

  2. Colin Cross Reply

    May 11, 2017 at 12:45 am

    It goes even deeper than Jules Cranwell suspects. The root of this travesty lies with GBC’s commissioning of the infamous Pegasus Report “The Greenbelt and Countryside Study” in 2014.

    The deeply flawed and simplistic approach to a highly sensitive and complex subject demonstrated in the report makes it not fit for purpose at all levels and for GBC to have accepted it brings this whole process, as well as the motives of those in charge, into question.

    The NPPF guidelines on the purpose of the green belt were never meant to be an equally scored assessment over their five key objectives because the primary objective has always been to prevent urban sprawl. The rest are merely ancillary to this.

    So to award every site a point for each guideline they are seen to comply with is wholly disingenuous and produces a warped result.

    Colin Cross is the Lib Dem borough councillor for Lovelace

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