Fringe Box



Letter: Green Belt Campaigners Care About Our Children Too

Published on: 3 Sep, 2014
Updated on: 3 Sep, 2014

Guildford Cathedral from the air 1950sFrom Susan Parker

A letter in response to: Not Building on the Green Belt Is Like Saying Don’t Have Children

I care about my children – and the green belt is absolutely not the only solution to the housing problems faced by this country. In fact, I care about protecting the green belt because I care about my children, and the future that they will face.

The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), which governs local planning, notes that the United Nations General Assembly defines sustainable development as “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” and specifically notes that this means “living within the planet’s environmental limits”.

The ministerial foreword to the NPPF notes that “sustainable means ensuring that better lives for ourselves don’t mean worse lives for future generations”

Cambridge University has made it clear that we need more – not less – agricultural land to produce food as the population increases. We live in a temperate zone, and we have no real water shortage – unlike many of the world’s current “breadbasket” nations which have suffered sequential droughts.

We need – in a time of global warming – to be able to feed more of our people on food grown in this country, not use agricultural land wastefully to build four and five bedroom executive homes to increase profits for house builders.

With a growing population, and a worsening outlook for the world food supply, all our agricultural land is of vital importance.

Our fields, flood plains and forests – whether they are high or low lying – are vital at absorbing water. There has indeed been flooding in Walnut Tree Close and this will affect any design standards, but, unlike much of the green fields targeted for building it is mostly not a floodplain -the areas which are concrete or tarmac do not have the capacity to absorb water to stop water flowing downstream.

There will be run-off from any hard-standing whether it is a three-storey building or a flat car-park. Absorption of water from agricultural land or woodland is vital, and building on the countryside in Surrey will significantly increase urban flooding both in Guildford and in London.

Thames Water produce maps showing the flood risk arising from countryside areas (where building will increase the flood risk); and most of the borough of Guildford is included in those maps. Many sites, including some around Ockham and West Horsley, were also badly flooded last year, and the impact of building on Blackwell Farm would increase flooding in Wood Street Village and many other areas of the borough.

Urban sprawl was resisted, in setting up the green belt, partly because of the need to improve air quality in the urban areas. This need for air quality is still an issue; and our countryside means that Londoners don’t suffer the smogs of urban Los Angeles or Beijing.

I was invited to attend a parliamentary sub-committtee round table discussion yesterday, to discuss the problems within the NPPF and the planning process. It isn’t true to say that government has recognised that green belt development is the only option. On the contrary, the government (in this cross-party sub-committee) has recognised that the NPPF, as it stands, creates perverse structures – that’s why they are looking to revise the NPPF which is a process that will take place during this year, and before our draft plan is brought before an inspector.

Housing that is built currently, on a national basis, is developer-led in order to create developer profits. Developers “land bank” – they hold back supplies of land in order to force local authorities to grant them planning permission. They build at a rate that will ensure profits; and they are not constrained by the affordability ratios, which can be set aside on the grounds of commercial viability.

The housing that developers are choosing to build does not reflect community need, nor does it build affordable housing where communities want that housing; nor does it meet national need.

I am not sure that I would consider RICS [Royal Insititution of Chartered Surveyors] to be impartial – surveyors do tend to have a vested interest in development. Nor would I consider Guildford Borough Council to be a leading expert.

So – yes, I care about my children the children of you the reader, and Mr Knight’s. That’s why I care about the green belt.

Susan Parker is a leading organiser of the Guildford Greenbelt Group (GGG)

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Responses to Letter: Green Belt Campaigners Care About Our Children Too

  1. Pete Knight Reply

    September 3, 2014 at 2:21 pm

    I am sorry but I completely disagree – firstly my comment was ‘don’t have children’. It was nothing to do with caring for them.

    The land we have left in Guildford is limited brownfield capable of only taking apartments. Is this what generations of the future have to accept? Are they not able to live in the lower densities of development of the 1960s – 1980s as many of The Dragon NEWS readers enjoy?

    At the moment we are facing a density crisis as developers scramble over garden plots and subdivide houses. In recent weeks we have seen planning granted for nine flats, following removal of one house, at 78 Epsom Road and an application now exists for for a 14 unit scheme at 80 Epsom Road while, just minutes away, it is proposed to build a three bedroom house in the garden of 11 Albury Road. When will it stop? Perhaps not until we are all looking into each other’s windows?

    Is this what Mrs Parker wants for her children? Character and all the things that make Guildford the great place it is are eroded by over-development.

    I raise the whole Burpham case again with a ten house scheme being approved in the gardens off London Road, a five house scheme approved in Orchard Close, a further scheme off the Raynham Close development (off New Inn Lane) and further schemes like to this to come.

    We need to face facts and come up with viable solutions. At present all I see is, “Let’s build 4,000 flats on Walnut Tree Close in the flood plain”. And can someone advise me where I can buy food grown on these farms, as I doubt it’s feeding Guildford families.

  2. Adrian Atkinson Reply

    September 3, 2014 at 5:02 pm

    I agree, we indeed do need to face facts. Agreed we do need to come up with viable solutions. But we don’t have a quantifiable problem. When we have this then we can face facts of what can and can’t be done physically and legally.

    The problem Mr Knight seems to be avoiding is that we don’t have those facts. We have a dossier with spoof logic, flawed numbers and no demonstrable “exceptional circumstances” required by law to change the green belt boundaries all trying to justify an expansion “trajectory” of the GBC Executive.

    We need correct population numbers, we need to get the university to build the housing on campus it promised the last time we allowed them to develop on the green belt. We need to get them to build sensibly on the land they have for future students rather than fill their site with car-parks (e.g. the accepted recent planning application). And we to then consider the constraints of the borough so we can see the actual problem we have to solve.

    There is nothing in the planning polices to get the houses we need even if we put the green belt up for development.

    The affordable housing policy states:

    “As well as providing and managing affordable housing ourselves, we will work with Registered Providers, developers and landowners to ensure that at least 40 per cent of all new homes built in the borough are affordable housing”

    Note the phrase “work with”, not insist, not mandate, legally bind etc.

    There is more wriggle room in this this plan for developers than a five-bedroom detached wormery. The policy goes on to say:

    “Subject to viability, these affordable homes will be provided: on development sites of at least five homes (gross). On previously developed sites that meet this threshold at least 40 per cent of the homes will be provided as affordable homes. On greenfield sites at least 45 per cent will be provided as affordable homes”

    Not the phrase “Subject to viability”. Never has there been a bigger loop hole for developers to drive their bulldozers through.

    This is where new legislation comes in. There are other loopholes and vague worded policies in the Draft Local Plan the developers will use and currently use to build the houses they want, not the houses the borough needs. The link here reports the growing use of a new act (The Growth and Infrastructure Act 2013) for developers to appeal their affordable housing obligations.

    Indeed lets face facts.

    Finally, can someone advise me on who is going to buy these houses on these farms? I doubt it will be Guildford families.

  3. Jules Cranwell Reply

    September 3, 2014 at 8:44 pm

    Well I have children. Those children aspire to one day live in the countryside, and if possible the greenbelt, if there is any left.

    They will do as I did, start out in cities, in my case, many cities around the world. They will graft, as I did, in the hope that one day they will be able own a piece of natural England to call home.

    They are country folk, and if our borough becomes totally Croydonised, with every square foot built upon, as our council is proposing, they would chose to live elsewhere. They are quite vocal on the matter, and are more likely to emigrate to a country where they have greater respect for their environment, and their countryside.

  4. Chris Hartley Reply

    October 1, 2014 at 9:53 pm

    If there is one thing the GGG [Guildford Greenbelt Group] are good at it is scaremongering.

    Jules Cranwell is worried about no green belt being left for his children. Let’s have a reality check. Guildford Borough Council are proposing to release new sites totalling 1.5% of the 89% greenbelt and they are stating they won’t need to look at releasing any more far beyond 2031.

    Every city was once a green field, things change with time. We all need to move with it.

    Maybe Mr Cranwell should look at Australia; beautiful country, lots of space.

  5. Adrian Atkinson Reply

    October 2, 2014 at 7:08 am

    We all have to face facts. Yet the facts have not been shown let alone proven for the exceptional circumstances to move the green belt.

    Elements of the evidence base are not factual.

    I agree that the only constant in life is change. Australia is an example of a country which has real environmental issues due to economic abuse of that space and its resources. Let’s all face facts.

  6. Susan Parker Reply

    October 2, 2014 at 9:08 am

    GBC are absolutely not saying they won’t release any green belt beyond 2031 – and this isn’t scaremongering. It is a careful and precise reading of the documents.

    Look at the local plan.

    All the land that is “safeguarded” (an appallingly Orwellian term) is being reserved for the next phase of building in 16 years time. It is all being removed from the green belt, and will have a devastating impact on those communities. It will not return to green belt status even if housing needs change; and if other land is not forthcoming, it will get sucked into immediate use.

    The people of Normandy, Wyke, Fairlands and Flexford are very aware of this and that their pretty villages are being joined together in one agglomeration, losing green belt status and high quality agricultural land, just because Guildford won’t plan to build on brownfield land and says it needs to consider where the roads run before it will permit a single derelict factory site elsewhere to become housing.

    I’m sure (of course!) that this pro-development agenda could have nothing whatsoever to do with extra money for the community infrastructure levy or the New Homes Bonus, or extra council tax from large homes (much more than from smaller flats), nor the fact that the house builders who sit on our Local Enterprise Partnership are pushing for higher growth of housebuilding in the area than the government thinks we need.

    I also think that the developers have to account for their land banks of unused land, and undeveloped planning permissions; why are we even considering a single field when developers (including the University of Surrey) have not used the land that they already have?

    We need a housing policy, and a land use policy, that isn’t driven by developers, who have a vested interest.

    It isn’t “just” 1.5%” – I don’t know how Chris Hartley arrives at that statistic – it will be more, especially when you take into account the supporting roads and other infrastructure, and proposed commercial development, and it is just over the next 16 years, with more to follow. This is a deliberate assault on the green belt as a matter of policy, and it needs to be challenged.

    Susan Parker is Chair of the Guildford Greenbelt Group

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