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Letter: What Are The ‘Exceptional Circumstances’ That Would Justify Altering the Green Belt?

Published on: 31 Jul, 2014
Updated on: 31 Jul, 2014

Green belt land south of GuildfordFrom Ben Paton

Guildford Borough Council’s (GBC) Draft Local Plan is not logical or sound because it does not set out the “exceptional circumstances” on which GBC relies to make the most drastic changes to the property rights of everyone living in the green belt since 1945.

The green belt is intended to be permanent, so the law provides that it can only be changed if exceptional circumstances necessitate the change.

The National Planning Policy Framework states (paragraph 83): “Once established, Green Belt boundaries should only be altered in exceptional circumstances, through the preparation or review of the Local Plan.”

The 2005 UK Government Sustainable Development Strategy paper sets out “Guiding Principles”, one of which is: “Promoting Good Governance: Actively promoting effective, participative systems of governance in all levels of society…”

GBC should justify changing the boundaries of the green belt by setting out the exceptional circumstances on which it relies inside the draft Local Plan. It has not done this.

I made a Freedom of Information request of GBC to discover what exceptional circumstances it is relying on :

‘Please set out the legal advice taken by GBC in full stating a) the author of Appendix 4 of the document [which I quoted – which has almost identical wording to the Topic Paper] b) the author of the cited legal advice c) the substance of the legal advice.’

This was the response: “The council’s solicitor considers that the advice is covered by legal privilege and that failure to disclose would not be a breach of the Code of Conduct.”

What about accountability to the public during a public consultation? This is a matter of public policy affecting the entire borough. This is a matter of public interest. Legal privilege is a flimsy pretext not a serious argument. Why does GBC not want to disclose this? Other councils have disclosed legal opinion. Why won’t GBC?

Many people consider that the ‘public consultation’ is a sham. GBC’s failure to set out and consult upon its case for exceptional circumstances reinforces that impression. It has a public duty to be accountable and transparent about its justifications for the radical changes it proposes, changes which profoundly affect the property rights of everyone living in the green belt.

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Responses to Letter: What Are The ‘Exceptional Circumstances’ That Would Justify Altering the Green Belt?

  1. Jim Allen Reply

    July 31, 2014 at 11:51 pm

    Not that I’m a lawyer but… my understanding is while Guildford Borough Council (GBC) can claim legal privilege they can also waive it; the information belongs to the client not the lawyer.

    If the GBC Executive really want “open government”, as they sometimes claim, this is what they should do.

  2. John Robson Reply

    August 1, 2014 at 9:36 am

    The definition of “exceptional circumstances” will need to be revised and tweaked on an ongoing basis as GBC [Guildford Borough Council] proceeds to dismiss and dismantle every rational, logical and valid argument that is presented. This is what I believe the consultation process was designed to do.

    It was never about consultation, it was about GBC preparing counter arguments to the questions raised prior to going before the planning inspector, getting the ducks in a row, then – bang, bang, bang…..

    “Exceptional circumstances” is now the new Government buzz words of convenience, for housing, fracking, school holidays for kids, etc.

    It will be used as the tool to demolish logic and common sense.

  3. Adrian Atkinson Reply

    August 1, 2014 at 10:11 am

    I couldn’t agree more that the council is on shaky ground.

    They seem to indicate their legal advice is that, in absence of any clear definition, “exceptional” is said to be is “not commonplace”. So if circumstances in Guildford are different from other places then the green belt can be effectively bulldozed at will?

    As far as I’m concerned I, as would any reasonable person on the Clapham omnibus, conclude that the circumstances they describe are not “uncommon” but seem to be faced by all of the boroughs around London, Manchester and Birmingham and other councils, if one looks at planning blogs, court of appeal cases etc.

    Looking at it another way, Guildford has the “not commonplace” privilege of being custodians of such beautiful green belt, AONB, SPA etc and this should be further protected rather than destroyed.

  4. Jules Cranwell Reply

    August 1, 2014 at 3:42 pm

    The council tax payer has paid for this legal opinion. It therefore belongs to us and should be handed over. To hide behind ‘legal privilege’ is shameful, and leads one to believe that such opinion may not exist.

  5. Derek Steadman Reply

    August 3, 2014 at 4:48 pm

    There are no “exceptional circumstances” that would justify altering the green belt around Guildford. In fact, nothing has been put forward that would justify a change.

  6. Roland Lazarus Reply

    August 11, 2014 at 9:26 pm

    The demand for housing is normal and continuous.

    The very exceptional circumstances are the historically low interest rates that make borrowing cheap for speculative developers and mortgage holders alike. When the interest rates return to normal the houses will stop being viable but that may be too late for the green belt.

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