Fringe Box



Opinion: One Per Cent of Green Belt – Is It a Price Worth Paying?

Published on: 10 May, 2014
Updated on: 10 May, 2014
Green belt land south of Guildford

Green belt land south of Guildford.

By Martin Giles

There is no doubt that those working on our Local Plan are facing some difficult problems. Central to the conundrum is how to balance the pressure for growth and preservation of the green belt.

Eagle Radio should be applauded for hosting a forum to allow a public debate of the issues this week. The event did further inform those present on the problems even if disagreement on the best way forward remains.

One member of the audience said that he had heard that to provide space for the necessary housing only one per cent of the green belt need be given up. Surely, he concluded, just one per cent is a price worth paying.

But it is not as simple as that. Firstly, what happens once we have given up that one per cent?  Will we have solved the problem? Will there be no more demographic or economic pressure for further growth? It seems unlikely without some major changes to national policies.

Secondly, where is the electoral mandate for this? Jules Cranwell, who leads the Keep the Horsleys in the Green Belt campaign, asked why Conservative councillors were reneging on promises given at the last borough council elections. The answer that it was simply because of a change in government policy without further explanation seemed a bit lame and Conservative voters at the last general election are not likely to have supported a build on the green belt policy either.

Do our councillors have no backbone to protest to the government? There is little sign of it. Sometimes they seem to act as a government agency rather than our local representatives upwards.

While the council says some green belt development is inescapable in order to meet government housing targets we were told last that: “The Secretary of State [Eric Pickles, Local Government and Communities]…considers that the single issue of unmet demand, whether for traveller sites or for conventional housing, is unlikely to outweigh harm to the green belt and other harm to constitute the very special circumstances justifying inappropriate development in the green belt.” Who are we meant to believe?

And thirdly, if, as seems likely, the pressure to build is irresistible just how will we choose the one per cent we are going to sacrifice? Of course, there are parts of the green belt that have less amenity value than others but one proposal, from the University of Surrey, would be to build on the slopes of the Hog’s Back, on a site which includes land that has been designated an area of outstanding natural beauty.

We should all want our local university to be successful but not at any price and it is on record as saying it wanted no more green belt land after its last planning proposal in 2003. Surely with all its intellectual ability it must understand that every time it break its word, or behaves more like a business than an academic institution, its credibility will be damaged.

There was one note of optimism though, Sarah Creedy, the lead councillor for housing and social welfare, continued to show her sure-footed ability and her social conscience. A conscience shared, I believe, by most of her fellow councillors, across the political spectrum.

The fact that Guildford has begun again to deliver social housing projects is a good thing. Unfortunately, it cannot provide a complete answer; demand for housing appears inexorable. But it must surely be right to provide homes for those who can’t afford to buy or rent. And, given the current law, rules and regulations, it is probably the only housing sector in which local people can be given some priority.

One forum attendee said that the council should stop passing the buck to the government. I disagree. I think the council should point out even more clearly where their hands are tied by government policy. The housing target for Guildford is, for instance, not set in Guildford.

Voters should know who decides what so that they can vote accordingly at the various elections that will be held over the next year. So, whether you think that one per cent of green belt is a price worth paying or not, bear it in mind when local politicians next ask for your vote.

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Responses to Opinion: One Per Cent of Green Belt – Is It a Price Worth Paying?

  1. Bernard Parke Reply

    May 10, 2014 at 11:45 am

    Does anyone actually think it would stop at just one per cent?

  2. Susan Parker Reply

    May 11, 2014 at 11:53 am

    This is a very good summary of the situation. I completely agree people need to decide democratically about what they want for the area and the country.

    But I have 3 comments:

    First, it is the local council who decide the housing target for Guildford. Both the basic analysis and the final decision about the housing number is the responsibility of the local councillors. They vote for the number as part of approving the Local Plan. It is then vetted by inspectors as part of the local plan process.

    GBC have to calculate this according to government rules, but the SHMA (Strategic Housing Market Assessment) is commissioned and approved by GBC. All the local groups (Guildford Greenbelt Group, Guildford Vision Group, Guildford Society, Guildford Residents’ Association, CPRE, Save Hog’s Back) agree that it is wrong (according to those government rules) and gives too high a number.

    The number is wrong for various technical reasons (using five year trends rather than ten year trends, inflated because of a one-off blip in student numbers etc). Even the independent consultants that the council consulted can only give it “an amber light”. So the councillors need to do their homework again on the housing target.

    Second, the SHMA number that is generated by the consultants is then supposed to be subject to constraints. The SHMA gives a number of 650. The government has told planning inspectors that green belt is a valid constraint on the number so it should go down. But GBC is using the SHMA baseline number of 650 before any constraints which they are allowed and expected to apply. Did GBC forget, or are they deliberately trying to make it higher? Ask your councillors to ask the council officers, how do you plead, stupid or deceitful?

    Third, I absolutely agree that we need affordable homes – but I’m not sure that the Council will really deliver here, it may just be a mechanism to persuade people of a high housing number. Sarah Creedy is indeed very eloquent on this matter. It is a good thing that GBC are proposing 40% affordable housing as an element of developments, and at times 45%. BUT be warned – this could just be a fig leaf to get the public on side.

    Look at the Local Plan draft:—Appendix-2-Draft-Local-Planpdf/pdf/pdf214_1.pdf
    and look at page 33 and the top of p 34, where it says “where developers demonstrate..this..would not be economically viable.. we will vary the mix.. (e.g. less rented housing) [or] reduce the overall number of affordable homes”. So once sites are allocated, that affordable housing number is just an aspiration, worth as much as any politician’s promise.

    Remember that this Council was elected on a clear mandate of protecting the Green Belt, on the strength that 322 homes per year were the maximum that the borough could support. And now look at the proposals.

    Susan Parker is chair of the Guildford Greenbelt Group

  3. Lisa Wright Reply

    May 11, 2014 at 4:24 pm

    I would love to see regeneration of brownfield sites, those grotty corners of town that are currently hidden away. My two teenage children would like to live in town, next to the railway, pubs and restaurants but the young adults I know all live in shared housing 5/6 of them under one roof with shared kitchens, bathrooms and sitting areas for around £350pcm. It’s the norm for Guildford as we have a lack of flats to buy or rent.

    However, even with all this discussion and document producing, we all know that at the end of the day, GBC will give planning permission, probably on green belt, to the sites that create the most money for GBC. It will consist of huge 3-,4-,5-bed executive housing with tree-lined streets and lovely green space (SANG). It is also likely that the affordable housing element (Who decides what price an affordable house is?), will be hidden away somewhere else.

    Come on, we’re not idiots, we know what makes the world go around.

  4. Harry Eve Reply

    May 12, 2014 at 12:04 pm

    According to the draft Local Plan it is twice as bad as this. GBC plan to remove nearly five square kilometres of green belt or, as they put it – 2%.
    If you convert this into tarmac and head north you could extend the A246 all the way to Newcastle – but only if you can get past the traffic lights in Effingham first.

  5. Peter Elliott Reply

    May 13, 2014 at 9:51 am

    I note that people are still talking about Government pressure to build more houses despite Nick Boles’s repeated statements that ” this government does not set top-down housing targets on local authorities”.

  6. Janette Panton (on behalf of F.L.A.G.) Reply

    May 13, 2014 at 1:31 pm

    1% of the green belt is NOT a price worth paying. If Guildford Borough Council were to reduce their yearly house numbers to a more realistic figure then the green belt could be saved from development. 650 per year is unacceptable and unnecessary to meet local need. It is time for ALL of our elected Councillors to stand up and be counted, represent the wishes of their electorate and refuse to accept such high housing numbers.

  7. Ben Paton Reply

    May 16, 2014 at 7:27 pm

    This Executive is solely and exclusively responsible for this unwarranted attack on the green belt. They try to blame central government. But no specific examples are ever given. By contrast, green belt campaigners quote chapter and verse from Nick Bolles and local MPs to show that it is not in fact central government that ties the council’s hands.
    The quality of debate is derisory. Half the facts adduced are either wrong or irrelevant. The arguments presented are so illogical as to demonstrate irrationality.
    The statement in the article above ‘The housing target for Guildford is, for instance, not set in Guildford.’is simply not true. The SHMA forms the evidence base and councillors decide on the number.
    1% of the green belt sounds like nothing. But only 16% of the country is covered by green belt. So 1% of 16% is 6% of the total.

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