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East Surrey Green Belt battle goes to Parliament
1:12pm Wednesday 30th January 2013 in News
A battle over the future possibility of hundreds of homes being built on the Green Belt east of Redhill and south-west of Reigate was due to go to Parliament today.
MP for Reigate and Redhill, Crispin Blunt, secured a parliamentary debate in Westminster Hall for this afternoon on the role of the planning inspectorate in developing the Core Strategy of Reigate and Banstead Borough Council. The move came after Reigate and Banstead Borough Council announced last week that after six years of trying to get its Core Strategy approved by a planning inspector, it had been “forced” to propose amendments to the strategy.
The Core Strategy, the council's central planning policy, is essential to the council in that without it being approved, the council would not be able to apply local criteria to future planning applications.
Only the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) would apply, which, the council stated, is less strict than its policy.
In a statement on its website, the borough council said: “The council, and all of its councillors, is extremely reluctant at taking this step, as it has held a position of not contemplating any development on the Green Belt - apart from minor, exceptional cases - for many years.
“However, the planning inspector has stated that such a position is not acceptable, and that the council’s Core Strategy cannot be approved if this position is maintained.”
Under the amendments, the council said that towards the end of the planning period in 2027, some areas of the Green Belt could be reviewed if, at that time, there had not been enough brownfield land to meet local housing needs.
The council stated that after reviewing the whole borough, it had therefore put forward two “broad areas of search” which could be proposed for Green Belt development in future, for 500 to 700 homes each.
These areas are South Park and Woodhatch to the South-west of Reigate, and land east of Redhill and Merstham. Public consultation on the amendments, the responses to which will go straight to the planning inspector, will close this Monday (February 4). The council statement continued: “As local councillors, we have consistently argued for protecting the existing Green Belt, and on this basis have been active in the refusal of a number of planning applications over the years.
“There may indeed be a case to allow development on certain parts of the Green Belt, which are perhaps eyesores.”
But the council continued: “We believe that that should be the council’s decision to make - not forced by an inspector.
“We have expressed our opposition throughout the Core Strategy process, but reluctantly accept that the inspector’s view is against us.”
The council added it had been in talks with Mr Blunt, who had already discussed his concerns about the Green Belt with the Prime Minister last September.
Today, the MP was due to put the planning inspectorate in the firing line in the Parliamentary debate with the planning minister Nicholas Boles.
Mr Blunt, who in 2010 told the annual general meeting of the Federation of Banstead and District Residents Association that he would “die in a ditch to stop new development on Green Belt land,” has previously criticised the planning inspectorate for “subverting local Green Belt policy” by reviewing the Core Strategy and calling for more analysis of options for development, against the borough council's wishes.
Ahead of today's debate, he called the issue “vitally important” and said: “The conduct of the planning inspectorate flies in the face of localism, and I will to put this strongly to the planning minister, whom I expect to answer the debate.”
He said: “I know that none of our borough councillors would countenance the reckless development of our precious Green Belt in the way which has been suggested so I also want assurances from ministers about the limitations on planning inspectors working around people’s elected representatives, whether ministers, MPs or councillors.”
Mr Blunt stressed: “The protection of the Green Belt is, and will remain, my top priority as MP for Reigate, a constituency entirely within London’s metropolitan green belt. “The Government has also made much of its localism agenda, so it is not right that development is foisted upon our community by a central authority because it believes that the council’s plan is not in keeping with prescriptive housing targets.”
He added: “The people who are best placed to respond to any community’s housing or infrastructure needs are its own elected representatives, who are properly enfranchised to judge the merits and demerits of development. “I have absolute confidence in Reigate and Banstead Borough Council to make those judgements locally which is why I oppose this interference.”
Local feeling about the risk of development on the Green Belt is running high.
About 100 residents braved the recent snow to attend a meeting in Redhill hosted by the Green Party.
At the end of the meeting, residents vowed to fight to preserve the Green Belt, passing an almost-unanimous resolution that stated: “This meeting is implacably opposed to any development within the Green Belt in the borough of Reigate and Banstead.” The residents agreed that they would work together to produce a detailed objection to the plans.
Sarah Finch, Green Party borough councillor for Redhill East, said that the borough council's draft Core Strategy, which is currently out for consultation, sets a target of 460 new homes each year over the next 15 years.
She said the council wants to see new housing built in the existing towns and villages first, but had said these 'will not be able to accommodate all the planned housing,’ hence the need to build 'sustainable urban extensions,' with the two areas earmarked for 700 homes each proposed.
Coun Finch said: “Green Belt is really important. It has done a fantastic job of preserving the character of our towns, villages and countryside up until now, and it should be off limits for development.
"We don’t accept the need to keep building ever more houses in the countryside.”
She said: “We do need affordable homes – we need to look at ways of reusing brownfield sites and converting empty buildings like offices into homes. “We don’t need big new estates on the edge of our towns.”
And the Reigate Society, the civic society for Reigate, Redhill and Merstham, has also attacked the amendments.
Society vice chairman Colin Burbidge, said: “As part of the Local Development Framework, the latest Core Strategy document for the borough proposes to achieve its house building target by removing certain peripheral parts of the Green Belt surrounding the urban areas.
“Your society strongly opposes this as a matter of principle, and urges all members to write at once individually to the council registering their objections.”
Gwyther Joyce, chairman of the society's Architecture and Planning, listed five main areas of objection to the proposals, including problems of traffic movement brought about by building on the edge of urban areas.
He said: “Green belt towns such as Reigate and Redhill pre-exist the establishment of the Metropolitan Green Belt. “South London boroughs have already fought and successfully stopped any encroachment on the outer edge of the Green Belt to meet their housing targets. “It is totally anomalous therefore that erosion from within due to encroachment of towns inside the Green Belt should be permitted.”
He said: “The Green Belt was designed to prevent urban sprawl from towns merging, to provide an 'urban lung,' and to preserve the countryside around major cities such as London, Bath and Birmingham. These objectives remain valid today.”
People can view the proposals at the borough council's website at: www.reigate-banstead.gov.uk A form for registering objections is available there too at: http://www.reigate-banstead.gov.uk/planning/planning_policies/local_development_framework/coreexamin/corestrategyexamination/index.asp Alternatively, people can write to: LDF Team, Reigate and Banstead Borough Council, Town Hall, Castlefield Road, Reigate, Surrey RH2 0SH.