Council refuses to endorse Green Belt petition

Green Belt and the potential threats to it in the Council’s draft Core Strategy have been a hot topic this year.

People are very concerned that areas of countryside next to Redhill and Reigate could be earmarked for housing development in the next 15 years.

1258 people have signed a petition calling on the Council “to halt plans for development on green belt land within the borough” – and the petition was debated at last night’s Council meeting.

This offered the Council a welcome chance to act, given that our Head of Policy Development and Executive Member for Planning are able to make changes to the draft Core Strategy before or during the hearings with the government Planning Inspector, which start on May 14.

Housing targets

Why does the Core Strategy include provisos to build in the Green Belt at all?

It’s complicated and hinges on the housing targets we have to meet and the land we have to allocate to build them on.  The yearly target is 460 which is derived from a combination of sources but is based on the target in the ‘South East Plan’, a policy dating from the Labour Government which set housing targets for boroughs in the South East.

However the situation has changed since the Core Strategy was written as the Government has now revoked the South East Plan.

Now the Plan is consigned to history, there is no obligation to meet the high targets it contained. And as everyone, from the Prime Minister down, keeps telling us, in these days of ‘Localism’, local authorities are free to make their own plans, so long as they accord with new government policy, which is now enshrined in the new National Planning Policy Framework.

While there’s a lot to criticise in the NPPF, it does include strong statements in protection of Green Belt and we feel this adds to the already strong case for Reigate & Banstead setting a lower housing target, which can be met without any need to build on the Green Belt, ever.

Defence of Green Belt

Ian, who had started the petition, gave an eloquent speech, clearly stating the reasons why Green Belt was created in the first place (I was interested to learn that it is a Biblical concept, which I didn’t know before).

He also pointed out that basing our plans on projected 18% population growth in 15 years was hardly necessary given population trends – let alone sustainable.

Then it was the turn of Councillors to speak.

Four options

The Council’s Head of Policy Development had written a report which listed four options open to the Council.  She recommended that we vote for Option 1:  ‘note’ the petition and refer it to the Planning Inspector who is due to examine our Core Strategy in May.

We thought that merely ‘noting’ the petition was weak and just passing it to the Inspector was passing the buck to a person with no interest in reducing housing numbers and no priority to protect the Green Belt over providing housing.

We preferred Option 2: ‘Support the request of the petitioners’ and wanted to urge everyone to vote for that instead.

This was an opportunity for the Council to signal to planning heads that we want the housing targets revised downward and references to building on the Green Belt deleted.

However we were advised that this was not possible.

Due to the Council’s constitution, we could only amend the recommendation, not recommend something different entirely.  So we proposed amending the wording in Option 1, mainly changing the word ‘notes’ to ‘endorses’.

Cllr Essex gave an impassioned speech in support of the amendment, which I seconded.

However, despite speeches declaring how committed they were to defending Green Belt, and expressing hopes that building on the Green Belt would never be necessary as enough sites would be found in the urban areas to accommodate all the housing planned, Conservative and other non-Green Councillors were unwilling to endorse the petition.

The Inspector’s call

It’s all in the hands of the Inspector now.

We know that developers aplenty will attend the hearings, urging the Inspector to allow housing development here, there and everywhere.

We trust that the Inspector will ‘note’ the strongly expressed desire of 1258 of our residents not to allow building on the Green Belt, not now and not ever.

 

Read more:

Read Cllr Essex’s speech here

Here’s a blog I wrote earlier which explains what’s at stake

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