Core Strategy: challenging the Housing Minister’s ‘Empty Rhetoric’

This letter from Cllr Jonathan Essex was in the Surrey Mirror this week.

To the Editor,

A recent letter “Green Belt: Time Council Came Clean” discussed who should take the blame for Reigate and Banstead Council’s new Local Plan, which would allow house building on our Green Belt.

The letter challenged the Council’s claim to be at the mercy of the Planning Inspector and the Developers, both insisting on high housing numbers. This claim was recently called into question when the Housing Minister announced in a letter to the Planning Inspectorate that Councils are in charge of planning and Green Belt protection for their own areas.

Housing Minister’s empty rhetoric

The Housing Minister’s letter is empty rhetoric – the Government still requires the Council to meet housing need, and has strict rules as to how that need is assessed.

Unless the Government Minister gives assurance that we can reduce our housing target (already considerably lower than the figure we “need” according to the government’s algorithms), the Council rightly fears that amending the plan would mean reopening the consultation process and again facing the ranks of developers arguing for more house-building in the Green Belt, not less.

Despite our Conservative MP’s cloak-and-dagger meetings with the Planning Minister (and promise to “die in a ditch” to protect the Green Belt), he supported and voted for the new national planning policy that is causing all these problems.

More affordable homes needed

So, is there an alternative? The Green Party has repeatedly argued that our Local Plan should have a lower housing target, focused on providing more affordable homes for local people instead of expensive homes for London commuters.

And this is possible. The council could increase its affordable housing target, and make sure these targets are met by ensuring that public land is retained rather than given to developers. It could support new Housing Cooperatives, like the Churches Together groups formed across London when housing was similarly expensive in the 1960’s. Instead the Council has cut its affordable housing target by a third.

Call for a clear process 

To achieve a plan that reflects our residents’ needs and wishes, the Housing Minister must follow up his fine words with a clear process that helps our Council amend the plan without having to go back to square one. Surely a government that wants to cut red tape should be in favour of simple guidance that avoids prolonging the current consultation.

So who should ‘come clean’ for the current mess? The Council for their failure to prioritise affordable housing, the Coalition Government who pushed through the new national planning policy framework, and all the MPs who voted for it.

The situation can be resolved, but only if all parties take action to do so.

Jonathan Essex
Cllr for Redhill East

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