Development Plan ‘needs improvement’: Aerodrome site saved

Helen Hockenhull, the Planning Inspector appointed to examine Reigate & Banstead Council’s ‘Development Management Plan’, has provided feedback following last year’s hearings. You can read her Post Hearing Advice Note here – it’s the last download on this page.

She said the plan requires major modifications, the most significant of which is to remove the Redhill Aerodrome site (and surrounding area) completely from the Plan.  This is an amazing success for all those who made such a strong case for protecting the precious Green Belt in this area, including us, many residents, and bodies such as the local Parish Councils.

The Aerodrome: What actually happened?

  • The Council proposed Redhill Aerodrome as the place to build more than 4,000 houses (some in Reigate and Banstead and some in Tandridge) from 2026 (without asking residents for their views in an earlier ‘draft’ consultation).
  • There was a massive public outcry, including in the ‘final’ consultation which was sent direct to the Planning Inspector.
  • In May 2018, the new Council Leader said he disagreed with Redhill Aerodrome plans but the Council’s additional submission to the Inspector (made following a formal request by the Green councillors) made no change‎ to this.
  • In October and November 2018, residents, as well as the Green councillors, Steve McKenna and myself, gave evidence at the Hearing that the Aerodrome and wider area should be taken out of the Plan.
  • In January 2019, the Inspector, Helen Hockenhull, wrote to the Council: “I consider there is insufficient evidence to demonstrate the exceptional circumstances required for the Redhill Aerodrome site to be released from the Green Belt and safeguarded for future development at this time. I consider that Policy MLS2 should be deleted from the Plan.”

Councillor-led confusion on what ‘safeguarding’ means

Conservative councillors have repeatedly stated that regardless of what they submitted to the Planning Inspector, they actually had no plans to build on the Green Belt, claiming they had ‘safeguarded’ the land from building housing on – though the Plan was to allow houses on it after 2026. The term ‘safeguarding’ sounds nice but in planning terms it means ‘safeguarded FOR housebuilding’ – the opposite of being protected from it!

As Green Belt, this land is already ‘safeguarded from housebuilding’ anyway! This political doublespeak led to confusion as to what exactly the Plan said. ‎Thankfully the Inspector has ended this confusion and done what the Council never did and required the site to now be taken out of the plan.

Pressure on Redhill’s Green Belt alleviated

The Inspector did not challenge the Council’s plan to build on Green Belt around Redhill. We argued the Green Belt sites were not required if sensible minimum housing densities were included in the plan (as is the case in Reading for example). This would have removed the need for any Green Belt building. The Inspector also said the Council’s priority order for building on Green Belt sites, with Hillsbrow (east of Redhill) near the top, should be removed. The Inspector accepted that the Copyhold site (also east of Redhill) could not be built on in the near future. This means there is no longer pressure to build east of Redhill before anywhere else.

Affordable housing plans weakened

‎On this the Inspector has made things worse. The Council had argued that small housing developments should be required to provide a proportion of affordable housing, as happened in the past. The Inspector agreed that housing was increasingly unaffordable but disagreed that this new policy was needed.

‘Horley Business Park’ (also called Gatwick Airport City) 

The Inspector did not make any changes to the plan for a Horley Business Park, to be built on greenfield land between Gatwick Airport and Horley. Building this business park would mean there is no longer a ‘strategic gap’ (a bit like Green Belt) separating Horley from the Airport. We joined local residents and campaigners to make the case against the business park, but the Inspector has not rejected this aspect of the Plan.

Instead of building massive new employment sites in the South East the government should push for new jobs in Northern cities which, unlike us, have high unemployment. This would better balance the economy across the UK, reducing the demand for the South East to provide extra homes as London’s economy races ahead of many other parts of the UK. (You can read a paper I wrote on this here.)

One last chance to protect Green Belt and insist on truly affordable homes

We have long argued that higher housing densities in the urban areas will remove the need for Green Belt development, and that the Council must make far stronger plans for socially rented homes. Other councils do this. We could too.

The Inspector’s requirement to consult after setting density targets on Green Belt sites should be used as an opportunity to set minimum density targets for ALL sites, and then to remove all Green Belt sites (not just Redhill Aerodrome) from the Plan.

The Council is required to respond to the Inspector by 1 February and then consult on the ‘major modifications’ that she requires. This is our final opportunity to speak up against building on our Green Belt, and to demand genuinely affordable homes that we need front and centre of our Plan. As they should have been when this process started years ago.

 

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