Key Messages from the ‘Protect the Green Belt’ meeting

Thanks to the Save Reigate’s Green Belt Facebook Group for allowing us to publish their notes from the Green Party hosted Open Meeting, which took place at the Toby Carvery on 21 January.

  • Council position: The council and Crispin Blunt MP unanimously do not want to build on the green belt. The Borough plan has to include potential for building on green belt on the insistence of the Planning Inspector. There has to be a Borough development plan and currently it has to be approved by the Planning Inspector.
  • Growth forecast: The need for development in the Borough, and the basis therefore of the plan, is the projected growth of the population and the trend for fewer people per dwelling. The Borough has been identified as an area of above-average growth due to its excellent communications with the rest of the country and abroad. Reigate and Banstead is thought to need an average of 460 extra homes per year, whereas the average for boroughs in the rest of Surrey is 240 based on the South East Plan. (Not all of them have published their Core Strategies yet so the numbers may change slightly but 240 was the average in the last round of plans.)
  • Core Strategy: The current plan is the third attempt. The first draft included no potential for development on the Green Belt. The council was told that this had to be included. The Planning Inspector advised the council to withdraw the second draft as it was not explicit enough about locations for development on the green belt.
  • The plan is hierarchical in nature. The first areas for development will be urban, followed by any suitable non-urban areas that are not designated as green belt. The final areas to be considered for development will be the areas of green belt identified in the plan.
  • The Green Party believes that many of the assumptions behind the plan can be challenged. Examples cited by the Green Party include the projected growth figures as these form the basis of the plan in the first place; underestimation of the potential to use dwellings above shops and convert unused office space. The parts of the plan that detail walking times were also criticised by the Greens for not taking into account features such as hills, railways and other obstacles in the way of walking routes.
  • National context and political position on Green Belt: Crispin Blunt MP was unable to attend due to Parliament sitting, but sent a message to the meeting. This has already been posted on the SRGB site. In essence, he said that protection of the green belt is his top priority and he intends to raise a commons debate on the subject.
  • The main area for debate centres around the stated desire of Eric Pickles (Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government) and the Prime Minister David Cameron to protect the green belt, and to allow local communities to determine where urban expansion should go. However, the Planning Inspection regime is insisting that councils include provision for green belt development.
  • The point was made that there could be a case for a national campaign to protect the green belt throughout England based on the above apparent conflict of policy.
  • What you can do about it: Suggestions were made to talk to Crispin Blunt MP, to ensure you read the documents, to think about the methodologies used and how the areas of green belt for potential development have come about when forming any objections. Simple “Nimbyism” (e.g. objecting on the basis of it being ‘pretty’ countryside or close to existing homes) will not get anyone anywhere with the inspector.
  • Albert Prince: An environmental scientist, Albert Prince, spoke at length about fighting this sort of Planning Inspection. He stated that he has worked for both sides, i.e. developers as well as councils and objectors and he offered his expertise for free.
  • Prince’s main points were that the residents of the Borough have to attempt to limit the damage and that some development of the green belt may be inevitable. He made the point that the plan uses the phrase “sustainable” yet developing on green belt is by definition unsustainable. He echoed the Green Party’s points about finding flaws in the plan and determining why housing can be created elsewhere than that proposed. Analysis needs to be carried out to determine if the data in the report (such as projected housing need) is valid and the assumptions accurate, as they form the basis of the arguments that have determined the content of the core plan. He made the point that the 1000 pages or so of documents could be condensed to about 40 pages if normal language and conciseness were used. He believes that padding of documents such as this is a common trick used to reduce opposition.
  • Formation of ‘expert’ committee to oppose the plans: Prince suggested that a committee should be formed of people with suitable technical ability to address the issues and analyse the documents effectively. This committee should be responsible for collating all opinions and authoring a document that puts all of the arguments for altering the core plan and minimising the damage to the green belt. He made the point that the apparent lack of decent consultation was a procedural error by the council.
  • Developers and type of housing: Various points were made about developers. Developers are likely to be very active in lobbying the Planning Inspector and have a great deal of experience of doing this. Developers favour green sites over brown as there are no remediation and decontamination costs (in other words, they do not have to clean the site up beforehand). Developers also favour larger properties, with larger profit margins, that would attract commuters and would not be affordable for local residents.
  • Transport: A large influx of families who were commuting to London and outside the Borough would massively increase the already bad peak traffic problem in the Borough and put yet more strain on rail services and other transport facilities. The core plan mentions proximity to bus routes, but commuters likely to be attracted to the area by large scale developments are highly unlikely to use buses to get to railway stations and the M25. (In other words, they are likely to drive). The two areas chosen (east of Redhill and south west of Reigate) are approximately 25 minutes and 35 minutes walk respectively from the rail stations and are poorly served by buses, with no dedicated bus lanes. As such they are likely to exacerbate car-dependence and congestion and are therefore not ‘sustainable’ from a transport point of view. In addition, the council’s road traffic plans to alleviate congestion around Redhill and Reigate do not take into account any projected population and housing increases.
  • Gatwick expansion: The borough is part of a shared strategy with neighbouring boroughs and the Greens suggested that the borough may face the strongest pressure from this. For example, if a second runway were to be built at Gatwick then an estimated 40,000 new jobs would be created and the pressure for large amounts of new housing in Surrey and Sussex would be immense. In contrast it was stated that areas such as Crawley and Croydon have massive brown field site provision which could be used for new housing.
  • Land availability: It was stated by a member of the audience that the land to the West of South Park was substantially owned by a Mrs Kerven who was a staunch environmentalist, despite being married to a property developer. It was stated that Mrs Kerven would be devastated if the land were developed. Councillor Stephen Bramhall (Woodhatch and South Park) was of the opinion that this was a good thing as the plan, while including this land, couldn’t then be implemented if the land owner wouldn’t sell. However the point was made from the audience that developers wanting to build on the site would pay very large sums to acquire the land, and that enough money often changed people’s minds. Compulsory purchase of land was highly unlikely in this context.

Other interesting points to note: There is a national planning framework that is very supportive of green belt.

  • Seven London Boroughs have committed not to build on their Green Belt, so it is worth asking why it is necessary to build on ours.
  • The area highlighted next to Reigate (the focus of the Save Reigate’s Green Belt campaign) has a lot of public access and footpaths/bridleways. These areas of countryside provide amenity to the public, are important for landscape and views as well as wildlife. It is puzzling therefore to find that one of the reasons the area has been identified in the Core Strategy as being suitable for development is because “ The accessibility into the countryside is currently poor, and there are limited areas for sport in the area, development could be used to bring positive impacts to the area in this regard.” (Annexe 5, Core Strategy).
  • It is not appropriate for development to be allowed right up to the boundary of Priory Park.
  • A motion was passed that the meeting opposes the development on any green belt land in the borough of Reigate and Banstead. More information to come from the Green Party.

Sincere thanks to the Green Party for organising the meeting.

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