CPRE has published a new map highlighting current threats to London’s Green Belt, which covers 84% of Surrey’s countryside but which is increasingly being “nibbled away”, say the campaigners, by inappropriate development. The map shows nearly 200 sites under threat from development, and proposals for building over 110,000 houses on supposedly “protected” Green Belt land including 41,500 houses in Hertfordshire, 27,000 in Essex, and 20,000 here in Surrey. These include the large housing schemes proposed for Wisley and for Blackwell Farm on the Hogs Back, both included in the latest draft of the Guildford Local Plan.
CPRE Surrey has welcomed the decision by Guildford Borough Council to reject the planning application for a major housing development at Three Farm Meadows, the former Wisley airfield. The vote by councillors follows the recent recommendation by the Borough Council’s planning officers to oppose the application. CPRE Surrey Branch Director Andy Smith said: “CPRE has consistently opposed building on this Green Belt site and we were pleased last month when Guildford Council planning officers recommended refusal of the latest application – and even more delighted to hear tonight that councillors had agreed with their planning officers and had voted to reject the application.
Campaigners are shocked and dismayed by the scale of Green Belt loss proposed in Guildford Borough Council’s revised Local Plan and are accusing the Council of showing “contempt” both for the local countryside and for local people by claiming to defend the Green Belt while at the same time giving up large swathes of it for development. CPRE Surrey director Andy Smith said: “The Council claims to be committed to protecting the countryside and also to have listened to residents’ views on the subject when it came to revising its draft Local Plan – but the revised Plan published this week suggests otherwise. After all the soothing reassurances from the Council about reflecting public concerns and standing up for our cherished Green Belt, we were shocked and dismayed to see in the revised document that the Council is still proposing large-scale release of Green Belt countryside for housing. Altogether the new plan proposes to build some 7,000 houses on land that is currently Green Belt.”
CPRE Surrey has welcomed the decision by Guildford Borough Council to refuse permission for a development by Berkeley Homes of 295 new houses on Green Belt land in Effingham. This significant expansion of Effingham village was conceived as an ‘enabling development’ to finance the expansion of The Howard of Effingham School, but was strongly opposed by CPRE Surrey, Effingham Parish Council and local campaigners who believed it would be an unsustainable and inappropriate development in the Green Belt. They argued that the scheme did not constitute the ‘exceptional circumstances’ required for building on the Green Belt. Guildford council’s planning officers agreed and therefore recommended refusal of the proposal, and on 9 March councillors followed the officers’ recommendation and refused permission for the Berkeley Homes scheme. CPRE Surrey Branch Director Andy Smith said: “This is a great victory for countryside protection and for local democracy. Let us hope it lights the way for more victories by local communities against the power and money of the developers!”
Conservative MP Crispin Blunt and Liberal Democrat councillor Ian Beardsmore highlighted the threats to Surrey’s Green Belt from housing development and airport expansion, at the CPRE meeting held at Dorking Christian Centre on Friday 23rd October. Both speakers expressed concern at decisions increasingly being taken by unrepresentative and unaccountable bodies such as the “local enterprise partnerships” which are pushing forward with economic growth at all costs and finding ways to override environmental considerations. They called for local communities to have more say in where and if development goes ahead.
CPRE Surrey has drawn up its own Manifesto for Surrey highlighting 10 key policies for our county. The emphasis of the Manifesto is on protecting vulnerable countryside and green spaces and promoting local democracy. CPRE hopes that candidates of all parties will be willing to ‘sign up’ to endorse the Manifesto and pledge to defend Surrey’s countryside. Andy Smith, CPRE Surrey branch director, says: “These policies reflect the views of CPRE members and supporters throughout Surrey. We are urging every candidate standing for Surrey constituencies in this year’s General Election, and candidates standing in local council elections too, to sign up to the principles set out in our Manifesto, and to commit themselves to the defence of our countryside and Green Belt.”
Guildford Borough Council’s decision to “reassess” its draft Local Plan has been welcomed by CPRE Surrey. CPRE said that GBC’s policy reversal “reflected overwhelming public opposition to any removal of Green Belt protection from the countryside around Surrey’s villages”. Andy Smith, CPRE Surrey branch director, commented: “We welcome the statement from Guildford council leader Cllr Mansbridge and hope that the council will stand by its new policy and not allow it to be watered down under pressure from developers.”
With a General Election just a few months away, the Campaign to Protect Rural England has issued a Manifesto which sets out the policies it wants the next government to adopt. In its Manifesto, CPRE calls on all political parties to agree policies that will deliver:
* the right housing in the right places
* the right infrastructure for the right reasons
* a beautiful countryside to sustain us all