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!”
CPRE Surrey has welcomed the decision to classify Barnett Wood Lane Allotments in Leatherhead as an Asset of Community Value (ACV). Branch Director Andy Smith said: “We were among the many organisations and individuals who wrote to support the application for ACV status and we are delighted to hear that the application has been successful. We hope that the classification will not be challenged by the Council or developers through an appeal, and that they will accept that the Allotments deserve to be protected. It is interesting that over a hundred letters were sent into the Planning Department supporting the application and only one, from the Council itself, opposing it! It is clear that the community cherishes this important local amenity.”
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.”
Mole Valley council’s announcement that it will focus new housing development towards urban areas and away from the Green Belt should be an example to other local councils around Surrey, according to CPRE. Andy Smith, director of CPRE Surrey, said: “We welcome the news that MVDC has halted its Green Belt review and that it will instead focus on meeting the vast majority of the district’s housing needs through the re-development of brownfield sites. This shift in MVDC’s approach, which removes the immediate threat to Green Belt land around Leatherhead, Dorking and the villages, is clearly a reflection of the change in tone of Government policy, as well as reflecting the overwhelming local opposition here in the district to any loss of Green Belt protection.”
The Surrey Branch of the Campaign to Protect Rural England has welcomed the new planning guidance issued by the Government which seeks to strengthen Green Belt protection within the planning system. Andy Smith, CPRE Surrey branch director, said: “The announcement of new planning guidance by the Communities Secretary, Eric Pickles, indicates that the Government is keen to toughen the rules against development on Green Belt land. This is good news, as the guidance should, if properly followed by local authorities, make it more difficult for developers, and those within councils who support ‘economic growth at any price’, to grab Green Belt countryside and build on it.
CPRE Surrey has given a “cautious welcome” to comments by the Planning Minister on the role and importance of the Green Belt. In a letter to Sir Michael Pitt, Chief Executive of the Planning Inspectorate, the Minister for Planning, Nick Boles, emphasises that under the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) Green Belt boundaries may only be altered “in exceptional circumstances” and reminds the Inspectorate that reviews of Green Belt boundaries should only be undertaken where a local council “has chosen that path” and should not be imposed on a district by Inspectors. The letter expresses concern at the wording of the recent Inspector’s report on the Reigate and Banstead Local Plan which, the Minister says, “invited misinterpretation of government policy and misunderstanding about the local authority’s role”.
Mole Valley District Council needs to make more long-term provision for brownfield sites and for ‘windfall’ development opportunities than it has allowed for in its draft Housing and Traveller Sites Plan. That is the view of the Surrey Branch of the Campaign to Protect Rural England. CPRE Surrey has been studying the sites plan issued by MVDC and has concluded that many of the sites put forward as options for housing development are “inappropriate” and should be removed entirely from the Plan. It adds that it believes the Council has been “misleading” and “unbalanced” in its interpretation of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) especially with regard to allowing for windfall sites in its housing supply figures. Whilst accepting that MVDC is required by Government to conduct a Green Belt review as part of the formulation of its Housing Sites Plan, CPRE argues that the Council – together with other local authorities throughout Surrey – should be more robust in opposing “excessively high, unrealistic and unsustainable housing figures”. CPRE believes that “Surrey is full” and that district councils such as Mole Valley should be concentrating on meeting “genuine local housing need” and not seeking to accommodate thousands of incomers from outside Surrey. There should be no question of “sacrificing Green Belt to meet market demand”, says CPRE.