Good news for our Green Belt from CPRE Surrey – Rural Ramblings
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This month, Andy Smith, Surrey branch director of the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), explains why the Government’s recent White Paper on Housing should be warmly welcomed by everyone who loves Surrey’s countryside.
Originally published in Surrey Life magazine April 2017
In February the Government published its long¬awaited White Paper on “Fixing the broken housing market”. Contrary to the rumours circulating ahead of publication that it would propose a further weakening of Green Belt planning restrictions, to satisfy the demands of the developers and their lobbyists, the paper actually trumpeted the Government’s commitment to protecting the Green Belt. It specified that its boundaries – under attack for the last few years by those clamouring for more development land – should only be altered in “exceptional circumstances”, if and when all other options have been exhausted. This is a massive reassurance for all of us in Surrey, who love and cherish our precious countryside and green spaces.
In fact, the developers, who had been circling like vultures over Surrey’s Green Belt, looking for opportunities to swoop down and grab any patch of land that they could get their claws on, will not just have been gravely disappointed by the White Paper; they will almost certainly have been hopping mad to read its recommendations. Whereas they had confidently expected that the Government would give them what they wanted in the paper – a weaker planning system and a wholesale surrender of the Green Belt – the paper aims to stop developers from hoarding land and failing to build. There are far too many sites where developers have already gained planning permission for housing but where they have deliberately dragged their feet and not actually built anything. Under the White Paper, the developers will have to build quickly or they will lose their permission. As Shaun Spiers, the national chief executive of CPRE, has said, “Builders must build, not just sit on land.”
The focus of the White Paper is on development of urban and brownfield (previously developed) sites. This has long been CPRE’s position and it is good to see such an unequivocal “brownfield first” statement from the Government. Local authorities here in Surrey will have to follow this sensible policy. Some are already doing so. It was encouraging, for instance, to hear last year that Mole Valley district council, working on their new draft Local Plan, had put out a “call for sites” to developers and land owners, stipulating that only brownfield and urban sites would be considered for development, not Green Belt or open countryside. This is the sort of approach that other local authorities in Surrey should follow – and it is to be hoped that the Government’s new White Paper, with its brownfield-first policy, will help to shame those councils that have been busily trying to give up Green Belt land for housing in their draft Local Plans. I will name no names at this stage but you know who you are!
The fact is that there are plenty of opportunities to build the new homes that are truly needed in Surrey without building on our Green Belt. The White Paper sets out a strategy to provide the right houses in the right places, rather than just more urban sprawl into the countryside, which is what the developers have been agitating for. The Government has realised that in order to speed up the rate of housebuilding it needs to address the failings of the housing market, rather than just meddling with the planning system. With a focus on meeting genuine local housing needs, achievable housing targets and good-quality design, we can get the homes we need without losing more of Surrey’s precious countryside and green spaces. ?
• For more on the Surrey branch of CPRE, visit cpresurrey.org.uk.
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