Ru­ral ram­blings

Re­cent months have brought a tor­rent of bad news for Sur­rey’s coun­try­side, writes Andy Smith, Sur­rey branch di­rec­tor of the Cam­paign to Pro­tect Ru­ral Eng­land (CPRE)

Surrey Life - - Inside -

See you in court!

De­fend­ing the Sur­rey coun­try­side can be a roller­coaster ride. One week brings a cam­paign suc­cess and the next a set­back. The sum­mer of 2018 has cer­tainly seen mixed for­tunes for our work to keep Eng­land (and par­tic­u­larly Sur­rey) “green and pleas­ant”. After some en­cour­ag­ing noises from gov­ern­ment min­is­ters and lo­cal au­thor­i­ties ear­lier this year about pro­tect­ing the Green Belt, min­is­ters have now hit us with a new na­tional plan­ning frame­work that ac­tu­ally weak­ens the ex­ist­ing pro­tec­tions.

At the same time, Sur­rey coun­cils such as Waver­ley, Guild­ford and Tan­dridge have pressed ahead with lo­cal de­vel­op­ment plans that in­clude large-scale sur­ren­der of Green Belt land to the house­builders. And the green spa­ces set to be con­creted over are not be­ing sac­ri­ficed to meet any gen­uine lo­cal hous­ing needs but merely to gen­er­ate prof­its for de­vel­op­ers and to al­low coun­cils to tick boxes that prove they have met their tar­gets.

The new plan­ning frame­work has been de­scribed by one of my CPRE col­leagues as “a char­ter for spec­u­la­tive de­vel­op­ers” and by an­other as “a be­trayal of pledges to de­fend the Green Belt”. It is hard to com­pre­hend why a gov­ern­ment, many of whose mem­bers sit for Green Belt con­stituen­cies, seems sud­denly so eager to throw away the votes of com­mu­ni­ties that cher­ish their lo­cal coun­try­side. Please write to your MP about this!

Egged on by the gov­ern­ment, Tan­dridge Dis­trict Coun­cil is push­ing for a so-called “gar­den vil­lage” at South God­stone that will com­prise some five thou­sand new houses. This “vil­lage” will ut­terly swamp the neigh­bour­ing vil­lages and put an un­prece­dented strain on lo­cal roads, pub­lic trans­port, schools, hos­pi­tals, GP surg­eries and other al­ready-over­stretched pub­lic services. Lo­cal CPRE cam­paign­ers say it is not a “vil­lage” at all but un­wanted ur­ban sprawl. The bat­tle of Tan­dridge is just hot­ting up!

Mean­while, Waver­ley Bor­ough Coun­cil has adopted a lo­cal plan that means new hous­ing es­tates will be built on Green Belt land, in “coun­try­side beyond the Green Belt”, and even in parts of the Sur­rey Hills Area of Out­stand­ing Nat­u­ral Beauty (AONB). CPRE has re­cently been given per­mis­sion by the High Court to chal­lenge Waver­ley on its ex­ces­sive and un­sus­tain­able hous­ing num­bers, which in­clude a pro­por­tion for “un­met need” from the neigh­bour­ing bor­ough of Wok­ing. The case will go be­fore a judge at the Royal Courts of Jus­tice this month. We are op­ti­mistic.

CPRE played an ac­tive part in the month-long “ex­am­i­na­tion- in-pub­lic” of Guild­ford Bor­ough Coun­cil’s lo­cal plan, which pro­posed thou­sands of houses on five “strate­gic sites” in the Green Belt in­clud­ing Black­well Farm on the Hogs Back. Day after day, CPRE and var­i­ous lo­cal groups in­clud­ing Guild­ford Res­i­dents As­so­ci­a­tion, Guild­ford Green­belt Group and lo­cal par­ish coun­cils set out com­pelling ar­gu­ments against the sur­ren­der of th­ese ru­ral sites to the de­vel­op­ers. Our call was for re­duc­tions in the hous­ing num­bers, and for new homes to be built in or near the town cen­tre. But through­out the ex­am­i­na­tion we were up against an army of lawyers, in­clud­ing lead­ing QCS, re­tained by the boun­cil and the de­vel­op­ers to make the case for build­ing in the coun­try­side rather than, as CPRE ar­gued, in the town.

We have yet to see Guild­ford Coun­cil’s mod­i­fied plan, but in­di­ca­tions are that it is likely to con­tain even higher hous­ing tar­gets and per­haps even more loss of Green Belt coun­try­side to the bull­doz­ers than orig­i­nally en­vis­aged. CPRE will need to take ad­vice on this but once we have seen the re­vised plan we may need to con­sider launch­ing a le­gal chal­lenge against Guild­ford too. We could, soon, be in court against two or more Sur­rey coun­cils. Le­gal ac­tion is, or should be, a last re­sort for cam­paign­ers but the goal posts have been moved so far that we now have a plan­ning sys­tem that in­creas­ingly favours the de­vel­op­ers over lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties. Dis­trict and bor­ough coun­cils are elected to rep­re­sent lo­cal peo­ple – but are they do­ing so? Coun­cil­lors should be stand­ing their ground and de­fend­ing the Green Belt. In­stead, they kow­tow to de­vel­op­ers. In th­ese cir­cum­stances, we have no op­tion but to say to ir­re­spon­si­ble coun­cils: “See you in court!”

‘We could, soon, be in court against two or more Sur­rey coun­cils.’

To sup­port CPRE’S ap­peal to Save Sur­rey Coun­try­side, visit the CPRE Sur­rey web­site and click on do­nate

WITH ANDY SMITH

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