Policy shift by Guildford Borough Council follows new guidance from the Secretary of State insisting protection of green belt ‘must be paramount’
A policy U-turn by Guildford Borough Council (GBC) may lift the threat to villages at risk of losing their green belt status in Guildford’s local plan.
Council leader Stephen Mansbridge announced that the green belt will be considered as a ‘stronger constraint’ in the local plan process, following the release of new government guidance on the issue.
The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Eric Pickles, issued new guidance on green belt protection on Monday (October 6), after growing increasingly concerned about the way local councils are willing to use the land to meet housing targets.
Guildford’s draft local plan includes a number of proposals to build on the green belt to meet housing targets, assessed by the council currently to be 652 new homes each year.
Mr Pickles said: “This government has been very clear that when planning for new buildings, protecting our precious green belt must be paramount.
“Local people don’t want to lose their countryside to urban sprawl, or see the vital green lungs around their towns and cities lost to unnecessary development.
“Today’s guidance will ensure councils can meet their housing needs by prioritising brownfield sites, and fortify the green belt in their area.”
At a full GBC meeting on Tuesday night (October 7), Cllr Mansbridge referred to the new guidance, when addressing a petition calling for lower housing numbers in the Send area.
“I think it is important to understand that we are guided by government,” he said, describing a ‘shift in the wind’.
“This is a fluid process but in the local plan process we will put to the test using the green belt as a greater constraint than we have so far.”
Cllr Mansbridge went on to say that infrastructure will be tested as a greater constraint also.
“I hope you will take some heart from this,” he said.
Responses to the local plan’s draft consultation will continue to be collated and analysed in the coming weeks.
Cllr Mansbridge said it was hoped that a new consultation would be launched in June or July next year, followed by a pre-submission consultation in October.
The new local plan is expected to be submitted in 2016.
One of the Send petitioners, Douglas French, said after the council voted against the petition: “Cllr Mansbridge was verbally trying to backtrack.
“Eric Pickles made his comments at the weekend and here we are on Tuesday evening and Cllr Mansbridge’s comments do not reflect the response that was written.”
Susan Parker from Guildford Greenbelt Guardians (GGG) said: “We cautiously welcome these comments, but unless we have cast-iron evidence of real change, there has to be the presumption that nothing is really going to change.
“Unless we see something before the election next year, we have to presume that nothing is going to change and we’ll go back to square one.”
Despite Cllr Mansbridge’s remarks, the council concluded that it could not consider Send’s petition in isolation.
“There are issues that are matters of conflicting and competing views among the local and wider community,” read its formal response.
“The council has a duty to take all such considerations properly into account, and balance the differing needs and views of people.”