Last week it was confirmed that work on the controversial document – which would have proposed the removal of several sites from the green belt to help the council find land for more than 1,000 new homes by 2024 – had stopped, with the council expected to formally axe the plan at its meeting on December 9.
But it has now been claimed by the council’s portfolio holder for planning, John Northcott, that he had voiced concerns about the document in the summer of this year and that Communities Secretary Eric Pickles’ announcement about a change in national planning policy acted merely as the “trigger” to ditch the plan, which was expected to be presented early next year.
Mr Northcott said: “We would have been doing this anyway. We’re bringing this [new] plan forward by about a year and this will address the number of new homes, but also the issue of jobs and infrastructure while safeguarding the environment of Mole Valley.
“[Eric Pickles’ announcement] was a trigger to some extent but I had been questioning in late summer or autumn whether we should be continuing with this plan.”
Officers had been working on the Housing and Traveller Sites Plan since last year as part of a green belt review as the council identified a number of sites – about 90 in total – which could be released to developers to meet housing targets.
The initial target, published in the 2009 Core Strategy, was for about 1,100 new homes by 2026. Guidelines issued by planning minister Nick Boles in March saw that figure cut to around 600.
The latest guidance says green belt boundaries should only be altered in “exceptional” cases and that housing targets do not justify harm to the green belt. At a press briefing at Pippbrook on Monday, Mr Northcott (Independent, Ashtead Common) and members of the council’s planning department said they were unable to confirm how much money had been spent compiling the soon-to-be-abandoned document.
But they said research conducted during the consultation would be reused as officers start work on a new Local Plan to meet the requirements of the National Planning Policy Framework. The new plan is expected to take up to three years to complete.
Mr Northcott also moved to quash concerns that developers could come into Mole Valley and “cherry pick” sites with the council having no definitive policy.
He said: “At the moment we’re not releasing any green land for development. That doesn’t mean to say developers can’t come forward.”