CPRE write to Effingham Parish Council

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CPRE (Campaign to Protect  Rural England) wrote about the Council’s intention to extend Settlement Area. (edited)

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We asked CPRE (Campaign to Protect Rural England) if they could write to Effingham Parish Council regarding their intention to extend our village Settlement Area to include part of Effingham Lodge Farm.   With permission the edited response from Kristina Kenworthy LLM, CPRE is reproduced below with various parts underlined and emboldened for ease of reference:

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Any proposal to enlarge the settlement area of the village, by incorporating part of Effingham Lodge Farm, thereby allocating the site for development in the event that the future Local Plan insets the settlement area of Effingham village from the Green Belt, is a function that should not be delegated.

Secondly, there is the questionable logic of putting forward a small site for development when Effingham Lodge Farm is currently part of a highly controversial and, as yet, undecided major planning application in the Green Belt. The screening methodology used to select sites and weight given to the Green Belt policy, appear to run counter to those planning arguments employed by the Parish Council in formulating your formidable objection to the proposals.

Moreover the experience of Bookham Vanguard taught us that decisions to alter the Green Belt boundaries or allocate land for development can not be delegated to a neighbourhood forum or parish council.  Mole Valley DC were advised by the Government that any site allocation could only be carried out as part of the council’s overall review of the Green Belt throughout the district as a whole.

Under the NPPF the boundaries of the Green Belt can only be altered during the local plan process if ‘exceptional circumstances’ are shown to exist. It is not the function of a neighbourhood forum or parish council to preempt the decision that those evidence-based ‘exceptional circumstances’ (objectively assessed housing need) do exist, and, if they do, that they alone justify the release of land from the Green Belt.

It is simply inappropriate and beyond the capacity of Effingham Parish Council to reach any such conclusions by putting forward sites for development at this stage of the local plan process.

Effingham Residents Association wrote to you on 23 July 2015 saying that there was no support for extending the Settlement Area of the village or to building on Effingham Lodge Farm in August 2014. Neighbourhood Plans are all about consensus building and local democracy so we would have thought it unwise to alienate the local residents association at this stage.

Returning to the tactical issues surrounding the Howard of Effingham/Berkeley Homes application, you produced an impressive and cogent set of planning arguments objecting to the development. It will be interesting to see what recommendation the officers make to the planning committee based on the  objections raised and the planning policy.  If this application is voted through by the planning committee it will still have to be referred to the Secretary of State for his decision on whether or not to call-in the application as a departure from the plan. Alternatively if the application is refused it will go to appeal. Any perceived watering-down of  ‘the harm to the Green Belt and any other harm’ arguments will be exploited to the full by the applicants at a public enquiry.  The Green Belt policy must continue to form the backbone of the decision-making process with regard to both planning applications and plan-making for all sites within the parish of Effingham.

Seeking to protect the rest of the site by allocating a small part of it for housing is wishful thinking so long as the landowner has other designs on it.

Overall our view is that allocating sites for development must be viewed as both premature and undesirable and, for the reasons expressed above, beyond the remit of the Parish Council within the current neighbourhood planning process.

We therefore urge you to reconsider your proposal to submit your emerging neighbourhood plan to the Guildford BC for a health check. You will be on record as having recommended sites for development despite their current Green Belt status and for no, in my opinion, discernable advantage.

Editor’s Comment: Inexplicably the Parish Council totally ignored this advice and rightly received, contrary to what their Half Yearly Report would have us believe, a well deserved panning from the Independent Examiner who carried out the Health Check. 

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