Mole Valley abandons controversial development plan in face of opposition

getSURREY article

Oct 21, 2014 09:54
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The move follows waves of protests against villages losing their green belt status

Councillors voted for the change of plan at a meeting last week

Mole Valley District Council has been forced to abandon a housing plan they have spent two years developing in the face of overwhelming opposition.

Following months of public protests at the prospect of villages across the district being taken out of the green belt, the plan has been pushed aside.

Up to 90 sites were under threat of having their green belt protection removed, with several earmarked for hundreds of new homes.

In a meeting last week, Pippbrook politicians voted in favour of replacing the Housing and Traveller Sites Plan with what is hoped to be an up-to-date and publicly favoured local plan.

Conservative and Liberal Democrat councillors made a joint motion to stop all further progress on the housing and traveller plan and to begin work on a local plan as required by the National Policy Framework.

At the meeting on Tuesday October 14, Councillor James Friend, deputy leader of the council, said: “An awful lot has changed since the Housing and Traveller Site plan process started.

Clear message

“Not only has the estimate of green belt land required for housing reduced by more than half in nine months, but the latest Government guidance now states clearly that green belt boundaries should only be altered in exceptional cases and that housing need, including for traveller sites, does not justify the harm done to the green belt by inappropriate development.

“We want to send a very clear message to our communities, if you need affordable housing in your local area, then champion sites and show us why an exceptional case should be made.

“We want to send a message to developers, intensify your search for brownfield sites, invest in our communities and re-use and recycle land.”

The focus on brownfield sites has been welcomed by many including the Surrey director for Campaign to Protect Rural England, Andy Smith. Mr Smith said: “The statement from Councillor Friend is very welcome especially the plea to developers to locate more brownfield sites for housing.

“But we really need the council to give an absolutely categorical assurance that there will be no shrinking at all of the green belt in Mole Valley and a clear insistence that all the district’s housing requirements will be met on brownfield sites or within existing urban areas.

“It has been stated that green belt will only be used in exceptional circumstances but that was the case in the policy last time and the green belt reassigned was extensive. The protection of the green belt asked for by Government is only strengthened if local councils can take it seriously and I hope Mole Valley will.”

Liberal Democrat Councillor Stephen Cooksey worked alongside Cllr Friend in proposing the motion and believed this allegiance between Liberal Democrats, and the Conservatives was the only option in the best interest of the community.

Cllr Cooksey said: “The situation we were in was that the housing and traveller plan was due to go to be approved next year and we did not want this to happen when there was so much opposition and did not comply with the Government standards, and for another local plan to have to be assessed just months later.

“A lot has changed in the two years we have been discussing the Housing and Traveller Sites Plan and it did become evident it was something unwanted by the local community.

“People are very opposed to the green belt building in the area and that is how we came to this joint decision as the views of the local people must be respected.”

Executive member for planning, Cllr John Norcott said they did not want work carried out on the Housing and Traveller Sites plan to be wasted. “The most appropriate way forward is that work on the Housing and Traveller Sites Plan be halted and should be brought forward and expedited,” he said.

“This will allow the council to prepare a local plan which is fully compliant with the national framework and states how many new homes are needed and how many could be accommodated in Mole Valley without compromising the role and purposes of the green belt.

“Much of what has already been done on this sites plan will be rolled forward, so as not to have been a wasted effort.”