STANDING STRONG: Members of CPRE campaigning against the development of Cherkley Court into a golf course in 2013
PROPOSED changes to national planning policy could “weaken” the green belt’s “vital defences” leaving it vulnerable to development.
That is the claim from environmentalists who have hit out at changes being discussed by the Government.
The Department for Communities and Local Government is currently consulting people on possible amendments to the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF).
The NPPF, in particular, outlines protection for building in the green belt, which is permitted only where “special circumstances” can be proven.
Among the amendments proposed is to allow neighbourhood plans, such as those being worked on in Westcott, Bookham and Ashtead to allocate small-scale sites in the green belt, specifically for starter homes.
Despite the housing shortage, the Mole Valley branch of the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) has criticised the Government’s proposals as “an attack” on the green belt.
Andy Smith, the branch’s director, said: “The government appears to have given in to developers’ demands yet again.
“What they want to do is to nibble, nibble, nibble away at the green belt until eventually it’s all gone and they’ll be free to build anywhere they like.
“There’s a different pretext each time the government changes the rules – this time it’s so-called ‘starter homes’ – but the plain fact is this drive for economic growth at any cost means we are losing precious countryside and green spaces that cannot be replaced, and that is a matter of our quality of life.
“Surely our environment is more important than this headlong rush to build and build?”
Local authorities, such as Mole Valley District Council, are currently constrained by rules dictated in the NPPF when considering planning applications within their remit.
The Government launched a public consultation into the current guidelines set out in the document earlier this month.
The consultation was due to finish on January 24 but last week it was announced it would be extended by a month to allow a “more informed debate” on the “significant” policies proposed.
The proposals could give extra powers to villages in the district that are designated as neighbourhood development areas, namely Ashtead, Bookham, Capel, Ockley and Westcott.
All five have begun the process of producing their own Neighbourhood Development Plans (NDP) after the initiative was introduced with the passing of the Localism Act in 2011.
A report prepared for Surrey County Council’s Mole Valley Local Committee earlier this year revealed Bookham has the most advanced NDP – which is expected to be adopted in 2016.