GUIDANCE: Secretary of State Eric Pickles announced stronger protection for the green belt last month
WORK on Mole Valley District Council’s controversial Housing and Traveller Sites Plan has been officially stopped ahead of plans to completely abandon the document
The plan would have proposed the removal of several sites from the green belt as the council sought to find land for more than 1,000 new homes before 2024.
However, new guidelines issued last month by the Government giving greater protection to the green belt have forced the authority to consider scrapping the document.
John Northcott, the council’s portfolio holder for planning, announced his intention to terminate the plan in place of a new document which would meet the requirements of the latest guidance.
He said: “Apart from the tying up of a few loose ends, work on the Housing and Traveller Sites Plan has been stopped.
“It is my intention to recommend that the executive takes the decision to terminate work on the plan when it next meets on December 9 and that intention has been endorsed by the planning policy working group.
“Officers will start shortly to prepare groundwork for a new local plan and this will be subject to approval through the usual channels.”
Councillor Stephen Cooksey (Lib Dem, Dorking South) told the Advertiser the new local plan could specify that sites may only be removed from the green belt with the community’s consent.
Work on the current Housing and Traveller Sites Plan began last year as the council set about reviewing the district’s green belt.
The local authority said it needed to provide land for about 1,100 homes by 2026 to meet targets published in its Core Strategy in 2009.
New guidelines issued by planning minister Nick Boles in April saw that figure slashed to about 600.
The latest Government guidance now states that green belt boundaries should only be altered in “exceptional” cases and that housing targets do not justify the harm done to the green belt.
Andy Smith, director of the Surrey branch of the Campaign to Protect Rural England, said: “While we welcome the lifting of the immediate threat to so many green-belt sites in Mole Valley, we remain concerned that any new housing plan produced by the council over the next few years could include even higher housebuilding targets and even more serious green belt loss than we faced this time around.
“We have repeatedly asked the council for assurances that it will do all in its power to ensure this does not happen, but so far there has been nothing to allay our fears. There are signs that the council is willing to see the green belt nibbled away bit by bit, using the ‘very special circumstances’ clause in the planning guidance.
“So, it is important that everyone who cherishes Mole Valley’s countryside and green spaces should remain vigilant at all times – the danger to the green belt has not gone away. It has merely been postponed.”