So Eric Pickles has decreed that for five families to remain permanently in a field between the cemetery and the River Lane football ground will cause "substantial harm" to the Green Belt.
This is the same Eric Pickles that last November refused to call in the decision of MVDC to allow the development of a luxury hotel complete with spa, health club, restaurants, golf course with clubhouse and an underground delivery depot. This issue was not, he said, of national importance and should be considered locally. I assume also he does not consider this significant development, with the loss of 200 acres of chalk grass land, will cause substantial harm to the Green Belt.
Consider the piece of Green Belt where the five families currently live. It is bounded by the cemetery, the River Mole, River Lane and Randalls Road. On the other side of River Lane is the Leatherhead Youth FC ground, and beyond that we have the Leatherhead Community Recycling Centre and Transfer Station. It is not, I suggest, your typical Green Belt land and I find it difficult to see how the five families are causing "substantial harm" by being there.
Indeed, with pressure being put on MVDC from central government to look again at the Green Belt for sections where housing might be built, this is surely one of the sites that is likely to be re-designated. Maybe that is the reason the five traveller families cause "substantial harm"; it prevents a developer putting housing there. Nor, if the Council are considering moving people from allotments they have tended for more than forty years, is it at all surprising that they will evict families who have been in a place for a mere thirteen years, even though the families have integrated into the local community.
There appears to be one rule for developers and another for ordinary families.
I am also minded that although Keith Taylor, the Green MEP for Surrey and the South East, urged Eric Pickles to call in the Cherkley Court planning application, it was Sir Paul Beresford, our Westminster MP for Mole Valley, who urged Mr Pickles not to call in the application; it was the same Sir Beresford who, on the other hand, urged Mr Pickles to call in the Randalls Road travellers’ site application.
Let the Barnett Wood Lane allotment holders not be in any doubt; Mr Pickles’ decision concerning the Randalls Road travellers’ site does not mean the Green Belt by Junction 9 is safe from developers – far from it!