CPRE Lead Fight to Save the Green Belt

The Leatherhead Residents’ Association is an affilliate of the of Campaign for the Protection Rural England (CPRE).  Those who fear for the survival of the Green Belt will be heartened by the information we gathered at the 8th April AGM of the LRA.  One of three speakers, Andy Smith, Surrey Branch Director of the CPRE, offered the following passionate statement of the organisation’s views.  
After some introductory quotes about the purpose of the Green Belt.  Andy informed us that the Green Belt is not safe due to Government-imposed housing targets, and general attitude that ‘Planning is an obstacle’ to economic growth.  
He then continued: 
…Which brings me to the very specific challenge of Mole Valley Council’s Green Belt Boundary review. In CPRE we fully recognise the pressures that Mole Valley is under and the need for the council to undertake a GB boundary review. We have, like the LRA, participated in the consultation on GB boundaries and made our views known.
In summary we are extremely concerned at the prospect of Green Belt loss. We have argued in our submission to MVDC that in seeking to meet local housing need a greater effort should be made to identify brownfield sites across the district, vacant properties, especially accommodation above shops, ‘windfalls’ and change of use from commercial to residential. 
And ONLY consider taking Green Belt as a very last resort if and when all other possibilities have been exhausted.  We are NOT convinced that brownfield development opportunities have been sufficiently investigated and included in MVDC’s calculations. 
We believe that the council should be more imaginative and proactive in seeking development scope within the urban areas. 
In our submission to MVDC we have made clear that our concern that land holdings by the Council could influence planning policy because of financial pressures. This would be unacceptable. The Green Belt review should be completely objective, without outside pressure, including from other council departments.
It is clear to us that the GB fields along Barnett Wood Lane are at risk now because Mole Valley council wishes to ‘package up’ the Barnett Wood Lane Allotments – which are JUST outside the Green Belt – together with Merton College’s land holdings, which are IN it, so that the complete package can be developed. And, as we’ve heard tonight from John Howarth, the nightmare vision of a retail park, which would be catastrophic, both for the local environment and for the life of the local community and the economic viability of the town centre.
CPRE is totally against the loss of the Barnet Wood Lane allotments – a vital amenity for the people of North Leatherhead – and the removal from the GB of the adjacent fields. We are opposed to the development of this area WHATEVER the developers want to put there. These are vital green spaces and should remain so. 
As I stated at the outset, one of the major aims of the Green Belt from the start has been to prevent urban sprawl and town-merging. This is what the fields at Barnett Wood Lane do.
I was horrified to see the response from an Ashtead councillor, the leader of MVDC as it happens, when I made a comment along these lines in the local press recently. His reply was that the M25 provides the buffer between L’head and Ashtead merging, so green spaces are therefore not needed! 
It seems that some of our elected representatives are happy to see a GREY Belt instead of a Green Belt! 
Call me old-fashioned but surely it is countryside that stops towns joining not concrete! 
We have also been concerned about the exclusion from the Mole Valley Green Belt review of Ashtead and Bookham due to the fact that these communities are developing their own Neighbourhood Plans. How is it possible to take an objective view of the Green Belt in Mole Valley in its entirety if large areas of the GB are excluded from the review? How for instance is it possible to look at the role of the GB around L’head without considering the entire Green Belt between Ashtead and L’head, and between Bookham and L’head?
We also believe that a truly objective Green Belt review, far from seeing green spaces surrendered to development, would lead to a justified
EXTENSION of the Green Belt, especially in the south of the district where there is countryside and open space not currently protected.
 We want MORE Green Belt as a result of this boundary review, not less! 
In addition there is the fact that Natural England and the Surrey Hills AONB board are currently undertaking a review of the boundaries of the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and indications are that the AONB will be growing as a result. This is something that CPRE strongly supports and we have been pressing for for some time.
One of the areas that we hope will be brought entirely within the AONB is Cherkley Court. It is currently an Area of Great Landscape Value but not fully AONB. It is, as we all know, Green Belt – but that has not protected it from TWICE facing the threat of a golf and leisure development, and this time, due to what we believe to have been a fundamentally flawed decision-making process at MVDC, being seemingly unable to resist the threat. 
The quality of the landscape, wildflower meadows and farmland at Cherkley is such that CPRE believes it is right to seek to resist the development even now, after the council has granted planning permission. And that is why we have thrown our full weight behind the local action group, the Cherkley Campaign, in its legal challenge to the council over the decision to grant permission for the development.
And let us not forget that Mole Valley’s development control committee gave this permission DESPITE the advice of the council’s own planning officers who strongly recommended refusal, and despite the strong opposition of not just CPRE but the National Trust and numerous local and national nature conservation bodies. The fact that MVDC voted the Cherkley golf course development through amply illustrates the danger that we in Surrey face from a lack of willingness on the part of our elected representatives to stand up for our countryside and green spaces. 
The drive for economic growth at all costs, unrealistic and unsustainable housing targets, pressures from developers, and a lack of political WILL at
both local and national level – these all mean that the threat to our Green Belt and countryside has never been greater. 
We have recently launched a special CPRE campaign to SAVE SURREY’S COUNTRYSIDE. We are being backed in this by the local press. I hope that you will all support this campaign. 
The thrust of the campaign is that we in Surrey cannot continually accommodate new development, especially when other parts of the UK that are in need of economic regeneration are still being neglected. Here in Surrey we are already over-developed, our roads are congested; we haven’t enough schools, hospitals, public transport – all these public services are chronically overstretched.
 More development will just pile the pressures on. And we will lose what is
most valuable and precious about Surrey – our remaining countryside and
green spaces.
The message should be: SURREY IS FULL.
We are holding a public meeting at Dorking Halls on Saturday 18 May to
articulate this message. All are welcome. I hope you will come along.
We need to get our councillors, of all parties, to stand with us on this.
So – thank you once again for inviting me here tonight. The LRA is doing
excellent work – and long may it continue. And I was heartened to see the
robust statement in this week’s local press, reiterating the LRA’s firm belief in
defending the Green Belt.
In conclusion… Surrey’s green spaces are precious. They are worth defending.
Once gone, they are gone forever.
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