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THE LOCAL PLAN REVIEW AND THE MISCONCEPTIONS ABOUT IT 

Local Plan reduced

 

  From Cllr Karen Randolph:

I was recently contacted by a worried Thames Ditton resident who had been told that 2000 houses are proposed to be built in the Long Ditton Green Belt (including on the much-loved Stokes Field nature reserve) - a development which would be at odds with the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF).

Her understandable concerns are, I'm afraid, the result of misinformation and distortions that have been disseminated about the Local Plan Review. I and other councillors are extremely frustrated when such tactics are used to whip up mob-like hysteria (as seen in the appalling behaviour at a recent public meeting on the review which left several planning officers in tears) about something that the Council has simply put out for consultation. Councillors and the Council know that these proposals and the reasons behind them are very worrying, which is why so much information has been provided on the Council’s website, and why presentations and ‘drop-in’ events are being provided all around the borough.

It is hugely difficult for those of us who have spent so many hours over many months discussing the evidence and looking at possible options when such misinformation and ill-informed assumptions are being presented by people who seem to think that those who prepared the document are intent on ignoring the interests and wishes of local residents. There is NO intention to build a 'massive housing development' of 2000 houses in Long Ditton. The calculations used to come up with that figure are completely erroneous and based on misplaced assumptions. Stokes Field is classified as a Local Nature Reserve, and as such is protected from development, whether or not it is in the Green Belt. THERE IS ABSOLUTELY NO INTENTION TO ALLOW ANY BUILDING CONTRARY TO THE NPPF! The only reason Elmbridge Council is embarking on this exercise in the first place is because Elmbridge’s Core Strategy is deemed to be non-compliant with the NPPF, because it was published in 2011, before the NPPF was introduced in 2012.

If people are concerned about the Council’s position on planning of large developments on Green Belt they only have to look at Planning Application 2016/2217 for a development of over 1000 houses, known as Drake Park, between Walton and Esher, on a large area of Green Belt. This was robustly refused by the Council at a meeting on 21st November 2016. It is likely that the developers will take this to appeal, and one of the main reasons the Council’s decision might be upheld is because we are preparing a revised Local Plan.

The Council has to deal with this issue: the Government insists that the new Local Plan addresses the independently identified need for 9,450 residential units (about the size of Weybridge) between now and 2035. How can this possibly be achieved? If we do nothing, the Government will declare Elmbridge’s current Local Plan policies non-compliant with the NPPF and take over planning decisions, which would mean a free-for-all for developers. As a result (and this has already happened in some areas of the country), all refusals by Elmbridge Council of planning permission, when taken to appeal, would almost inevitably be allowed by the Government’s Planning Inspectorate. Furthermore, in those circumstances the costs will almost inevitably have to be borne by Elmbridge local tax payers by means of higher council tax and/or reduced services. Such applications would be judged only against the NPPF without any reference to any local planning policies or guidelines. If the Council develops a revised Local Plan there will be particular local policies which would have to be applied in addition to those in the NPPF. That is what the current Strategic Options Local Plan consultation is all about.

More than half of Elmbridge is covered by Green Belt and as we know, most of the rest of the area has been increasingly urbanised, many would say to capacity. About 3,500 houses could be probably be built on sites which are known about or allowed for (i.e. sites which have been identified by developers and interested parties, allowance for 'windfall' sites, backland development etc). That leaves a shortfall of around 6,000 (the same number incidentally as the 'affordable' housing which is needed). Where are we going to find the space for all these houses?

Three suggested options are described in the consultation document, i.e. strategic options, NOT sites. It would be useful if the results of the consultation identified other more acceptable options. Of these, the option that leaves the Green Belt entirely untouched involves more intensive development in existing urban areas, i.e. replicating what is going to happen in Kingston and other parts of London, and building upwards. Are we happy to have multi-storey blocks of flats in Thames Ditton, Hinchley Wood etc, altering the character of our area while we leave land designated Green Belt (some of which may not be particularly attractive) untouched? The additional houses will have to go somewhere. The Council are required by the government to review and consider the Green Belt when updating the Local Plan to take account of the increased assessed housing need.

So I would strongly urge residents to study the consultation document. If people do not agree with the recommendations to the proposed adjustments to the Green Belt, the way to object is to respond accordingly to the questions in the consultation. Or, if you don’t want to complete the questionnaire (and it is a rather lengthy document), just write or email with your comments. The Council needs to know about alternative ways of addressing the underlying reason for the Strategic Options review.

I appreciate that there is a plethora of documents, and the information is complex and often confusing. Even though a lot of effort went into the drafting of this document, unfortunately it is obvious that it still contains too much jargon. However the view was taken that not putting all the relevant documents up on the website would have led to accusations of lack of transparency. Nevertheless please do not be taken in by the simplistic messages and scary headlines that are circulating. The Council needs residents' views to formulate a revised Local Plan that will be accepted by the Government; but those who take it upon themselves to disrupt public information meetings and attack Council officers are acting against all our interests. I am as concerned, if not more so, about what happens to this area (otherwise, why would I be a councillor?) and particularly in protecting the Green Belt. But I also know my children and those of many others can’t afford to buy here, even though they might have better jobs and incomes, relatively, than we did when we moved here. I have heard many comments from others who are concerned about the shortages of teachers for their children, the lack of nurses and doctors for the hospitals and GP surgeries, difficulties recruiting ambulance staff, police officers, fire officers etc - all areas where the cost of housing is the major factor. So a balance has to be struck, based on views derived from facts, not distortion and hysteria.

To correct other items of misinformation which are being spread around :-

 •  The Council will NOT be doing any of the building: this consultation is simply the first stage in a process which will adjust local policies to the changed circumstances created by knowledge of increased need. If any Green Belt boundaries are changed (in this area, Local Area 58 on the maps) then the intention is that this will enable the Council to ensure the necessary infrastructure requirements can then be co-ordinated. At present the incremental building on small sites means that there is no leverage to insist that such developments have to have accompanying infrastructure.

 •  If owners of those areas of land which become available for development following any relaxation of Green Belt boundaries do not want it developed, then they don’t have to develop it.

 •  Most of this would not be expected to take place for several years - we are talking about a period up to 2035.

 •  There are no plans for the Council to compulsory purchase and develop any land.

 •  As is clearly spelt out in the consultation, there are a number of constraints to development, not just Green Belt eg. undeveloped flood plain, allotments & playing fields, SSSI’s (Sites of Special Scientific Interest), Open Space and village greens (eg. Giggs Hill Green, The Dell near TD station etc), not to mention graveyards, churches, and many more.

I hope all residents who want to find out more about the consultation are able to attend one or more of the meetings and presentations being held around the borough and find them helpful and constructive.

Cllr Karen Randolph

NOTE:

  • Due to the high level of interest in the Local Plan Review, the presentation by Council officers, which was to have been at the Residents' Association Open Meeting on 31st January, has been moved to the Civic Centre in Esher where a larger number of people can be accommodated. It will now be held on Wednesday 1st February, starting at 8pm.
  • Dates for other meetings can be seen on Elmbridge Council's website :

       http://consult.elmbridge.gov.uk/consult.ti/lpsoc/consultationHome

  • The Consultation period for the Local Plan Review has been extended by two weeks to Friday 24th February.