Friday, 17 April 2015

Green Belt Question to Basildon Council

This is the response to my public question to Cllr Ricahrd Moore at the Basildon Council neeting 16th April 2015. The transcript is as follows:

Gibbs: Basildon Council's draft local plan sought to build 16,000 new homes in the borough based on their Objectively Assessed Need. At the last council meeting we heard that this number will be revised, but Council Leader Phil Turner said in relation to the proposed Dunton Garden Suburb development that he would be interested if anybody could say how we can get so many homes without using the green belt. The National Planning Policy Guidance clarifies that assessing need is just the first stage in developing a local plan. It explains that in the Strategic Housing Land Availability Assessment, the local authority can take account of any constraints such as Green Belt and infrastructure which indicate that development should be restricted. Why then does Basildon Council not use the green belt as a constraint in this way to reduce their housing target to the point where green belt does not need to be built on or re-designated in a green belt review?

Moore: The National Planning Practice Guidance was in fact issued by the government last summer some six months after the council published its local plan Core Srategy Rivised Preferred Options Report for public consultation. Whilst it does not have the same status as the national Planning Policy Framework - it is just guidance, and not policy - the council however will need to consider it when formulating the next version of its local plan which it aims to bring back to cabinet and council by the end of this year.

Gibbs: I thank Councillor Moore for that answer. Although the PPG was introduced later these measures were really already in the NPPF. In fact, where it says that one of the NPPF’s core planning principles is to meet the objectively assessed need for housing. There are two things that it says unless, and one of these is unless there are constraints that can restrict meeting that need, and there is a footnote that says that green belt is one of those possible constraints. So these things were already in the NPPF and the PPG didn’t really add much to it so my question then is since they have now said that they will look back at that does it mean that we will now see the constrain being used in Basildon?

Moore: Planning Practice Guidance actually states that local planning authorities with green belts in their area should establish green belt boundaries in their local plans which set the framework for green belt settlement policy. Once established green belt boundaries should only be altered in exceptional circumstances through the preparation or review of the local plan, so it is only through the local plan that green belt can be revised, and specifically in the case of Basildon we have had advice from the planning inspectorate, if you take the case of Little Chalvedon Hall, I quote the planning inspector who says “in order to meet housing need, it is likely that Basildon Council will have to release land from the green belt.” Other cases such as Leeds City Council have also have the same situation where the planning inspector recommended that to meet Leeds’ housing requirement it is anticipated that some land will need to be taken out of the green belt. So we will be reviewing that in the next iteration of the local plan, but I have to emphasise that the government policy seems to be driven to the extent of releasing some green belt land to support your objectively assessed need for housing.

The quote about Little Chalvedon Hall came from a planning application appeal and can be found here (paragraph 11). This was just an (ambiguous) opinion from an inspector and does not count for much since it was not said in the context of a proposed local plan. The reference to the Leeds Plan can be found here with the relevant quote from a modification to page 44. In this case the statement that "some land will need to be taken out of the green belt" was actually in the original plan as written by Leeds and is mentioned in newspaper reports two years earlier. The inspector was just asking for the removal of the word "selective" on that page. So actually there have been no indications yet from the planning inspectorate that a plan will be found unsound if green belt is used as a constraint. In fact quite the opposite is true. The government has repeatedly clarified that any removal of land from the green belt would be the choice of the council.

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