Where should new homes be built in our district ? Should the council allow parts of the Green Belt to be built on, so that we lose more countryside? Or should the Green Belt be preserved 100 percent, and all new building be crammed into our existing towns?
An example of ‘cramming’ cropped up tonight at the District Council, with an application in Hockley Road, Rayleigh, to knock down one bungalow and build 20 flats.. Tory Councillor Mavis Webster spoke against this application, saying it was overdevelopment. She specifically said she didn’t want to pass this sort of application just to protect Green Belt. She won the vote , despite misgivings from council officers. As it happens, the 4 Lib Dem councillors voted with her for refusal. A few Tory councillors abstained, and one voted against refusal.
Meanwhile Hockley Residents Association are thinking in the opposite direction . They are concerned about the Green Belt- and have just sent us the following policy statement :
Thousands of homes to be built in Green Belt
Government agency agrees with HRA concerns
Hockley Residents Association (HRA) is very concerned that Rochford District Council (RDC) are planning to put thousands of houses on Green Belt land. Under government policy, RDC has to provide for an additional 4,600 homes by 2021. This is a net increase of about 3,700 homes over existing plans.
We have complained to the council that their current public consultation exercise, being undertaken as part of a strategic planning process called the Local Development Framework (LDF), is not a meaningful process as the council has framed questions to meet its own thinking. In particular, the HRA is concerned that the first question is a ‘closed’ question which leads respondents to answer affirming that Green Belt land should be released.
This conflicts with the much more balanced views in the council’s own draft strategy which reiterates, as its “Probable Option”, existing policy of restrictive development in the Green Belt. The question posed by RDC does not encourage consideration of other possible options such as in-filling and re-use of ‘brownfield” sites. Given the restatement of this existing policy in the draft strategy, we cannot understand why the questionnaire does not make any reference to the wider options and why the question is framed in such a ‘closed’ manner – it would have been easy to have asked an open question. This leads us to believe that RDC are looking to influence public opinion and that this is not a true public consultation exercise.
RDC have rejected our complaint but we remain concerned that they seem to be ruling out other options at this early stage. This is reflected in comments made by the Head of Planning who said in an e’mail to us: “One of the points we have made in the draft Core Strategy options document relates to the issue of ‘town cramming’. This is an issue many residents are concerned about and is reflected in the opposition to many of the flat schemes that are coming forward for planning consent at the moment. Therefore, there is clearly an environmental limit to the amount of new development that can be accommodated in the existing urban areas and to meet the 4,600 figure over the period to 2021, there is little doubt that some substantial areas of green field land will need to be identified for development.”
It appears RDC are directing people towards their own solutions and this must be wrong (even if they are proved right at the end of the day). It may be that the majority of people would in fact prefer “cramming” to releasing open space – we do not know – but that is the point of consultation and the current questionnaire does not give this option. This seems very inappropriate and undemocratic to us. Paul Warren, RDC Chief Executive, argues that the survey results to date do not support our concern but we believe that this probably relates more to public concern for the Green Belt than vindication of the question.
We have now discovered that Go East, the Government Agency overseeing the LDF process, have also raised similiar concerns with RDC and await a response.
The HRA is very concerned at why this question is unnecessarily phrased so inappropriately and hope this is not merely a rubber stamping exercise. However, its seems we are into a long fight if we want to save the Green Belt. We would urge all residents in the Rochford district to write to the council with their views. Full details can be found on their website: http://www.rochford.gov.uk
Chairman, Hockley Residents Association