Build in The Green Belt – or Squeeze Everything into our Towns?

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

Brian Guyett
Chairman, Hockley Residents Association

  • I refer to your article dated 30 November.

    To clarify Hockley Residents Association’s position, our main concern at this time is to ensure we have a proper debate on whether or not the Green Belt should be built on. We are concerned that RDC have asked a ‘closed’ question which directs people towards a solution based on building on the Green Belt. We should explore the alternatives and RDC have effectively tried to close down this debate. Go East have come to the same conclusion and have asked RDC to consider further consultations. Lets not abandon the Green Belt without considering the full range of options.
    Brian Guyett
    Chairman, Hockley Residents Association

  • Brian –

    You are right to the raise the possibility of keeping the Green Belt as it is and creating all the new development within existing developed areas.

    But in practise that would mean maybe 150-200 new developments of around 20 homes each. That means 150-200 pretty hard-fought planning battles. Perhaps 30-40 of these developments might be in Hockley…. It’s difficult to see that people will be happy with that.

    On the other hand, if the development takes place on sites that were Green Belt, nobody should think that they are going to provide ‘spacious and gracious’ living. Builders will be keen to cram as much as they can into these schemes, even if they semi-rural.

  • My comments were aimed more at ensuring RDC present all options to residents, rather than their apparent bias towards an all Green Belt solution. It was interesting that Go East support our view that RDC are being too prescriptive, too soon and we hope that a more balanced debate will now take place.

    Perhaps the underlying key issue here is exactly why does the district HAVE to permit another 4,600 homes. Like the current Tory rebellion against not being allowed to insist on minimum car parking spaces, we should be fighting this undemocratically imposed requirement.

    Brian Guyett
    Chairman, Hockley Residents Association

  • I agree wholeheartedly with the comments of the Hockley Residents Association. I have completed the RDC form but found it very difficult as it is completely biased towards what appears to be their preferred option. They do not even have the guts to put down in writing all the 3 options available – so that the public understand them clearly:

    1 Spread the houses FAIRLY throughout the district,
    2 put them around the 3 existing main towns, rochford, rayleigh and Hockley/Hawkwell
    3 Put them all in one place, thus creating “new town”.
    This “closed ” question approach is typical of RDC officers trying once again to bully residents to doing what RDC want.
    lyn hopkins, Rawreth Resident.