The national government has asked all local governments to review their green belts with a view to opening them up for development – Elmbridge is no exception. Half the borough is designated as green belt (not to be confused with rural landscapes as above) and so its defence will have to be argued robustly. We will be doing so with vigour.
The new administration of Liberal Democrats and its coalition allies is already building a coherent justification of our green belt and will ensure that is purpose of preventing urban coalescence is maintained. A definitive Elmbridge policy on Green Belt in relation to local housing needs must be in place by the end of 2018. That might seems far away but there is much work to do.
Elmbridge has to define why it needs it green belt. It cannot just see “because”. There has to be a reason in planning terms. We can protect countryside for a number of reasons regardless of whether it is in the green belt or not. It could be a site of special scientific interest, a defined view, an ancient woodland, a common or land owned by the National Trust.
The National Planning Policy Framework determines, in paragraph eighty, that the Green Belt serves five purposes:
- to check the unrestricted sprawl of large built-up areas;
- to prevent neighbouring towns merging into one another;
- to assist in safeguarding the countryside from encroachment;
- to preserve the setting and special character of historic towns; and
- to assist in urban regeneration, by encouraging the recycling of derelict and other urban land.
In Elmbridge we cannot use points four and five because they do not apply but clearly one can use the first three. Regarding point one – how much of a gap do you think there should be between London and the towns in Elmbridge? Presently there is no gap between Ditton and Surbiton; none between Molesey and Ditton; but there is a gap between Molesey and Walton and Ditton and Esher. Weybridge already coalesces with Walton but the gap between Weybridge and Hersham is only about 100m wide.
In Weybridge our countryside is often further protected because the land is in the flood plain, owned by the National Trust or common land.