Green belt row council urged to adopt strategy despite ministerial intervention

Officers at a Surrey council at the centre of a political row over a controversial green belt review in their core strategy have recommended that members adopt the plan.

Planning minister Nick Boles
Planning minister Nick Boles

Reigate and Banstead Borough Council's executive was due to vote on adopting its core strategy at a meeting last week, with the final decision by the full council on 10 April.

But both votes have been postponed in the wake of an exchange of letters between the planning minister Nick Boles and the Planning Inspectorate (PINS), the Tory-controlled council said.

Inspector Martin Pike proposed a modification to the plan, suggesting that the authority should "recognise that some loss of green belt to housing development will be necessary" to meet the borough's housing needs.

In his first letter to PINS, Boles said he was "disturbed" by the inspector's language. It "must always be transparently clear" in inspectors' reports, Boles said, that if authorities review green belt boundaries it was their choice to do so, not the inspector's.

But in a second letter, Boles said the first letter "did not signal a change of policy or approach" by the government.

An officers' report for the deferred meeting concluded there had been no change in government policy and recommended the plan be adopted.

Officers also rejected any implication that the inspector had pressured the authority into releasing green belt.

Their report revealed that the council's chief executive, John Jory, complained to Sir Bob Kerslake, head of the civil service, about Reigate's Tory MP Crispin Blunt, who has lobbied Boles over the green belt release. Blunt said he met Boles to discuss the issue after the minister's letter was published.

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