Guidance update puts plan at risk

A Surrey authority may scrap an emerging development plan after the publication of government guidance reinforcing green belt protection.

Pickles: emerging local plans influenced
Pickles: emerging local plans influenced

Mole Valley District Council has worked on its emerging Housing and Traveller Sites Plan, which includes a green belt review, for 18 months.

But John Northcott, executive member for planning, this week said he is "minded to propose" that work stops "in favour of commencing work on a new compliant local plan".

The move comes after two other local plans with controversial green belt reviews, in Guildford and York, have respectively been delayed or run into difficulties as a result of political and public opposition.

Earlier this month, the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) updated its Planning Practice Guidance (PPG) to say town halls should consider green belt constraints that "indicate that development should be restricted and which may restrain the ability of an authority to meet its need".

Northcott said the new guidance, together with a statement from communities secretary Eric Pickles, was "a factor" in his thinking. He also said the amount of green belt land Mole Valley may now need to release is "much lower" than initially thought.

Northcott said the guidance, along with Pickles’ recent decisions on green belt applications, showed that "the balance between strengthening of the green belt and the need to provide housing has shifted towards preservation of the green belt".

The sites plan, which is undergoing consultation, had mooted a series of "minor" changes to green belt boundaries around towns and villages to accommodate new homes.

Another Surrey authority, Guildford Borough Council, announced last month that its local plan would not be submitted for examination until after the general election because it had received high levels of public response to a consultation on the plan.

But a borough spokesman said the PPG updates "do not signal a change in government policy or approach", adding: "It is not envisaged any green belt planning policies will change."
Meanwhile, members of City of York Council last week voted to halt a consultation on its emerging local plan and to re-examine its proposed housing numbers.

Planning Officers Society strategic planning convener Catriona Riddell said: "Pickles’ statement has put a brake on local plans where green belt is needed, despite the fact that the announcements don’t actually make any difference to national policy."

However, Philip Villars, managing director of consultancy Indigo Planning, said he had not heard of authorities ceasing work on local plans as a result of the new guidance.

He said: "Most authorities will be carrying on as normal with their plans, but being fairly careful in the way they review any change in green belt boundaries."

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