Safeguarded land: a pernicious and horrifying prospect

Safeguarded for who and for what?  It sounds so nice and cosy; oh, the land in my village is being “safeguarded”. Beware the weasel words of the clever drafter of the National Policy Planning Framework [NPPF], he’s out to fool you on behalf of this government.

The NPPF Para 85 gives the local planning authority [LPA] the right to declare land as “safeguarded” during the Local Plan process, so what does it really mean? It means a faceless planning officer, in cahoots with their paid-for lackeys the planning consultants, taking a pen and drawing a line on a map around parcels of Green Belt land, effectively re-drawing the Green Belt boundary, extracting them from the Green Belt and declaring them “safeguarded”.  “Safeguarded” for what?  Unfortunately, it doesn’t “safeguard” the land at all, in fact it does quite the opposite.  It “safeguards” the land for nothing more nor less than housing development at some indeterminate point in the future 20 years of the Local Plan period up to 2031, when the national politicians and their apparatchiks who dreamed it up, and the local authority officers and councillors who implemented it, will either be dead or in their dotage.  What will they care?

It’s like a badly designed sewer overflow system for house builders.  When they’ve dumped enough excrement in the form of 21st century housing on the available land supply, the LPA can open up its ‘goody bag’ of the now urbanised “safeguarded” land parcels in the Green Belt so the house builders can relieve themselves again over the green fields of Surrey.  When that land is suitably contaminated, the NPPF allows them to do it all over again, and again, and again, until there’s no green fields left, just the excrement of excessive housing.  It stinks now and it will stink into the future.

In the new GBC draft Local Plan, sits the all-new Green Belt and Countryside Study [GBCS] Volume 5 evidence document that highlights those settlements under threat of being judged suitable to become ‘super-villages’ by reaching a plucked-from-the-air threshold of 4,000+ residents.  Accompanying this unwanted imprimatur are lots of maps and assertions including the new “inset” boundaries drawn over the top of the 2003 settlement boundaries, extracting yet more land from the Green Belt in the form of each settlement’s built environment – back gardens beware, you’re about to be built on.  If you think that’s bad enough, much, much worse for these communities are the new areas of “safeguarded” land that either join settlements together or are appended to them as great carbuncles.

In Normandy and Flexford’s case this is 72.2. hectares [Ha] of Green Belt land (Land Parcel H12) between the two settlements effectively joining them together in one potential suburban sprawl, containing environmentally important Ancient Woodland and benign fields that according to the GBCS, Land Parcels analysis contributes to at least three key purposes of the Green Belt and the openness of the Green Belt in and around the two settlements.  This matters little to the development-crazed members of the GBC Planning Department in their Local Plan ‘bunker’, desperate to avoid a direct hit from a planning inspector when their chaotic and distorted evidence is examined in public, thinking that by maximising land supply coupled with an unconstrained new annual housing number (652) declared in a hardly-modified Strategic Housing Market Assessment [SHMA] document, they will have built their own Maginot Line – and we all know what happened to that!

This nasty, underhand and pernicious distortion of planning legislation, engineered by this government and this Chancellor of the Exchequer, desperate to create not sustainable but unsustainable economic growth through excessive house building, is being confronted across the country.  Only this week, on 13th May, a debate was initiated in Westminster Hall by Julian Sturdy, MP (York Outer) who observed in his opening remarks on “safeguarding” that he was “deeply concerned that this policy is being abused by certain local authorities in an effort to undermine the permanence of the green belt, which, as we all know, underpins this country’s entire planning system.”  In his response, Nick Boles MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, pointed out that “safeguarding is not a requirement for every local authority with green-belt land. It is something that it can choose to do, but only if necessary. If the plan that it puts forward has provisions to meet housing needs in full and if other sites are available for potential future development beyond the life of the plan, it may well be that safeguarding land is unnecessary.

Residents of Guildford borough should demand that their councillors demand of the planning officers, if what they have dreamed up in the new draft Local Plan for large swathes of Green Belt land to be “safeguarded” is necessary and why might it not be better to use large swathes of “brownfield” land first.

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2 thoughts on “Safeguarded land: a pernicious and horrifying prospect

  1. Safeguarding allows the Government the opportunity to force LA’s to build all of the houses they estimate they need…The argument about exceptional becomes watered down politically if you use the term ‘safeguarded’ (we will only use it if we have to) because the firm solid boundary created by ‘green belt’ becomes blurred and no longer acts as a restraint argument on being required to meet all their housing needs.. that is why the housing need figure was so important and why your councillors are so THICK… angry? moi?

    • Last night (15 May 2014) councillors in the Scrutiny Committee voted (unopposed) to require a (downward) revision of the housing numbers in the draft Local Plan. This is good news. Councillors have listened to the community and finally recognised the scale of the problems we are facing and have taken a brave political decision. That’s what really matters. Every councillor who spoke up in relation to the excessive housing numbers should be congratulated, plus recognising the fact that the Green Belt should only be built on in exceptional circumstances, and their concern for the voters in their own wards.

      That didn’t stop a senior council official adding more disinformation into the debate. It was stated that the recent Gallagher Homes v. Solihull MBC case meant that GBC needs to build on the Green Belt. What the judge actually stated was

      “it is not arguable that the mere process of preparing a new local plan could itself be regarded as an exceptional circumstance justifying an alteration to a Green Belt boundary. National guidance has always dealt with revisions of the Green Belt in the context of reviews of local plans… and has always required “exceptional circumstances” to justify a revision. The NPPF makes no change to this.”

      “Whilst each case is fact-sensitive and the question of whether circumstances are exceptional for these purposes requires an exercise of planning judgment, what is capable of amounting to exceptional circumstances is a matter of law, and a plan-maker may err in law if he fails to adopt a lawful approach to exceptional circumstances. Once a Green Belt has been established and approved, it requires more than general planning concepts to justify an alteration.”

      So the advice proferred to councillors was yet another misdirection by a desperate GBC Planning Department who see their grip on the Local Plan process loosening in favour of those who are democratically accountable to their constituents.

      When councillors are being asked to make a decision and appear to be given wrong advice by council officials this should be of great concern to all residents. This isn’t the first time when officials have provided what seems to be incorrect advice and this advice was about a really important case and so it is absolutely fundamental that councillors are appraised of all the facts, not a selective interpretation.

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