The Chancellor and the Housing Minister have popped their heads over the parapet as the initial shots in the election campaign are fired. The ‘whizzy’ new idea is 10 housing zones outside London using ‘brownfield’ land; a shortlist of 29 areas has been published, each of which have bid to become one of the housing zones. Housing Minister Brandon Lewis has been quoted as saying “this would protect the Green Belt“; he must have been listening to the CPRE in part. Unfortunately, 10 zones with 2,000 houses each is a drop in the bucket compared to his and the Chancellor’s joint aspiration of 200,000 homes nationally on ‘brownfield’ land. In the meantime, where do the other 180,000 go? I know, in the Green Belt. Silly me.
My local planning authority [LPA] must have been part of the ‘smoke-filled room’ discussions with the Housing Minister because, lo and behold, Guildford Borough Council’s Slyfield Area Regeneration Project [SARP] is in the list, looking pretty lightweight compared to some of the large-scale northern projects! Would have thought the Walnut Tree Close area potential for 5,000 homes on all the brownfield land down there would have been a preferable option and would have fulfilled most of Guildford’s potential housing need in the first 5 years of our emerging, but now delayed until after the elections, local plan. Our council leader thinks that would be too difficult and is pleading with Eric Pickles.
The master planner for SARP proposes a “high density riverfront (aka. River Wey flood plain) housing and apartments”, “a new village centre with 1,860 sq m (20,000 sq ft) of retail use” to serve a population of “up to 5,500”. The village will also incorporate “a new community school”. Was this major project in the recently ditched Guildford draft Local Plan? Yes (Policy 48). Is there now a proposal to create a new access road from Slyfield Industrial Estate across Green Belt land to join Clay Lane to ease access problems? Yes but local residents are against loss of Green Belt.
So, it doesn’t need a Local Plan when the Chancellor gets the Treasury to stump up the cash to potentially influence the election result in our Guildford constituency and neither does it prevent the need to grab Green Belt land when it suits the joint political purpose of the government and the LPA. Did I hear the word ‘democratic’? No? Silly me.
Looking into the background of each of these 29 proposed ‘brownfield housing zones’ suggests they might be categorised as follows:
- locations where there is release of large areas of former MoD land
- locations where a predominantly brownfield project includes in some way the grabbing of Green Belt or green fields for large-scale housing
- locations where there are multiple former dockside/industrial/mining/landfill sites needing remediation and/or decontamination
- locations where there is a need to consolidate sites of multiple ownership to make the project viable
- locations of economic abandonment in need of re-imagining
In the older ‘post-industrial’ manufacturing and mining areas and isolated coastal towns, much can be welcomed, although “Wirral Waters” looks more like something dreamed up for Dubai! As only 10 proposals will be selected for the £200m funding stream, a measly £20m for infrastructure pump-priming will be available to each successful bidder.
If you go further and look at the Local Plan status of the LPAs involved, quite a few local plans are expiring 2014/15/16 and/or under review, with new plans and evidence bases being built around SHLAAs and SHMAs generated by many of the consultants with whom we are only too familiar and showing all the the usual statistical tricks, half-truths and evasions. The evidence bases also have the familiar local economic plans required by the NPPF ‘sustainable development’ mantra, eulogising growth in specifically identified sectors, highlighting skills shortages to be addressed by local academic institutions (who are also usually involved with the Local Enterprise Partnership [LEP]) and expressing the benefits of the influence of and relationship with one or more local LEP.
However, in a number of cases, rural and urban, there is local opposition to proposals from residents because in some way they include Green Belt or green field grabbing and/or where there is inclusion of incinerators and/or anaerobic digesters adjacent to new or existing housing, inviting queues of HGVs into local roads. Local opposition is also triggered by concerns over the sheer scale of what is proposed, submerging small communities, destroying local landscapes and delivering no infrastructure to cope with sewerage, traffic etc.
Central planning? No, the Tories don’t do central planning, its all done through “localism” isn’t it? Rubbish. The Chancellor’s and Treasury fingerprints are all over it and it won’t matter which bit of the political elite we get in Westminster after May, it’ll be the same Green Belt grabbing policy for the house builders, just dressed up differently.