Our Green Belt needs Protecting

2014 cumnor cricket siteThe Tory adminstration at the Vale plans to take several large sites out of the Green Belt for development. I’m against the piecemeal nibbling away at the Green Belt. Yes, I know we need new homes. I think there are other sites where we can build and without endangering our open green spaces. We should protect our villages against the coalescence that the Green Belt legislation foretold.

At the Vale Council meeting on the 15th of Oct 2014, I spoke in support of a Lib Dem amendment to take the Green Belt sites out of the Local Plan 2031, and commit to a review of the Oxford Green Belt in its entirety.

Here’s what I had to say:

The officers and the ruling party are sending conflicting messages about building in the Green Belt, which are leading to reckless policy decisions, and reckless endangerment of our remaining open spaces.

Officers have told us that there is no credible constraint against accepting the SHMA figures as targets. In Scrutiny last month they said that it’s ‘obvious we have adequate land to meet our objectively assessed need’ as derived from SHMA. So there is just no credible way to adjust the targets downward.

Cllr Constance, in her question tonight, asks the Liberal Democrats for our help in identifying housing sites other than those in the Green Belt. In other words, the current administration sees no way to meet our OAN without building in the Green Belt.

So, which is it? Either we have enough land, ergo no room for manoeuvre. Or we don’t have enough land, ergo we have to build in the Green Belt (or in Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty).

In early 2014, very late in the Local Plan process, Conservatives came to believe that there weren’t enough strategic housing sites without using the Green Belt. So they called for a review of the Green Belt. That review says its purpose was, ‘…to inform Council’s identification of potential contingency sites for housing,’ and that, ‘…it may be necessary to release land for development.’

The framers of the Green Belt legislation were prescient. They realised that housing need would grow, and they explicitly stated in the legislation that housing need was NOT enough of a reason to build in the Green Belt.

This local plan is reckless. It takes protection away from Green Belt land, forever.

Officers say it’s obvious we have enough land, so no way can we adjust our targets down from the SHMA OAN. But the administration says there isn’t enough land unless we build in the Green Belt. One of those things is false.

I don’t support this Local Plan. It’s not been carefully analysed, and it’s not been thought through. It’s reckless.

The vote split along party lines, with the one Labour and one Independent councillor both voting with the Tory majority.

(There was a bottle of fine wine on offer to the person who used ‘Reckless’ the most. Cllr Bob Johnston put us all to shame. 🙂 )