by lesleybushnell on 22 October, 2018
Last November, the Liberal Democrats warned residents in our rural areas that Tory-controlled Mole Valley District Council (MVDC) had sent out calls for Green Field sites (including Green Belt) for development. Clearly, this desperate measure to meet their overly-ambitious targets by eroding the Green Belt was going to cause concern.
Of course, the Liberal Democrats want to build new homes but we believe they should be on Brownfield sites where possible. Our view is that Green Belt land should only be used when it no longer meets Green Belt criteria and where local residents agree.
As a result of this call for sites, there has been a pre-consultation between MVDC and some of the villages including Capel, Leigh and Newdigate, where proposals for Future Mole Valley “modest village expansion” have been presented by the Planning Manager at Parish Council meetings. These include development of Green Belt sites and changes to village boundaries to facilitate development. Since then, residents have had further meetings to air their concerns and many open letters have been circulated. At issue are:
The Newdigate proposals looked modest at first sight. However, the small plot of land put forward for development seemed to include the Six Bells pub car park (though this was later disputed). People were worried that loss of the car park would inevitably mean loss of the pub. This car park is well used not only by Six Bells customers but also for those visiting the church and picking up children from school.
At a packed Parish Council meeting on 24th September, people voiced the opinion that this, or any other, relatively small plot would be not be used for expensive, executive homes. Rather it was hoped that smaller, affordable units could instead be prioritised for young, first time buyers or elderly citizens wanting to downsize yet still stay in their village. The suggestions from locals were so much more creative and innovative than the view from the Planning Department that market forces should lead the choice. Many would like to see another rural exception development like Darbyshire Road to house local people.
At a subsequent Parish Council meeting Councillors proposed that the Six Bells should be designated an Asset of Community Value because of its value to the village and to protect it against thoughtless development plans.
An interim meeting took place in Leigh on 9th August, when the allocated development sites and potential village boundary changes for Leigh were presented. Land parcels to be considered for development are at the Priest’s House, Small’s Hill Road with a potential capacity of 18 homes, Tapner’s Road and Meadowside, Clayhill Rd. All are within the Green Belt. At the meeting there was concern that the land behind the Priest’s House is within in the conservation area and should therefore not be developed. One landowner was concerned his plot had appeared in the proposal without any further discussion with him after responding to the call for land. Flooding appears to be of concern to local people, for example the field at Tapners Road is below the water table and may cause problems if developed.
One particular issue is the area of the allocated sites is large relative to the size of the village. Should homes be built on these sites they could put strain on the already busy roads.
Local people are keen to maintain most of the Green Belt. In Capel, the proposals for development of the northern site, in particular (CP001 for 66 houses) and others within an extended village boundary, have not been well received. Unlike MVDC proposals, the villagers’ NPD considered the needs and wishes of the locals. This was not a blanket ban on development of Green Belt per se. Two sites were pragmatically included by the NDP for building new homes (CP-004 and CP-006), because both these sites have been previously developed. These are just the type of development exceptions that the Lib Dems would agree with, i.e. land no longer functions as Green Belt and to which local people agree.
Developers have not been slow to jump on the band wagon. The area north of Capel has already attracted the attention of a property developer, Abava Developments Ltd who have prepared a glossy brochure as a submission document for discussion with Mole Valley District Council Planning Department. They have used the Future Mole Valley logo and talk about consultation with Councillors to give it an air of authority. No wonder local people are quite rightly concerned. In addition, the plans in the document seem to have raised the number of homes planned from 66 to 83. Not good.
The three Parish Councils have been collecting views from residents on the various proposals for their villages. They will collate these and submit them to Mole Valley Planning Department for consideration prior to finalising the local plan. However, in a communication from this department it was pointed out that:
To be clear, the Future Mole Valley Local Plan once adopted will set a new framework for development in the District. It will take precedence over any neighbourhood development plan (NPD) in cases where there is a conflict between the two plans. Where there is no conflict, then the NDP will continue to carry weight.
Having received offers of land to develop in their call for green field sites, the next step for the Conservative-Independent controlled MVDC will be to develop a draft Local Plan – one which could alter the Green Belt and change village boundaries to facilitate development. They have rejected considering more suitable sites for housing if they fall outside their proposed extended village boundaries. As yet, they have not indicated how the sacrifice of Green Belt would help to meet our need for more social and affordable housing. Consequently, developers may have more influence than locals on what gets built. Furthermore, the local NDP may have to be reviewed.
Apparently, a draft Local Plan will be available for consultation early in 2019. Whilst the District Council continues try and reassure us that this is still only a proposal and that there is too much scaremongering, it must be realised that these ideas are on the table for consideration and if we do not like them we should make our views known early.
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