Green belt under review

AN INDEPENDENT consultants’ report recommending changes to Woking’s green belt boundaries was revealed on Monday.

Woking Borough Council stated that they had commissioned the review in response to the Secretary of State’s recommendations during the Core Strategy Examination in 2012. They said the report is to identify sufficient land to meet housing and other development needs beyond 2022.

PANEL – (back) Planning Policy Manager Earnest Amoako, Jeni Jackson and Douglas Spinks with (front) Cllrs Graham Cundy and John Kingsbury

PANEL – (back) Planning Policy Manager Earnest Amoako, Jeni Jackson and Douglas Spinks with (front) Cllrs Graham Cundy and John Kingsbury

Prior to this, at a press conference, Council Leader John Kingsbury stressed: “This is a consultants’ report – it is not cast in stone. There is no site allocation and it does not involve any council decisions.”

He explained that a Delivery Development Plan Document, which is already being worked on, will be submitted for public consultation later in the year and will identify specific sites for development.

He added: “The green belt is a much cherished part of our environment. Yet a review is necessary to identify land to meet housing demands. We are considering the independent review before giving residents the opportunity to have their say. No decision about the green belt has been made.”

Deputy Chief Executive, Douglas Spinks, explained their instructions to the consultants, Peter Brett Associates. He said: “The brief was to review all the green belt land in the borough and to identify suitable areas. We did not direct them as to which areas to focus on.

“This report is totally independent – the consultants are not from the area so have no personal interest. We are using it as background information in the public domain to help inform our decisions as to where we propose to put our boundaries, which will go to public consultation in the autumn.”

Head of Planning Services, Jeni Jackson, said: “The consultants pointed out why they recommend certain areas. There has to be some credibility as to why the land has been chosen.

“After the public’s concerns have been taken into consideration, we are looking to adopt a document in early 2016.”

Green belt land excluded from consideration include designated floodplains, Sites of Special Scientific Interest, Thames Basin Heaths Special Protection Area and 400m exclusion zone, Special Areas of Conservation, and common land.

Portfolio Holder for Planning, Graham Cundy, said: “We are talking about safeguarding sites. Sixty per cent of Woking is green belt and we are looking to only 1.7 per cent (17 hectares) of that for development, including green infrastructure along with it.

“We are looking to have a definitive green belt boundary that makes sense and will stand up to pressures from outside sources.”

It was not known what percentage of Woking’s green belt constitutes the exclusion zones.

Cllr Cundy said the Core Strategy stated the need for new homes. He said: “Woking has one of the highest birth rates in Surrey.

“There is also an insatiable demand for housing here because of the location and easy transport links to London, other cities and access to major airports.”

Fears were aired about developments encroaching on other towns, such as Guildford. Mr Spinks replied: “Unlike Woking, Guildford has no Core Strategy.

“The distinction is that we have already said we will be reviewing the green belt, whereas Guildford is still in the melting pot. Our fundamental strategy entails a lot of building in the town centre and to avoid joining other boroughs.”

Cllr Cundy added: “We are seeking to maintain the purpose of the green belt to stop urban sprawl and prevent joining towns. The Government are very much into maintaining towns.

“Family housing is likely to be in the green belt allocations. Our policy is building developments that are sympathetic to the area, not high density.”

However, Woking residents’ emotions were running high by Tuesday. Lib Dem County and Borough Councillor, Will Forster, was unconvinced about his Conservative colleagues’ intentions.

He said: “The review identifies land off Egley Road and Saunders Lane in Mayford, as well as green belt around Byfleet and West Byfleet – and small sections in Brookwood and Pyrford – as suitable. It has deliberately identified too many sites to meet the 2027 housing target – therefore the council do not need to develop on them all. Of course Woking needs more homes, but any plans must be sustainable, accompanied by the right infrastructure.”

Consultants’ review recommended sites:

South east of Brookwood Crossroads
North of Saunders lane (around single house on north side)
Between Hook Hill Lane, Mayford Village Hall and Saunders Lane
Between Hook Heath and Guildford to Woking railway line in Hook Heath
Other side of railway, off Egley Road (includes garden centre)
By Coldharbour Road and Pyrford Common Road, Pyrford
To south of A245 in West Byfleet
South of Murray’s Lane in Byfleet
South of High Road in Byfleet
East of Byfleet, off Mill Lane

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