Residents who care about protecting the Elmbridge Green Belt are encouraged to vote for their Conservative candidate on Thursday 2 May.
Our leader Councillor James Browne has given a “categorical assurance” that if the Conservatives are re-elected to run the council that our preferred option for meeting the governments housing targets, is to focus building in existing built areas while protecting the character of our towns.
James gave the assurance in response to a dishonest leaflet being delivered in the Long Ditton Ward suggesting that the Conservative commitment to protecting the Green Belt should not be trusted. In 2016 the LibDems, who were running the Council in coalition with the Elmbridge Residents Group of councillors, were presented with three options to meet the housing demand. They were:
- Meet the housebuilding target in full by increasing density in urban areas.
- Meet as much of the target as possible by increasing urban density and releasing three strategic Green Belt sites said to be “performing weakly”.
- Meet the figure in full by releasing as much Green Belt land as possible.
The link to the Cabinet papers for November 2016 is here. The relevant part begins at page 143.
James explains: “They chose option two, which involved the release of the land around One Tree Hill. That was their choice. They could have chosen the first option, or they could have sent the officers back to think again, but they did not. After the consultation ended, and no doubt shaken by the force of the public response, they asked the officers to put together a further option which would meet the Government's figures in full by increasing urban density and releasing small pockets of Green Belt land around the borough.
“When Conservatives took control in May last year we decided that a different approach was needed. We asked the officers to work up an option that did not simply chase the numbers by meekly accepting the Government's figure. We also wanted an option that released NO Green Belt land. The officers did so.”
The Conservative administration added two further options:
- Urban focus – increase local density to meet as much of the Government's target as is possible within the already built-up area but without destroying local character. This will not meet the Government's target, but we believe we can make a good case that we face exceptional constraints due to our location on the very edge of the London sprawl. No Green Belt land would be released.
- The limited Green Belt release option which the previous administration was working on in May last year.
James adds: “If I am still Leader of Elmbridge I give my categorical assurance that I will put forward Option 4 (Urban Focus) as the preferred option. This is what I promised at the Full Council in March. We know there will be opposition from the developers' lobby, and we may face an unfriendly Inspector at the public examination to be held next year. We will pursue our preferred option with vigour. But ultimately the Government in the form of the Planning Inspectorate has the final say.
The Conservative administration has taken the advice of leading planning QC to ensure that our approach is legally sound. We have been told we are legally required to consult on the three options which the LibDem/RA administration put forward in 2016/17 as well as the two new ones. Much as we would like to withdraw the previous administration’s options we cannot do so without inviting a judicial review. Three of those five options involve release of Green Belt land. This is the point which the Lib Dems are now misrepresenting in their election literature.
Whichever party wins the election will face a decision on 24 July which of the five options is Elmbridge Borough Council's preferred.
James continues: “Ultimately it is a matter of choice and trust. When our opponents were in control they chose a preferred option for their consultation which proposed the release of the three large areas of Green Belt. They should be judged on their actions when they had a choice.
“The LibDems are also claiming a disproportionately large number of new houses will be built in the Dittons compared across the rest of Elmbridge. This would only happen if the option the LibDem/Ras chose (release of three Green Belt sites) were preferred – which it won’t be. That is where the ‘disproportionate number of houses in the Dittons’ claim in the Lib Dem leaflet comes from. My message is, please support your Local Conservative candidates to ensure our Green Belt is protected.”