Stapleford and Trowell Rural Action Group - STRAG
GREATER NOTTINGHAM ALIGNED CORE STRATEGIES HEARINGS: AND NOW?
The Hearings into the Broxtowe Borough, Gedling Borough and Nottingham City Aligned Core Strategies took place between 15 October and 13 November. Stapleford and Trowell Rural Action Group had appointed Ken Mafham Associates to represent our opposition to housing development in the Green Belt and specifically on Field Farm. Mr Ken Mafham participated in almost every session, and brilliantly put his invaluable professional knowledge and whole hearted conviction into the case. Numerous members of STRAG also attended as observers. Here is our first analysis of the hearings. It is important to note that the Inspector, Ms Jill Kingaby, will not issue her report before the beginning of 2014 so we have only limited insight into what her final recommendations will be.
The Inspector didn’t seem to indicate that she would reject the Core Strategies as unsound. In an interim note she stated that she did find the Councils’ spatial strategy, with its minimum target of 30,550 new dwellings for the period 2011 to 2028, to be sound.
This is of course a disappointment because, along with numerous other groups, we brought forward various arguments for a lower figure; we have also emphasized that a balance had to be found between the recommendations from different national planning policies, i.e. that housing targets had to be set not only with regard to economic factors but also ecological ones, and what can realistically be built without disproportionate damage to the environment.
To those arguing that Broxtowe’s supply for the first 5 years of the plan was too low, we argued that Nottingham City was largely exceeding its own target, and that the distribution should be balanced over the total plan period, not necessarily each 5-year period. This could help avoiding the release of Green Belt land and give a chance for more brownfield sites to become deliverable. The lack of a clear brownfield priority in the plan has been heavily criticised.
In any case, we (and others) argued that any release of Green Belt would require a systematic review of the whole Green Belt rather than fast-tracking of the “easiest”, most vulnerable sites. This is indeed what Ms Kingaby herself ordered our neighbours of Rushcliffe Borough to do before their Core Strategy could be examined at all. It was agreed at the enquiry that there is no exhaustive, up-to-date reference data for the whole of Greater Nottingham and so we would logically expect a similar recommendation for our areas.
Despite this, the councils have given no indication whatsoever that they intended to remove the allocation of Field Farm as a “sustainable (sic) urban extension” from the plan. Indeed in a controversial last minute move, Broxtowe Borough has also proposed a minimum target of 500 dwellings on Green Belt land along Toton Lane (Toton and Stapleford) whether or not the HS2 station is confirmed, and is currently having meetings with developers with the declared aim to “accelerate delivery on the site”. One wonders why the terms of the public consultation last spring on this “strategic location for growth” were so very vague.
STRAG or Mr Mafham have never advocated the development of the Toton Lane area – contrary to what some people are trying to make the public believe. Our position, clearly documented on our website (http://e-voice.org.uk/strag/), has always been that if we couldn’t prevent housing development on the Green Belt, the sites should be selected primarily on the basis of sustainability. The merits of Field Farm, the Toton Lane area and indeed other sites should be compared via a thorough Green Belt review and this is best done in the second stage of the Local Plan, now out for consultation (“Site Allocations Issues and Options”, consultation runs until 10 January 2014, www.broxtowe.gov.uk/allocations). It may well be more sustainable to build on limited parts of several sites, rather than totally wipe out whole rural areas.
Within a few weeks, the councils will undertake a further 6-week public consultation on the changes, mostly minor, that they propose to make to the Core Strategies as a result of the hearings. The Inspector will publish her report after that. Depending on her recommendations, the Secretary of State for Local Communities and Local Government, Mr Eric Pickles, may proceed with the local enquiry into the Field Farm outline planning application, or decide to call it off. STRAG will of course continue to participate in every stage of the process.
In summary, we have done our best to save the Green Belt but others have decided that some will have to go in the near future. It is in the hand of the Councils, the Planning Inspectorate and the Government to limit the loss as much as possible, giving brownfield development a priority and preserving the most valuable areas of the Green Belt. At the moment Field Farm and Toton Lane are still under the highest threat but STRAG will not give up until the last field has been concreted over. We count on your support.
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