Conservative Guildford Borough Council has managed to achieve an astonishing masterstroke. In one move they have threatened the Green Belt which is so dear to their electorate and they have also failed to address the urgent need for new affordable homes. Somehow they have also managed to waste a huge amount of money and alienate local residents who tried to have their voices heard and were ignored. In their consultation on the borough’s Local Plan, residents have felt shut out and taxpayers’ money has been wasted on a botched attempt to hear only the views the Conservatives want to hear. They set up a ‘propaganda shop’ in the centre of Guildford to which almost nobody came.
Since the 2010 election, the Conservative-LibDem Coalition government has set about attacking the Green Belt, the countryside and the environment generally. Their councillors on Guildford Borough Council have joined in enthusiastically. Our country needs new homes but housing starts are at an all-time low. The big developers have pressured ministers for relaxations in planning laws which the government has given in to. The Tory Party receives donations from these companies and is happy to let them hoard planning permissions. There are unused planning permissions for 400,000 new homes in England and Wales, including many in Guildford.
Developers would rather build on pristine countryside than brownfield sites. So, rather than stand up for their electorate, Conservatives are standing up for big developers and planning to change Green Belt boundaries in the Borough of Guildford to allow them to concrete over green fields.
On Surrey County Council, drink-drive Cllr John Furey is the Cabinet member for the environment but he is all in favour of tearing up the Green Belt. Like Surrey’s own Mr Toad, he stopped the council from pledging to do everything in its power to protect the Green Belt. As someone who is known for hastily leaving the scene of an accident, will Cllr Furey stick around to witness the devastation he hopes to cause to Surrey’s countryside?
In Guildford, the Conservative Leader of the council, drink-drive Cllr Mansbridge, refused to meet with Green Belt campaigners. Yet he said that Conservatives are the “guardians of the Green Belt”. Nothing could be further from the truth. Since 2010, the Tory-LibDem government has slashed away at Green Belt protection. They have relaxed Major Developed Sites (MDS) rules in the Green Belt and ‘permitted development rules’ for agricultural buildings so that barns can be turned into industrial units and there is nothing that local people or councils can do about it.
Meanwhile, the LibDem group on Guildford Borough Council put out a statement saying, not only would they build on the current Green Belt, they would consider building on Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty too. As usual, we cannot expect any opposition to the Tories from the LibDems, quite the contrary.
Labour set up the Green Belt and are the only main party defending it now. Ed Miliband, in his conference speech, set out how we would compel developers to use the planning permissions they have acquired to build the new houses we need. I will be touring the borough and the constituency to inspect sites where planning permission has been granted and asking why construction of new homes is not taking place. The 1,000 empty homes in the borough should be in the council’s sights, instead they are turning a blind eye.
Personally, as regular readers of this blog know, I have long campaigned to protect the Green Belt in Surrey. I am not an environmentalist despite being an airline pilot, I am an environmentalist because I am an airline pilot. I have visited every corner of the globe and witnessed with my own eyes the effects of allowing unrestricted development of the countryside.
I lived in the USA for over a year and the lack of Green Belt there allows towns and cities to sprawl out into each other. The centres of towns and cities are left derelict because it is cheaper and easier to build on fields outside their boundaries. Countryside is chewed up and wildlife snuffed out. This uncontrolled sprawl has been a disaster for the USA. England is still a green and pleasant land. Losing the Green Belt, even bit-by-bit, would permanently change our country for the worse for future generations.
I am a member of the Campaign to Protect Rural England and I believe passionately that the Green Belt should remain in perpetuity. Just take a look at the USA and decide if you want Surrey to look like that.
Our Green Belt should not be sacrificed simply to boost the profits of big development companies. Guildford Tory and LibDem councillors should remember they are only the temporary administrators of the borough’s countryside. The people of the borough have stood up and said with a loud clear voice that they want their Green Belt intact for generations to come. I stand up alongside them and add my voice. Guildford Borough Council – don’t sell out the Green Belt!