CambridgePPF submits final call for City to reverse Green Belt development plans
Local charity Cambridge Past, Present & Future (CambridgePPF) is making a final call for Cambridge City Council to suspend it plans for excising more Green Belt land for development.
The Council’s public consultation on the draft Local Plan closes at 5pm on Monday 30 September. Ahead of the deadline the charity is filing numerous comments on a range of planning-related proposals.
While acknowledging the huge amount of work that has gone into the preparation of the Local Plan – and applauding some aspects of the document – CambridgePPF continues to oppose the Council’s plan to release more Green Belt land for development. The charity maintains that the case for taking Green Belt has not been presented by the Council in a comprehensive and compelling way.
Key points raised by the charity in relation to the city’s Green Belt include:
- The Council’s continued pursuit of green belt land contradicts its overall strategic vision for the city. The Council states that it wants to maintain Cambridge as ‘a compact, dynamic city, located within the high quality landscape setting of the Cambridge Green Belt’. Yet in the next breath it outlines plans for the release of yet more Green Belt for housing. Why bother with a Green Belt if every time the Local Plan is reviewed yet more land is taken to satisfy the pressure for development?
- Under the terms of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), ‘exceptional circumstances’ are needed to justify building on the Green Belt. CambridgePPF believes it would be useful if the Council could define what constitutes these circumstances in the context of Cambridge. The charity argues that the development pressure for more housing is a constant circumstance that sets the context for spatial planning. It is not ‘exceptional’, which appears to be the Council’s conviction.
- It is not necessary to build on Green Belt when realistic sites are available elsewhere. CambridgePPF argues that such sites are available beyond the Green Belt in South Cambridgeshire and may also be available within the urban area. In the creation of the draft local plan a number of brownfield sites within the city were discounted because they were deemed too complex to develop. CambridgePPF believes that a more rigorous examination of these alternative sites is required before more Green Belt is released. The Council needs to show genuine leadership, creating public / private partnership arrangements and taking full advantage of the latest de-contamination technologies to drive forward the development of these sites as alternatives to Green Belt.
- The NPPF makes no differentiation in the value of Green Belt land based on its quality. Yet the draft local plan suggests that building on the sites recommended will not detract from the protection of Cambridge. CambridgePPF would like to understand how the landscape assessments were conducted on the Green Belt sites included in the plan.
- National planning policy identifies five purposes for the Green Belt, yet the Council fails to acknowledge two of these in its plan. The charity questions the Council’s ‘pick and mix’ approach to deciding which of the national purposes should apply to Cambridge. CambridgePPF believes that the national objectives ‘to check the unrestricted sprawl of large built-up areas’ and ‘assist in safeguarding the countryside from encroachment’ are both highly relevant to protecting the setting of Cambridge and should be included in the Local Plan.
- The Council should rework its priority sequence for development making it clear that Green Belt sites – if considered at all – will only be brought forward when all other possible sites have been developed. CambridgePPF believes that during the 18-year plan period, potential sites within the urban area are likely to come forward that might benefit from regeneration or redevelopment. If ‘easy options’ are available on Green Belt land they will be used first, reducing the likelihood of more appropriate but ‘difficult’ sites in the City being tackled.
With regard to the use of Green Belt land for commercial purposes, CambridgePPF reiterates its belief that exceptional circumstances might justify intrusion into the green belt to support economic growth. However, until such time as the Council explains what the exceptional circumstances are, it reserves its judgement on the proposed employment site. The charity suggests that the Council should spell out that land would only be released and developed for purposes that support the Cambridge cluster or have a very clear Cambridge connection.
CambridgePPF is also using its submission to urge that Green Belt land should be enhanced as a valued public asset for access and recreation. The charity recommends that this intention is given practical reality by using Section 106 or CIL funding from existing fringe development to enhance public access and enjoyment of countryside on the city’s fringe.
Robin Pellew, Chairman of CambridgePPF said: “We are not anti-development. We know that Cambridge needs to grow. But growth must happen in the right way, at the right speed and in the right places – not in the Green Belt. Cambridge’s success is based not just on the research powerhouse generated by the University and the Science Parks but also on the outstanding quality of life that the city and surrounding area offers. In a globally competitive world, keeping Cambridge attractive is crucial to attract and retain businesses and staff. If a dash for growth is allowed to jeopardise the special character and ambience of the city, we will kill the goose that lays the golden eggs. When the Planning Inspectorate comes to review the soundness of the Cambridge Local Plan, it is hoped that this realisation will temper its desire to stoke up the speed of development in the name of economic recovery. Cambridge’s long-term contribution to the national economy depends on keeping it a very special place and the retention of the Green Belt has a clear role to play in achieving this.”
Members of CambridgePPF’s planning committee are also writing to Dearbhla Lawson, Head of Transport & Infrastructure at Cambridgeshire County Council, outlining their thoughts on the suggested transport strategy. The committee will also lodge comments on South Cambridgeshire District Council’s draft Local Plan ahead of the end of the authority’s consultation, which closes on 14 October 2013.
1: The NPPF identifies that Green Belt serves five purposes:
- To check the unrestricted sprawl of large built-up areas
- To prevent neighbouring towns from merging into one another
- To assist in safeguarding the countryside from encroachment
- To preserve the setting and special character of historic towns
- To assist in urban regeneration by encouraging the recycling of derelict and other urban land