We call for a moratorium on permissions in the Green Belt…

26th January 2022

We have written to all Hertfordshire MPs, Council Leaders, and Portfolio Holders for Planning, to call for an immediate moratorium on granting permission for all major development proposals in designated protected areas including the Green Belt. This would apply equally to planning applications and to site allocations in Local Plans.  The text of our letter follows.

 

Dear

Protection of Designated Protected Areas

We write with regard to the unfolding situation concerning the use of housing need figures in statutory Local Plans and the implications of housing targets on nationally designated protected areas such as Green Belt, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and local designations such as Rural Area Beyond the Green Belt.

We previously circulated a proposed minor amendment to the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) which we believe would clarify the position regarding the requirement to take account of designated protected areas such as Green Belt and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty in the formulation of housing targets.  These considerations are being regularly over-ridden in both Local Plans and planning appeal decisions by what is regarded, in our view inappropriately, as housing need.

Recent responses by Mr Chris Pincher, Planning Minister, by letter to Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council, and to parliamentary questions raised by Daisy Cooper MP and Julie Marson MP, re-emphasise that the primary responsibility for setting housing targets lies with the relevant Local Planning Authority (LPA).  Paragraph 11 of the NPPF effectively directs LPAs to take account of designated protected areas which it regards as ‘strong reasons’ to vary housing needs calculated by using the ‘standard’ or an alternative method.

The continued ignoring of this requirement by planning officers and inspectors is causing increasing concern in local communities.  This is evidenced by the recent record-breaking number of responses to Local Plan consultations in Hertfordshire, and a growing number of speculative housing and other planning applications in Green Belt and Rural Area Beyond the Green Belt (where designated) throughout the County.

There is a growing realisation that this situation should not continue.  We welcome the recent decision by the Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council Cabinet Planning Panel to revert to previous housing targets, rather than accede to figures in part proposed by the planning inspector, and note that similar moves are being considered elsewhere, including by Vale of White Horse Council.

It is clear to us that significant changes in practice are needed both to how housing need is calculated, and how housing targets may more clearly reflect local conditions and statutorily designated protected areas.  The first step could be for Councils to indicate wherever appropriate, and especially in the Local Plan preparation process, that the existing methodology is not fit for purpose.

Given the importance of these designated protected areas to local communities and the important role they play in helping to address the climate emergency, we are calling for an  immediate moratorium on granting permission for all major development proposals, whether as planning applications or site allocations in Local Plans, in designated protected areas including the Green Belt.

This would allow time for the Government to clarify in the Planning Bill how it intends to deliver on its promise not to build on the Green Belt.  It would remove the threat of damaging unplanned and speculative development on protected open countryside for the time being.

We should be grateful for your support for this temporary measure.  It is especially necessary for Hertfordshire local authorities where either all, or a large proportion, of the non-built up land area is in designated protected areas.

Longer-term solutions need to be found to prevent the constant erosion of the countryside which may include a review of economic development aims, the impact of climate change and carbon reduction requirements, and biodiversity objectives.  This short-term requirement is to maintain the protections which exist but are being jeopardised by unplanned speculative development proposals which do nothing to tackle the housing crisis.

Yours sincerely,

Chris Berry, Planning Manager

Symondshyde, in the Green Belt in Welwyn Hatfield Borough Martin Sones for Save Symondshyde