19 Jul 2015

Guest blog from 'Save Grange Fields'

Here we have a guest blog from Teresa Vance (pictured) of Save Grange Fields AONB Group - an important local campaign group seeking to protect a key site in the Stroud Valleys. There is still time to act and send in an objection. While Ruscombe Green has supported campaigns against development on Grange Fields and indeed other greenfield sites, the views in this blog are not necessarily Green party views.
According to recent reports, in the six years between 2006 and 2012, 540000 acres of green space in the UK was converted to “artificial surfaces” – mostly housing. This is an area of about 870 square miles which has been lost to urbanisation in a very short time.  This has had the most impact on the South East of the country, but what happens there tends to spread around the UK, and the effect is indeed spreading. I also recently discovered that apparently in 2011 the EU set a target for its members to reduce “land take” (i.e. building on green land) to zero by 2050. It is unclear how, with this present rate of development, this will happen in the UK.
More development applications are being granted nationally than in the past, and this may be due to the financial incentives for councils, so what can we do to prevent this happening on green field sites? National Planning Policy (NPPF) is clear that local authorities should have regard to the character and beauty of the countryside, and extra protection is in place for areas of outstanding natural beauty (AONB) and national parks. Developers tend to use the “sustainable development” clause in the NPPF, to try to justify their development of green land by citing nebulous green credentials, which it’s hard for local authorities to argue against. There needs to be better legislation to support our communities against this type of development.

A few weeks ago, the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England (CPRE) published a report entitled “Getting Houses Built” (http://www.cpre.org.uk/resources/housing-and-planning/housing/item/3976-getting-houses-built), which discusses how best to build the required housing without compromising our green spaces. It considers the way in which land is bought by development companies and secreted in a “land bank” and then houses are built and drip-fed onto the market in a way which keeps demand and therefore prices high. This serves the share-holders well, but not the people in this country who are so desperate for housing. Nor does it advantage the communities who enjoy their local green spaces  There are several proposals made in this document about how to improve things, and all are achievable with changes in policy. One of the suggestions is that local authorities should be given more of a role in acquiring land by changing the rules on compulsory purchases, and making sure that those who sit on land without developing it are penalised in some way. This would mean that the system would be changed so that the supply of housing is not supressed. Hopefully then, things would slowly start to change and perhaps there would be better design and more custom builds by smaller companies. Overall, there would be much more transparency in the development process. 

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Last week the government announced that brownfield sites for housing should be given automatic planning permission. This is a step in the right direction, but there remains the question of whether or not this will actually change the developers’ approach.
We’ve been “lucky” here in Stroud so far – Rodborough Fields, Baxter’s Fields and Wades Farm stay green at present, but with the recent application for development on Grange Fields (www.savegrangefieldsaonb.co.uk), we are again under siege from developers who are seeking to maximise their profitability for their shareholders. No sooner does one application get rejected, than another rears its ugly head. It’s not just here in Stroud, or even Gloucestershire, but across the whole country. Just this weekend, I have been made aware of two more recent applications for large developments in Minchinhampton and Cirencester on greenfield sites. Social and traditional media are awash with campaigners trying to save their natural environment. No one argues that we don’t need more housing in this country – clearly we do, but appropriate areas like brownfield sites should be built on first before ransacking our land and ruining our green spaces for future generations. If we lose too much agricultural land where will animals be grazed and our crops grown? If it’s forests or wetlands, the damage to our wildlife and our “green lungs” is perhaps even more harshly felt.  

I suppose that what I am saying is that whatever we are feeling here in Stroud, other people in the country are feeling the same about their green spaces, and I think it would be great to join forces and fight this together as it is clearly not just a local issue. Detractors spout claims of nimbyism , but there is a great quote which says it all: “Nimby is just a derogatory term to quash legitimate community and environmental concerns.”
Persimmon Homes, who have applied to build on Grange Fields in Stroud via their subsidiary company Charles Church, hold over 87,000 plots (figures from the 2014 annual report) with planning permission in their “land bank”; enough to house more than a third of a million people. I am sure that they are not the only development company doing this. This begs the question of “if we really need all this housing, why aren’t they forced to get the houses built so that they can be occupied?” Why are they targeting areas like Grange Fields when they already have all these assets? Once land is purchased and planning permission is obtained then the Persimmons of this world can build housing and release it onto the market under their own schedule, drip-feeding it, thus keeping demand and therefore cost high. This is disadvantageous to those who desperately need housing, and particularly those who need low-cost affordable housing. People who think that there will be low-cost affordable housing at the proposed development in Grange Fields are sorely mistaken.
One can only reach the conclusion that it is all down to greed and money. Wouldn’t it be lovely if some of these huge profit-making developers agreed to NOT build on green land in the future? Maybe then, all our lives, and the future of our children and grandchildren would be a little more pleasant.

1 comment:

Philip Booth said...

A quick comment in haste...while brownfield should be developed in nearly every case before greenfield I do have serious problems with the Governments approach....first this is yet another centralised ruling rather than local people being part of deciding, second there are some key brownfield sites that have become incredibly rich and unique wildlife habitats and third if we don’t save some brownfield for economic activity that leads to out commenting - already an issue for Stroud.