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The Green Belt is an area of land surrounding urban areas in the UK that is protected from development in order to preserve the countryside and prevent “urban sprawl”.

Advantages of building houses on Green Belt land in the UK include:

· Provision of more housing to meet demand, particularly in areas with high housing prices and limited supply

· Potential for economic growth and job creation through the construction and maintenance of new housing developments

Disadvantages of building houses on Green Belt land include:

· Loss of valuable green spaces and habitats for wildlife

· Possible negative impact on the character and quality of life of nearby communities

· Potential strain on local infrastructure and public services

· Possible increase in urban sprawl and traffic congestion.

It's important to note that the UK government has a policy of protecting Green Belts, however in exceptional circumstance such as a shortage of housing, it might be allowed.

Hall Farm is not Green Belt, although it is largely composed of green fields. "Greenfield" sites are defined as undeveloped areas within or outside a city, typically agricultural land.

Disadvantages of building on green field sites include:

· Infrastructure installation is often required.

· Further away from essential services.

· Longer commutes for workers, often leading to "car dependency".

· May be viewed as urban sprawl and generally has a negative environmental impact.

So what are the alternatives, given that we have a growing population, a shortage of houses and greater demand for houses than can be met by current supply?

As looked at in the previous blog post, so called brown field sites (sites that have previously been built on) are a possible alternative that overcome many of the disadvantages outlined above. However, there are still drawbacks:

· Brownfield sites may be contaminated with hazardous materials, such as chemicals or pollutants, which can be costly and time-consuming to clean up.

· Building on brownfield land may be subject to more complex planning and regulatory requirements than greenfield sites.

· Brownfield sites may be more expensive to develop, due to the cost of cleaning up the site and addressing any environmental hazards.

· The community may have negative feelings towards the development of brownfield sites due to the previous industrial use of the land and potential environmental hazards.

So, Green Belt areas (such as large parts of North Wokingham) are protected, while green field and brown field are problematic. What is left?

How about not building in the South East of England?

Advantages:

· Lower costs: Land outside of the South East and London is generally cheaper, which means that the cost of building houses will be lower. This can make it more affordable for developers to build new homes, which can help to increase the supply of housing.

· More space: Land outside of the South East and London is generally less densely populated, which means that there is more space available for building houses. This can make it easier for developers to find suitable plots of land for building new homes.

· Better quality of life: Living outside of the South East and London can offer a better quality of life for those who choose to move there. This can include things like less pollution, quieter streets, and more green space.

Disadvantages:

· Access to services: Living outside of the South East and London can make it more difficult to access certain services, such as healthcare and education. This can be a disadvantage for those who need to use these services frequently.

· Transport links: Living outside of the South East and London can also make it more difficult to access transport links, such as trains and buses. This can make it harder for people to travel to work or visit friends and family.

· Lack of local amenities: Living outside of the South East and London can also mean that there are fewer local amenities, such as shops and restaurants. This can make it harder for people to access the things they need on a daily basis.

But news coming in from areas such as Surrey indicate that changes may be afoot to change the “Protected status” of some Green Belt Areas.

“In light of recent announcements by the government, Mole Valley District Council (MVDC) has taken the decision to pause before moving on to the next stage in its Future Mole Valley timetable. MVDC will await clarification on the government’s plans for the planning system and Green Belt before deciding its next course of action.

Councillor Margaret Cooksey, Cabinet Member for Planning, said: “Michael Gove, the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, made three announcements relating to housing targets and Local Plan production last week. Broadly, those announcements were suggestive of changes being made to the National Planning Policy Framework before Christmas. This has given us cause to consider and driven our decision to inform the Inspector in charge of the Local Plan Examination that we wish to put a pause to proceedings until we better understand what the government is saying.”

Is the UK Government really about to grasp the thorny nettle of where is the best place to build?

Don’t hold your breath a cynic might suggest. Meanwhile, where are we locally?

Many of you will have signed our petition, started last year and closing in December with over 1,800 signatures. We were led to believe that 1,500 signatures would initiate a debate at full council. Sadly, it seems this is not the case, as explained by the council’s legal department:

“Originally there was an intention for LPU consultation to commence in the summer 2022 but with the change in administration there is a pause. I understand that currently we are awaiting the administration to provide guidance on the continued approach to the LPU and it is likely to be after the next election.. It seems that even with the temporary pause, the LPU is still very much live and the decision to proceed as current (with Hall Farm) or an alternative strategy, still needs to be made by Members. As such I consider that there is still a ‘planning decision’ to be made as specified in our petition scheme... If the Petition isn’t rejected and the matter is debated, then the risk is that the content of such debate could led to a subsequent accusation of predeterminate or bias”.

(Decision makers are entitled to be predisposed to particular views. However, predetermination occurs where someone closes their mind to any other possibility beyond that predisposition, with the effect that they are unable to apply their judgement fully and properly to an issue requiring a decision).

So because the leadership in Wokingham have dithered and delayed, avoiding difficult decisions we, the voters, are left with no debate, no Local Plan, and no progress on building the houses we (allegedly) desperately need in Wokingham.

Meanwhile, as many of you are no doubt aware the speculative developments with “presumption in favour of being passed” by the Independent Planning Inspector continue apace. The presumption if favour of development is there because the Local Plan, with its attendant 5 year land supply, is not there!

Coming soon to a green field near you, another vast housing estate with all the problems of traffic, overcrowding and inadequate infrastructure.

(Paragraph 14 of the NPPF provides for a presumption in favour of sustainable development in instances where either the development proposal accords with the development plan, or the development plan is absent, silent or the relevant policies are out-of-date).

Accordingly we will of necessity be putting up our own candidates for Election in May.

The complex issues of what houses to build and where to build them are simply too important to be ignored while politicians kick it all down the road in the desperate hope that the voters are too ignorant of the debate to think things through for themselves.


Watch this space!

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