NEIGHBOURHOOD FORUM UPDATE 17
Green Belt Review published
The long wait is over. At the beginning of this month Woking Borough Council (WBC) published the review of the Borough’s green belt which it had commissioned from consultants. It is a thorough and comprehensive study by any measure and will be used to shape the future development of Woking.
Publication of the review documents - there are five in all - is the first step in a lengthy exercise which is unlikely to be completed before early 2016. The consultants’ review considers all the sites which could be removed from the green belt to provide for development. It is for WBC to identify specific sites which will enable it to meet its housing and other development needs beyond 2022.
WBC leader, Cllr John Kingsbury stated: “At this stage, we are considering the recommendations made by the independent review before giving residents, businesses and other interested stakeholders the opportunity to have their say as part of the consultation later in the year.”
Several areas of land adjacent to the Hook Heath escarpment are among those which could lose their green belt designation and be opened up for large scale development a few years hence. They include land north of Saunders Lane and west of Egley Road.
Together with the Mayford Village Society, supported by the Campaign to Protect Rural England, the Forum has expressed strong opposition to the possible loss of land with existing green belt status.
The green belt review documentation can be accessed on the WBC website. Forum members might find it useful, however, to read the Council’s non-technical summary, which includes maps, and can be found by visiting the WBC website - www.woking.gov.uk - and clicking through to the review documents.
Greenery and the Plan
The principal objective of our Neighbourhood Plan is to maintain the area’s distinctive and special residential character. Careful scrutiny is, therefore, being applied to the review documentation and to developing policies which will safeguard areas against inappropriate development where land might be released from green belt protection.
However, our policies must be consistent with the National Planning Policy Framework - which has a presumption in favour of development - and with the 2027 WBC Core Strategy. The policies within our plan relating to green belt, therefore, must relate directly to areas of green belt within the designated Hook Heath Neighbourhood Area (HHNA)(and there are some).
We will be able, however, to comment on adjacent areas which could be released from the green belt and where development could potentially have a major impact on the HHNA. This is especially relevant to land which is adjacent to the Hook Heath escarpment and defined as “rising ground of landscape importance.”
It is worth recalling that, prior to his move in the Government reshuffle, Nick Boles MP, the junior minister in the Department for Communities and Local Government with responsibility for planning, published a letter in which he reiterated the Government’s policy on the responsibilities of local authorities when considering changes to green belt boundaries following recommendations by planning inspectors.
He reaffirmed that councils should not feel obliged to change green belt boundaries and emphasised that the Government recognised the need to protect the green belt and that changes should only be made in exceptional circumstances.
More on boundaries
Earlier this month the Local Government Boundary Commission published its proposed warding pattern for the Borough as part of a three month public consultation which will continue to Monday 6 October.
It appears that the Boundary Commission has accepted WBC’s recommendations in large measure. These will result in a reduction in the number of elected councillors from 36 to 30 and the creation of new electoral wards. The existing St Johns and Hook Heath ward will disappear and a significantly larger new ward, Heathlands, will be created by merging the Hook Heath element with the existing Mayford and Sutton Green ward.
Subject to Parliamentary approval the new arrangements will take effect in May 2016 when a full Borough election will be held. Comments and suggestions should be made via: https://consultation.lgbce.org.uk/node/2341 .
And on the subject of consultation
Over the past few days Forum Steering Group members have been delivering letters to all 725 addresses within the HHNA providing everyone with, what I hope is, adequate notice of our intention to provide each address with a copy of the initial draft Neighbourhood Plan later this year.
We really do need to receive your feedback on the draft document so that we can take on board comments received and make amendments, as appropriate, before we submit it to WBC. This phase of the consultation is vitally important to enable the Plan to go forward.
Our webmaster, Neil Cryer, is working to produce a feedback form which will be available on the Forum website - www.hhra.co.uk/hookheathforum - for residents to respond online. For those who would prefer to provide comments in hard copy, please advise our Forum secretary, Heather Mustard or myself and we’ll arrange to deliver a feedback form to you.
We shall be posting more information and supporting documents on the website over the remainder of this year. Do please make a point of visiting the website regularly to keep up to date with developments.
The next meeting of the Forum is scheduled for Wednesday 17 September at Gorse Hill, Hook Heath Road commencing at 7.30 pm. By that date I hope that I shall be able to report substantial progress towards completion of the initial draft Plan.
Another important date is Wednesday 19 November at Gorse Hill starting at 7.30pm when we will meet at the first Annual General Meeting of the Forum. The formal business will include a report on the work of the Forum in the first year since it received formal designation, presentation of the accounts and the election of officers.
Good news on two fronts this week with the local press reporting that WBC has approved the formal designation of the Brookwood & Bridley Neighbourhood Forum which held its first formal meeting on 24 July. Elsewhere, and in sharp contrast to warnings reported in Update 16 that the Chobham Plan was in danger of foundering though lack of support, the village’s Neighbourhood Plan is apparently entering the final stages of preparation.
Enjoy the rest of the summer and don’t forget to keep an eye on the website, www.hhra.co.uk/hookheathforum and keep in touch with our progress.
Thank you for your continued interest and support.
Chairman, Hook Heath Neighbourhood Forum
Hook Heath Neighbourhood Forum
an initiative of the Hook Heath Residents' Association
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