Many regular readers will be aware I am fundamentally opposed to building on our greenbelt. Indeed I am Secretary of the cross party All Party Greenbelt Support Group in Parliament.
That is because I believe in the greenbelt. I believe in what it stands for.
It is about protecting our environment. It is too easy just to think about the fields, woodlands and hedgerows around our towns and villages, as simply either development land or a nice view. These are living, breathing spaces. They are our green lungs.
I have long tried to be environmentally friendly and am a prominent member and supporter of the Green Alliance think tank, (infamously I remember riding my bike to my first hustings in the constituency, only to be trundled past by one of my parliamentary opponents in his personalized 4x4); the thought of losing large swathes of our wildlife, farm land, hedgerows and green space under tons of concrete and mortar is one I find deeply sad. We are the guardians of our beautiful land, and we must protect what green space we have. Yes, there must be sustainable long term growth, and I have written many times on the need for housing, but it is at our peril if we rush into building on the greenbelt simply because it is the cheapest or easiest option.
Which brings me to my specific opposition to Labour's Draft Local Development Plan here in Northumberland.
Each County Council has been tasked with drawing together an up-to-date local plan, with identified sites to meet five years of housing need. The Government has produced guidance but kept its conditions for these plans to a minimum, so that they can be truly locally led and locally decided. All very sensible in principle and many local Council's have already completed their well constructed plans. The debate I held in parliament pointed out that Manchester with its over 2 million people and many different boroughs, completed their plan from start to finish in under 18 months.
Then however we get to Northumberland.
Firstly the plan is late. Very late. We will be lucky if we meet the deadline for completion early next year. Which may be part of the explanation for my second problem with the plan: It's a bad one, a really bad one.
We know that based on historical trends that towns like Hexham will need to grow by about 4-5% over the coming years. Yet the County Council says it will grow by 10-12%. That's not a figure based on housing need. It's a figure quite literally plucked from thin air. There is seemingly no real evidence for this figure.
Regardless of your interpretation of the specific housing figures required, the County Council's population and housing estimates for places like Hexham and Ponteland are way out of kilter with what anyone else anywhere is projecting. They are not proposing building in the greenbelt because we need to - they are proposing building because they want to.
The Councils projections are based on what they call a "dwelling led scenario" as opposed to a "Trend scenario."
A trend scenario would have plotted a growth projection, and then allocated the number of houses we need, based on historical trends, data predictions and long term Office of National Statistics demographic indicators.
Instead, Northumberland County Council ignores all of those factors and works backwards, coming up with the number of houses it would like to build - then saying that is how much the area will grow by - if that number of houses are built. If your lost at this point I don't blame you, it is a logic Monty Python would be proud of.
The draft LDF, drawn up under the Lib Dems and signed off by Labour is not a sensible sustainable plan for housing growth. It is poorly worded, missing hugely significant statistical information and based on a hugely flawed premise. The draft Plan is open for consultation until 2nd January 2014. I urge you to get involved and have your say - you can do so by clicking here.
As always, if you support the plan then please write in and say so. I oppose it. If you do then you should also write in or take action as I am. But the key point is that you do have both a democratic opportunity and a chance to influence. It is worth pointing out that until the Localism Act, the new protections for green belt, and the change of government we would have been stuck with John Prescott and his regional spatial strategies. But as always I urge you to make your case, just as the teams of people behind the protection of Ponteland Green Belt and the Hexham Green Belt have done.
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