Setback for the Green Belt

There was a disappointing result in the Elmbridge Planning meeting last night (7/9/2021) when application 2021/0183 was passed by 9 votes to 7 with 4 abstentions. This application is to build 27 houses/flats, including some affordable housing, at the site below the Medicine Garden on Downside Road. Currently this site is occupied by timber businesses including Challenge Fencing.

The plans had a number of positive points and the designs were better than many that are submitted but the land is Green Belt and although it is not the most attractive site in the current form, it was protecting against urban sprawl.

The new houses may improve the aesthetics by opening up the view; adding new trees/gardens, reducing some flooding in the area by reducing the hardstanding and improving the drainage but there are several areas of concern:

  1. Even though it is a timber yard, this is Green Belt land and the primary purpose of the Green Belt is to hold back urban sprawl. Once houses are built on it then it is adding to urban sprawl so it is no longer functioning as Green Belt.
  2. Challenge Fencing did not want to have to relocate to other sites and it will potentially lose around 15 jobs – or at least it will have to relocate those outside of Elmbridge.
  3. The site is on a very fast stretch of road and is poorly served by pavements so pedestrians, especially those with young families, will be at risk when leaving the site on foot.
  4. This means that most of the 27 households will use their cars (up to 54 of them) to get about – further adding to congestion, pollution and climate change. Although some EV chargers were included in the plans, there was little else to make these properties net-zero from a climate perspective.

This was a challenging application with many pros/cons and the debate was finely balanced. The Conservative local ward Councillor made an impassioned case about the risk of children being killed on the road but then in the end decided to vote for the plan. However, this was not decided purely on party lines. Other Conservatives argued and voted against or abstained and a few of the coalition Councillors voted for the plan.

This highlights that we cannot take protection of the Green Belt for granted, especially in these borderline cases. Whilst I acknowledge some of the positives of this application to meet the housing/affordable housing targets, after reviewing the application and listening to the debate, my view was that the balance should have been tilted in favour of protecting the Green Belt and the local jobs.

Cllr David Young

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