Opinion Piece – #greenbelt #epsom #surrey
– Saving of Downs Farm only bright spot , as brownfield priorities missed
Given the Government’s “brownfield first” brief, it looks like the planners did not get the memo. They certainly did not get the new memo from Government saying that it is not necessary to review Green Belt for housing. And they appear not to have taken the hint from neighbouring Elmbridge, who creatively avoided any Green Belt destruction, and Mole Valley, whose councillors this month voted unanimously to remove all Green Belt sites from its Local Plan.
Out of 5,400 new homes proposed in the Draft Local Plan (2023-2040) , with Epsom & Ewell BC councillors due to take a final Section 18 publication decision on 30 January, some 2,175 homes (almost 41%) are earmarked to be built on the borough’s Green Belt land.
Of nine “Preferred Option” development sites proposed, five are Green Belt – with Downs Farm, where 650 homes were proposed, only narrowly missing the cut after a huge campaign by residents.
Over 55 hectares – or some 137 acres – of Green Belt land could be sacrificed. The plans include one gigantic estate of some 1,500 homes on land around Horton Farm, which will have its Green Belt status stripped away.
The “Preferred Options” for Green Belt development are:
- 150 homes around West Park Hospital
- 1,500 homes around Horton Farm
- 25 homes next to Chantilly Way
- 350 homes on the sports fields by Ewell East Station
- 150 homes on sports pitches at Hook Road Arena (land owned by the Council)
Only on its own land can the Council specify 100% affordable homes – the rest will be 40% at best, as developers have many canny ways to get round this stipulation and build more profitable higher end housing.
The Council even admits that they have already taken some slugs of Green Belt land for housing, on the NESCOT campus and the five hospitals housing developments – but they need more.
There is a whole Appendix (Appendix 4) revealing yet more Green Belt sites that have been offered up by opportunistic developers in a “ Call for Sites” that have been mercifully excluded as “Preferred Options”. Much of the analysis seems subjective and open to question.
And then there is this – the previous Council Green Belt studies of 2017-19 have been considered out of date and a new 2022 Green Belt Study has been commissioned- but we all have yet to see this document.
EEBC needs to plunder more Green Belt, as it appears only a few brownfield landowners came forward in its “Call for Sites”. So the Plan is offering just around 1,000 homes in Epsom Town Centre until year 2040, and the same meagre number over 15 years on Urban Land Availability Assessment sites, and it reckons the same number again for existing planning permissions.
So where is the real challenge taken up, to redevelop Epsom Town surroundings, which most commentators agree could do with some rejuvenation, to say the least? Well, the Kiln Lane and Longmead industrial areas are said to be off limits, according to consultants for EEBC, because of the 1,800 jobs there. So not a single new brownfield affordable home is put forward here, with no imaginative plan to mix housing with job creation and revitalise an area close to the station, shops and entertainment facilities that many people prefer.
Smaller brownfield developments of around 5 to 10 homes each, do not seem to be in the Draft Plan either, although we may have missed the brownwood for the trees “We are left with the conclusion that the planners – and by extension our ruling Councillors – are in a “Call for Sites” trap. This has inhibited visionary thinking and pro-active engagement with urban developers on how much-needed affordable housing might be built in tandem with an exciting redevelopment programme that Epsom’s brownfield areas so desperately need” said Yufan Si, campaign leader for
Keep Epsom & Ewell’s Green Belt
“All they seem able to do about it is to bulldozer yet another field of our Green Belt heritage” said Ms Si.
24th January 2023