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Friday, 28 March 2008
Oxted Green Belt Development

image

This is another photo (taken in the opposite direction) of the Oxted field that is threatened with development.

Now, I live in an area that would elect a monkey to parliament if you stuck a blue rosette on it - with due respect to the current “monkey”, our esteemed local councillors and, of course, the burghers of Hartlepool who actually did elect a monkey (kind of) as mayor.  However it seems to me that the Conservative dominated Surrey County Council can have their cake and eat it. They can blame central government for the current situation where planning inspectors have the power to approve developments over the heads of local representatives, with a shrug (like Oxted Tory).  The fact is that these Councillors have a duty to represent the people who elected them. If they feel that they will lose money on court cases where they will be overruled by planning inspectors appointed by central government, then they should come back to their electorate. They could campaign and pressurise in other ways. They could engage in fund-raising to set up a legal fund to fight the most important cases. That they acquiesce so easily is not comforting, especially since it was only 3 years ago that the Tories promised to abandon their traditional defence of the Green Belt. Have they made up their minds yet? Do they have any convictions, or do they just say what they think will be most popular at the time? 

IMHO the Green Party are the only group who don’t equivocate on the environment.

One of the most intriguing recent stories of the Surrey County Council is the case of the Councillor who voted twice: a case demanding the attentions of Precious Ramotswa if ever there was one. Peter Ainsworth’s website explains the tale thus:

At a meeting of the Planning and Regulatory Committee yesterday, the Council accepted the recommendations of the officers at Surrey County Council and recorded a narrow vote in favour of allowing TARMAC planning permission to erect a Dry Silo Mortar plant at North Park Farm in Godstone.
....
- The initial vote count was 5 both for and against the application, which led to the Chair breaking the deadlock by voting in favour of the application

- However it emerged that one of the votes against the application had not been counted. After discussions with the legal team it was decide that the vote stood at 6 each, at which point the Chair again broke the deadlock by voting in favour of the application.

- The legal team’s judgement was that although there is a convention that the Chair does not vote in any initial decision, the Constitution itself allows the Chair to vote. As such legally the Chair was able to cast her vote twice.

The case also made Private Eye Magazine who explained it thus:

Surrey County Council has approved an application from Tarmac plc to build a mortar processing plant more than 110 ft tall in the middle of the green belt near Godstone. The vote in favour of the plant, which as attracted strong local opposition was 7-6. Quite a result, given that there were only 12 councillors present. On a show of hands the actual vote was 6-5 against the application but dimwitted Tory planning committee chair Pat Frost counted it as 5-5. She then used her casting vote to make it 6-5 for. When one of the councillors who had voted against protested that her vote had not been counted, Frost gave the result as 6-6 and then used a second casting vote to make it 7-6 in favour. Brilliant! Just don’t let that woman anywhere near the finance committee.

Now, according to the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England 84% of people oppose building on undeveloped land.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to work out that the best way to protect the Green Belt is to stop building on it. There are enough brownfield sites to meet the required need. Caroline Lucas, Green Party MEP recently commented on this state of affairs (particularly in South East towns such as Milton Keynes) as follows:

This is completely unacceptable: green spaces in the South-East are vanishing before our very eyes thanks to the failure of planners - not just in Milton Keynes but across the region - to restrict development to brownfield sites and converting existing buildings.

Just a thought: Somewhere the Tandridge or Surrey Councils could start is the disused gas site in Oxted, which is completely under their control.  However perhaps there would be a cost in cleaning up this site for residential re-use? Would they actually have to put their (our!) money where their mouths are?

Posted by bigblue on 28/03/2008 at 10:21 PM
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