Petition to Save Greenbelt Along the Wharfe Valley

The following is the speech given yesterday by Dr Steve Ellams to Bradford Metropolitan District Council when he handed in a petition containing 1500 signatures concerned about the loss of Greenbelt along the Wharfe Valley.

Save our Greenbelt

We, the undersigned, recognising the success of previous government’s greenbelt policies and the need to resist any relaxation of the current greenbelt boundaries, call on central and local government to respect the integrity of those boundaries, and refrain from any policy which would alter the specific areas in Wharfedale at present protected from development by those greenbelt policies.

The signatures on this petition have been accumulated from residents and visitors from the main communities along the Wharfedale valley. These include Addingham Ilkley Ben Rhyddring Burley in Wharfedale and Menston.

In attendance today are some residents from these communities of which I am the spokesperson.

So what is actually meant by the “Green Belt”?

Historically: According to the Oxford Dictionary it is an area of open land for preservation round a city.

If only it were that simple.

According to the planning policy guidance (2) Green Belts 24th Jan 1995, the first time Green Belts were implemented was under the Town and Country Planning act of 1947 but this was only in the London area. In 1955 areas outside London were invited to consider the establishment of Green Belts.

Over four decades the planning policy regarding green belt has been adhered to by successive governments. This equates to approx. 1,556,000 hectares that is to say 12% of England.

So why me and why this petition at this time?

When the draft proposals for a new National Planning guidance was proposed a few years ago I was getting ever more involved in local planning issues mainly through the Wharfedale and Airedale Reviews Developments group and Menston Action Group.

I am the newly elected Chairman of Menston Community Association and as such thought with the strategic position Menston holds in the Wharf valley I was ideally suited to front such a project.

The newly formed National Planning Policy Framework was supposed to put local councils and communities at the heart of planning and as part of the reforms to the policy it has three fundamental objectives

1.  To put power in the hands of communities to shape the places in which they live.

2.  To help create the homes and jobs the country needs.

3.  Protect and enhance our natural and historic environment.

The National Planning Policy Framework does not require councils to provide more houses than are needed. It simply asks local planning authorities to identify and plan to meet the needs of their communities, unless adverse impacts of so doing would significantly and demonstrably outweigh the benefits.

The fundamental green belt policy in the NPPF is to prevent urban sprawl by keeping land permanently open with the essential characteristic of openness and permanence.

Green Belt thus serves five purposes.

  1. To check the unrestricted sprawl of large built up areas
  2.  To prevent neighbouring towns  merging into one another
  3. To assist in safeguarding the countryside from encroachment
  4. To preserve the setting and special character of historic towns
  5. To assist in urban regeneration by encouraging  the recycling of derelict and other urban land

What is actually happening in terms of reality?

If you listen to The Campaign for the Protection of Rural England the cynics amongst us may start to believe there will be no green space left if we continue to invade the Green Belt at the current rate.  However when you look around, particularly locally, they certainly may have a point!

The A65 corridor is a case in point, from inner Leeds to Addingham the communities are slowly gradually joining up and the identities disappearing.

Menston under the original Bradford Local Development Framework would join Guiseley and Burley in Wharfedale. This in turn would join Ilkley and eventually Addingham.  Menston and Burley were originally designated as towns. I am sure there is some relief here today in that this scenario may now be prevented.

I was struck whilst doing the petition that the only members of the public who were antagonistic towards me were the land owners and farmers. I can certainly understand why when you take into account the massive increase in the value of their land with planning permission. In my opinion Green Belt land is sacrosanct both for the present and future generations.  But I hear you say ‘NIMBY’ and how on earth did we get here in the first place. Humans evolve but it is all a question of the rate of evolution and whether development is sustainable.

Most of the petitioners felt things were moving far too fast and that this was driven by the money grabbing developers, their words not mine.

My opinion would be much much stronger and with some evidence to back it up!!

Just look at the articles the Telegraph & Argus has published over the past few years, with particular note in the last year on Green Space loss and ask yourself is this new Planning Framework working. Ask the communities who will be blighted with flooding, congestion, lack of infrastructure, lack on schooling – you know the usual stuff, we have heard it by the bucket full.

I have orchestrated two visits to the area by the current planning minister Nic Boles, if you do not know his nickname is concrete boles or Boles the builder, he has been quoted on many occasions wanting to build on Green Belt almost with abandonment.

What a state of affairs.

I would like to conclude with a couple of quotes from a letter from Mr Boles earlier this year,

” We want to see housing developing in a properly planned, strategic way, and not just at any cost”.

The cumulative impact of development may also be taken into account by a local council when determining an application: “Your constituents may therefore wish to raise their concerns directly with Bradford Metropolitan District Council.”

I hope by bringing this petition to you today we have followed the minister’s advice.   We know that there is a problem with “Green Belt” by virtue of the fact the Government introduced a presumption in favour of development.

Could the Council please emphasise that the right houses are built in the right place and encourage the developers to stop the practice of “ Land  Banking” if this is not followed up as soon as possible developers will continue to “ Cherry Pick” and all our communities will suffer as a consequence!

Thank you for listening to me

Dr Steve Ellams
02 December 2013