Communities on the outskirts of our city and their elected representatives are quite right to campaign to protect our urban fringe sites from rampant overdevelopment.
However, it’s important to understand exactly where the threat comes from. This is not being helped by a mysterious set of claims coming from some of the city’s Conservative councillors.
Among other things, they claim things went wrong with the election of Caroline Lucas in 2010.
The problems certainly started at the 2010 election, but not with the election of a single MP. It was the election of David Cameron’s Tory-led Coalition Government when the rot set in.
That government’s 2012 National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) or the “developers’ charter” as it is known, created the threat which still faces our green spaces.
In 2013-14, the Green administration put forward plans to protect the city’s fringe sites. Acting on the basis of the NPPF, the Tory government-appointed planning inspector replied with a curt “Computer says no”.
This forced us to identify a small percentage of our precious urban fringe for potential development.
Had we refused, ALL our green spaces would have come under threat. Without a “local plan”, councils are powerless to defend their local area. All councillors, then and now, should know that.
Unfortunately, today, the danger to our green spaces is growing not diminishing as the current Tory government seeks to massively increase house-building, regardless of the cost to local communities or the environment.
I do not doubt that locally elected representatives of all parties are frustrated by the results of the government’s ever more developer-led planning regime.
Looking elsewhere in the country, it’s not hard to find Conservative councillors and MPs brave enough to speak out against their government’s hell-for-leather drive to concrete over our green and pleasant land.
A Savanta Comres survey on Monday 28 September showed that nationally, 61 per cent of Tory councillors were worried that the government’s housing plans would reduce local democracy.
Across the country, Tory councillors are writing to their government colleagues urging them to reconsider this rush towards environmental destruction.
On hearing that the algorithm the government has put in charge of deciding the figures would increase pressure on land supply (by a massive 287 per cent in Brighton and Hove), Conservative councillor and former leader of Swindon Borough Council David Renard said: “Algorithms and formulas can never be a substitute for local knowledge and decision-making by councils and communities who know their areas best.”
In Parliament, Tory MPs representing rural constituencies are also cottoning on to the problem.
Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, the treasurer of the 1922 Committee, said: “We have seen in recent years that, too often, developers have been able to push through schemes within Areas of Outstanding National Beauty (AONBs) on the basis that local authorities have not provided enough shovel-ready building land … The binding local house-building targets proposed are likely to worsen existing problems.”
And yet, in Brighton and Hove, when they speak out over proposed developments in Patcham, Coldean, Woodingdean and Benfield Valley, our local Tories try to place the blame on the council.
It begs the question: “What is it that the Conservative Party is actually trying to conserve?” Is it our precious natural green spaces? Or the profit margins of their developer friends? One thing’s for sure, it can’t be both.
I urge councillors of all parties and none to join in the vital task of lobbying for the reform of our national planning laws and to demand that local planning decisions are taken out of the hands of the government – and their algorithms – and returned to local people and their local representatives.
Leo Littman is a Green councillor and chairs Brighton and Hove City Council’s Planning Committee.
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