Cllr Nigel Ashton speaks up for the Green Belt

Nigel Ashton writes: I had the opportunity to make my first speech as a councillor on an issue of huge importance to many people in Meols Ward – protecting our Green Belt. This is what I had to say at Sefton's Full Council meeting held on 1st September.

"Thank you Madam Deputy Chair. I am pleased to have the opportunity to make my maiden speech in the Council chamber on a matter of such importance.

"This motion is about how to carry out the balancing act between the undoubted need for housing on the one hand, and the desire of residents to maintain cherished open spaces on the other. Not an easy task by any means.

"Before I turn to the specific actions called for in the motion I'd like to address some of the broader issues.

"There is a lot of discussion about the National Planning Policy Framework and the Localism Bill and how they affect our decisions on the Council's Core Strategy.

"But, the National Planning Policy Framework is itself a draft which is currently out for consultation, as we have heard. And the Localism Bill will be entering its Report Stage in the House of Lords next week, and is likely to have a lot of amendments. So national policy is in a state of flux, to put it mildly. What does the Government say?

"In last Sunday's Observer newspaper, Greg Clark, the Minister for Planning, said and I quote "Local communities are the best judges of what is important in their area".

"So the Government minister for Planning is giving a clear steer that matters such as whether to build on the Green Belt should be taken locally. We are not to be bound by arbitrary targets set by central government. Equally, we shouldn't try to bind ourselves with arbitrary targets, when we come to consider the options in the Core Strategy.

"On the issue of the Core Strategy, I must mention some of the issues raised by residents in my own ward. At least two parcels of land identified for housing are high quality agricultural land, subject to flooding and are wildlife sites, so when we decide our policy we should reject such land as suitable for building.

"Residents have been up in arms and the Consultation session held in Meols Ward attracted the highest number of members of the public out of any held in the Borough.

"If local decision making and local democracy mean anything then we must surely continue to protect Green Belt land.

"And that brings me to the heart of this motion. It is our contention that Sefton Council can identify ways of meeting housing demand for the foreseeable future without building on Green Belt land. Or even threatening to build on Green Belt – which in itself leads to all the problems associated with planning blight for residents in the identified areas.

"I notice from the new draft timeline for the Core Strategy, referred to earlier, that the Core Strategy is not due to be adopted until 'Late 2014'. That means that it could still be in force in 2029. It is completely impossible to predict what the state of the economy, the state of the housing market, or even the state of government planning policy will be that far ahead.

"One thing is sure however, and that is that developers prefer building on green field sites rather than brownfield – because it's easier.

"So our job as a Council is to find ways of meeting identifiable housing need without having to encroach on Green Belt land. The fact that that may not be the easier option, or may require a degree of lateral thinking, should not deter us.

"We believe that the steps outlined in section 4 of the motion are a necessary stage in developing a robust, sustainable, and above all an acceptable, development strategy for the Borough of Sefton. "