This is the text of a letter which is being sent by Hungerford Town Council to the Communities and Local Government Minister Sajid Javid.
Building on Green Belt land
During your appearance on Andrew Marr’s programme on Sunday 22nd October 2017, we were delighted to hear you say that you ruled out relaxing protections on building on the Green Belt. Your statement confirmed what the Prime Minister had already said at a Downing Street Meeting with developers, local authorities and Housing Association representatives earlier that week.
In the light of those statements, and bearing in mind that it is impossible for any Minister to know everything that has been done within their departments, we are writing to bring to your attention the situation that we face here in Hungerford. West Berkshire Council (WBC), as the planning authority for the area, has designated a large greenfield site to the south of Hungerford (the Salisbury Road site) as suitable for housing development, despite opposition from us and from a substantial body of local opinion within the town. The Salisbury Road site lies within the North Wessex Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). HTC has, from the outset of the process, put forward alternative proposals comprising a mix of brownfield sites within the existing town boundary and some greenfield sites which will have a lesser environmental impact on the AONB than the Salisbury Road site. These proposals provide for an appropriate mix of “affordable” and other housing.
Following the public inquiry in July 2016, the Inspector approved WBC’s proposed designation of the Salisbury Road site, but in our view he failed (as indeed WBC had done) to understand and give effect to the requirements of HMG’s policy and, in particular, the requirements of paragraph 116 of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF). This paragraph provides that planning permission should be refused for major developments in AONBs except in exceptional circumstances and when it can be demonstrated that they are in the public interest. WBC argued that because a large proportion of West Berkshire is in the AONB, this in itself constitutes “exceptional circumstances”. In the context of paragraph 116, “exceptional circumstances” must relate to the circumstances of each particular case, and not a generalised exception applicable to the AONB. As for the “public interest” element of the criteria, WBC has made no attempt to advance any evidence or argument to meet that requirement in the case of the Salisbury Road site, beyond a general intention of wanting to provide more “affordable” housing. In pursuit of that intention, WBC has granted outline permission for the Salisbury Road site, which includes 40 “affordable” homes as part of the development of 100 houses. A request to your Department to call in the outline planning permission for review was not granted, but for what reasons we are not clear.
What is clear, however, is that if the development of Salisbury Road site is allowed to proceed, it will be contrary to and constitute a direct challenge to HMG policy and it raises the possibility that it will be used in future as a precedent to justify future breaches of that policy.
Our purpose in writing to you is to make sure that you are aware of the situation and to ask what you are able to do about it. Our local MP, Richard Benyon, is generally aware of the situation and, so far, has declined to become involved, on the basis that this is a local planning matter.
However, this goes beyond a local planning matter and has national policy implications, which need to be addressed.