Opinion from Councillor Kieran Persand (Conservative Horton Ward) on the Local Plan business.
Tonight, at 7:30pm, your Epsom & Ewell Borough Councillors will be meeting to decide on whether or not to unpause the Local Plan.
However, this meeting holds greater significance than just the unpausing. It is about the future of our community, and whether we want to protect what makes our borough unique, both for us now and for future generations.
Being born and raised in Epsom and Ewell, I have cherished memories in every corner of the borough. Whether that is playing football at Gibraltar Recreation Ground in Ewell on a cold Sunday morning; walking our dog on a sunny Wednesday afternoon on Hook Road Arena; or my parents buying me an ice cream as a treat on the Downs. Our green spaces and their protection are vital for our community.
And so, it saddens me that since the meeting to pause on 22 nd March, there has been no change, nor even a commitment to change from the Council on the direction of the Local Plan. As it stands, there is still an inclusion of over 50 hectares of greenfield, Greenbelt land.
We are probably in a worse position than we were seven months ago as fewer sites have come forward than anticipated in the call for sites process.
It is clear what residents want and need. You made your voices heard. Over 11,000 of you signed a petition demanding for the removal of Greenbelt land from the Local Plan. It is a shame that you haven’t been properly listened to. Since being elected in May, I’ve been determined to change that and build on the work of Cllr Bernie Muir and Chris Grayling MP.
You may have heard people say that it is because of the Government that the Council must build on Greenbelt land, and that there isn’t a choice. This is untrue. There is no mandatory housing target, there are only guidelines which provide a starting point for considering local needs. It’s clearly stated in the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) that it is not a requirement to build on Greenbelt land in order to meet specific housing levels.
It is a misguided and hopefully short-lived choice, that Epsom & Ewell Borough Council have taken to propose building on Greenbelt land. If Worthing Council can gain approval from the government’s Planning Inspector when they met only 25% of their target, why can’t Epsom and Ewell achieve a similar result? We already have ample evidence to support us in planning for a realistic and achievable target of 3,800 homes, including truly affordable homes for those in greatest needs, which can be achieved solely using brownfield land. This is the direction we should take.
The current NPPF guidance gives us the ability to remove Greenbelt land. This is stated in Para. 11. We don’t have to wait for any changes to the Framework, we can be proactive now.
There is a need for housing in Epsom and Ewell but nothing in the current Local Plan addresses that need. What is needed is truly affordable housing for key workers and young people, and the possibility of housing stock for local Housing Associations to provide for those who cannot otherwise reach the first rung of the housing ladder. ‘Affordable homes’ are not £500,000 -£1m properties, as these will never be affordable for the average worker.
We need a plan that maximises our current urban brownfield space, not a plan that wants to build in fields and woodland, in critical drainage areas, or areas in which there is insufficient infrastructure. We need a plan that is creative and forward-thinking.
At the Full Council meeting on 25th July, I submitted a motion, seconded by Cllr Muir, for the removal of Greenbelt land from the Local Plan and the protection of Greenbelt boundaries. However, this was rejected by the Council, with no adequate reasoning provided, and so didn’t go in front of Councillors to debate.
After that, I quickly realised that for real change to happen with the Local Plan, we all needed to work together. And so, myself and a group of like-minded Councillors from across the political spectrum have been working collaboratively together with the intent to set the Local Plan on the right course. It’s been incredible and reaffirms what local politics should be about – doing the best for residents.
We have now submitted an amendment for the meeting today, calling for the removal of Greenbelt land; protect the existing Greenbelt boundaries; and for there to be commitments to have truly affordable housing.
I want residents to remember – if Councillors do vote this amendment down. They are effectively voting against the protection of our greenbelt land; they are voting against having truly affordable homes for people who need them; they are voting against protecting the character of our unique area; and they are voting against the people they serve.
If the Local Plan is to be unpaused, there needs to be guiding principles that provide clear direction for the Local Plan over the coming months, we cannot be in a position where nothing has changed. This would be a waste of resources and taxpayer money.
So, I urge all my colleagues in the Council chamber tonight, whether Residents’ Association, Liberal Democrats, or Labour, to work proactively and collaboratively together to realign the Local Plan to address the needs and concerns of residents and provide the strong direction you deserve by voting for the proposed amendment.