Amid claims of the Residents Association Councillors being “asleep at the wheel” one of the biggest residents’ protests ever held in Epsom took place yesterday. Over 200 demonstrators waved banners, wore green or green belts, and chanted “Green not Greed” in the town centre on Saturday (February 25).
Fury was directed at not only the EEBC planners’ Draft Local Plan containing proposals to build 2,175 homes on Green Belt sites, but also the controlling Residents Association councillors group, which, it is claimed, “were asleep at the wheel” in voting Green Belt inclusion through. Over 40% of the total 5,400 Local Plan homes are destined for the Green Belt, the majority of which will be market-priced and unaffordable to those starting out on the property ladder, protestors argue.
Of nine “preferred options” for housing sites earmarked by the Council in the Local Plan, five are on Green Belt sites, which include Horton Farm (1,500 homes proposed) and Ewell East playing fields (350 homes, up to six storeys high).
Despite a “brownfield first” brief, planning officers have not proactively engaged with developers on central urban rejuvenation possibilities, near facilities, preferring instead to accept opportunistic bids from selected Green Belt landowners and developers, protestors claim.
In a display of some cross party support, the protestors were joined by representatives from political parties standing in forthcoming local elections in Epsom & Ewell, including two RA councillors who had voted against their colleagues on Green Belt inclusion. Cllr Eber Kington (RA Ewell Court Ward) and Cllr Christine Howells (RA Nonsuch Ward). They were joined by Cllr Bernie Muir (Conservative – Stamford) and Mark Todd Chair of the Epsom and Ewell Labour Party.
Demonstration organiser, Kathy Mingo, from the Epsom & Ewell Green Belt Group, said “It was heartening to see everyone uniting beyond party political lines against these unjustified Green Belt destruction plans, given new emerging Government guidelines that puts the focus squarely on brownfield development to meet only advisory, not mandatory, housing targets”
Alex Duval, vice-chairman of Clarendon Park Residents Association, which adjoins the Horton Farm Green Belt site said “ The data does not add up. The Council’s own reports show that the site contains a critical drainage area with high flood risk; their transport analysis recommends not taking the site forward; and reliance on outdated ONS 2014 population figures – rather than the lower 2018 and official 2021 Census figures – means Epsom’s housing needs are significantly overstated. The real housing need can be accommodated on brownfield alone, without any Green Belt destruction.Their own evidence is clear – the Council should save our Green Belt”
Tim Murphy, a vice president of CPRE Surrey and chair of Epsom’s CPRE group, said “CPRE’s experience is that, once sites are listed in a Council’s Local Plan as a “preferred option” for development, then, in 99% of cases, they eventually get developed. So EEBC has already put a number of Green Belt sites at real, permanent risk by identifying them for housing in its Draft Local Plan, which may not be justified as current Government policy on Green Belt evolves”
“Many RA councillors’ seats may now be at risk in May if they do not join the minority of their colleagues in clearly stating their policy objection to unjustified Green Belt destruction” said Jenny Coleman, chair, Ewell Downs Residents Association. “It is clear, not least from a residents petition signed by over 7,000, but also from this impactful, united residents protest, that many think the RA councillors have been rather asleep at the wheel. They must listen to the voice of the people”.
Epsom & Ewell Borough Council Draft Local Plan. Details how to submit your views.
A petition is available at epsomgreenbelt.org
The BIG plans for Epsom and Ewell – reports on Hook Road Car Park and SGN site plan.
Local Plan battle heating up? and other related reports.
Local Planning Matters – Tim Murphy’s opinion piece for Epsom and Ewell Times