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Standing up for Cheshire's Green Belt

Green belt defended by CPRE Cheshire Green belt defended by CPRE Cheshire © Martin Jones

With CPRE campaigning to protect Green Belt across the country, we turn the spotlight on Cheshire, where our local branch is fighting to keep greenfield land around Chester safe from development.

CPRE Cheshire Chairman Andrew Needham and his branch have been speaking out against Cheshire West and Chester Council’s proposal for the strategic release of Green Belt land around Chester under its new Local Plan. With public consultation on the new borough-wide Local Plan having ended, we caught up with him to find out more about the campaign.

‘In advance of any decisions about the new Local Plan, the unitary council has evaluated ten parcels of Green Belt land around Chester and assessed them as ‘green’ or ‘amber’ – Green Belt that is achieving, or partially achieving, its purpose – through to ‘red’ – Green Belt that is not achieving its purpose,’ Andrew explains.

As most of the areas have been rated ‘red’ or ‘amber’, CPRE Cheshire fears they could be earmarked for development in the new Local Plan. ‘Our response to this was firm,’ he says. ‘Green Belt can only be released in exceptional circumstances – and this needs to be defined.’

As CPRE Cheshire has long pointed out, the study considering Green Belt sites for development should not have been carried out in the first place without properly assessing local housing needs.

The branch has questioned the methodology used to evaluate land in this survey, and points out that even if the plans do not go ahead, carrying out this survey has opened the way for developers and barristers to use its findings as evidence to challenge Green Belt protection in future.

Brownfield not greenfield
CPRE Cheshire supports development in appropriate locations – but rather than seeing new housing intrude into greenfield sites around Chester, it would like to see development spread more fairly across the borough, and a review of the housing targets that were set in the Regional Spatial Strategy. Despite the Government’s intention to abolish these, the figures are still in force.

‘The proposal is heavily weighted towards building in Chester, with 25% of the planned housing concentrated there,’ Andrew says. ‘We will continue to campaign against the housing numbers being so concentrated in one part of the borough, and against the proposals to build on the Green Belt.’

In particular, CPRE Cheshire would like to see a greater proportion of the proposed housing spread across areas in need of renewal and urban regeneration, where town centres in particular need improvement.Littleton
(Right: Are Cheshire's Green Belt meadows and hedgerows to be sacrificed for housing? Photo by Martin Jones)

‘Cheshire has a strong rural image – many people associate it with farming and Cheshire cheese – but actually, the northern part of the region has a strong industrial heritage, with sites like the Stanlow oil refinery,’ says Andrew. ‘Our argument is that a greater proportion of the planned housing should be spread across other parts of Cheshire where there are more employment opportunities and more brownfield available for development, benefitting towns like Northwich, Winsford and Ellesmere Port.’

Councillor Mike Jones, Leader of Cheshire West and Chester Council, has said that only 0.2 per cent of the borough’s total Green Belt would be affected by development under the new plans – but according to CPRE Cheshire’s calculations, this figure would be far higher for the immediate Chester area.

Planning in practice
Our local campaigners are well aware that events unfolding in their county are part of the wider national debate about the Government’s commitment to Green Belt protection in the UK, and how this year’s National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) will be put into practice.

‘Despite Communities Secretary Eric Pickles pledging to protect the Green Belt at this year’s Conservative party conference, the Government’s policies are moving towards relaxing planning controls,’ says Andrew. ‘They believe in more creative use of the Green Belt. However, the NPPF still states that the boundaries should only be altered in exceptional circumstances.’

Meanwhile, our local campaign has played an important role in raising awareness of the issues at stake – and it is not the only voice raising doubts about the new plan. The branch is pleased that Stephen Mosley, the Conservative MP for Chester, and members of the council’s Labour group have also been expressing their grave concern about Chester’s Green Belt.

CPRE Cheshire points to the similar threat to Birmingham’s Green Belt that CPRE is fighting in the West Midlands, as another sign of the increasing pressure to build on undeveloped land in order to meet regional housing targets.

As our campaigners in Cheshire know, it is how the NPPF is interpreted in practice that will decide the future of our Green Belt. Therefore much could depend on the independent review of planning practice guidance that is currently under way by Lord Taylor of Goss Moor, Chairman of the National Housing Federation.

Lord Taylor’s review group (which includes Cheshire West and Chester Council leader Mike Jones) will be streamlining the 6,000-odd pages of existing planning guidelines into workable advice – and its findings could have a major effect on how the NPPF is used, and how Green Belt protection is upheld, all over the country.

Back in Cheshire, CPRE campaigners can only await the outcome of the latest consultation – but remain determined to stand up for this precious buffer against urban sprawl.

Find out more visit CPRE Cheshire for more on the campaign, and follow the latest on facebook

Download CPRE’s report on Green Belt threats.

Housing should go where there are employment opportunities and more brownfield available for development




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