Cambridge Green Belt - safe for now
At the end of July the Government pushed out the final version of its snappily titled National Planning Policy Framework, which had been long awaited, in the sense that the draft had been published some time ago, and so those interested in planning and housing wanted to see if there were any major changes in the final document. I don't mean "long awaited" as in crowds gathering agog with excitement at the prospect of a government policy paper.
And yet the document does matter for Cambridge and South Cambridgeshire villages because many of the issues addressed in the Policy Framework impact on us, and inform the issues that we all are wrestling with - how to build houses to meet the demand of a fast and accelerating economy without ruining the very thing that people like about this part of the world - that it is still pretty rural in character? There is a lot of emphasis on using up brownfield sites - although most of those sites in South Cambs have already been built on or are earmarked - Waterbeach, Bourn Airfield.
Some good news is that the quality of design gets a proper mention, so that local councils can insist on it and refuse planning applications that don't come up to snuff. This may be a nod to Sir Oliver Letwin's conclusions about good design helping to win local hearts and minds, when he toured Cambridge earlier this year. His assessment was complimentary about some and critical of other developments so there are plenty of local examples to choose from. One good thing is that councils can now insist that developers don't water down their design quality - the words are that quality does not "materially diminish ‘between permission and completion". I was pleased that South Cambs bid for and won some money at the beginning of this year to invest in good design requirements.
The NPPF also reduces the number of small sites that need to be in the council's Local Plan, from 20% to 10% of the total. This may be a recognition that small sites are not going to deliver the housing numbers needed. But just over a year ago the then Housing Minister told me that we in and around Cambridge should not be putting all our eggs into a basket labelled "big developments".
The main change in the final version is that any plans submitted for development on the Green Belt need to be "fully evidenced and justified" which is a tougher line than in the draft.
However, there are also some new words in the next paragraph (137) that may need watching. It says that if Green Belt land is being considered for release the local district council will need to show that it has looked properly at possible brownfields sites, and density options, and that the decision "has been informed by discussions with neighbouring authorities about whether they could accommodate some of the identified need for development". This may be why the new Liberal Democrat leader at South Cambs seems to be quite relaxed - and more so than local villages - about Uttlesford's plans for 4,000 houses on the border with South Cambs. It will be easier for South Cambs district council to resist calls from developers to open up the Green Belt if it can show the proposed Garden Village at Great Chesterford has helped reduce the demand for housing.
Oh, and renewable energy wind turbines in the green belt get a thumbs down too.