IS THE GREEN BELT SAFE ON THE SOUTH SIDE OF UP HATHERLEY WAY?
The answer to the above question is ‘yes’ providing no unforeseen event takes place that no-one, not even dedicated politicians, are aware of.
I am confident that the land is safe, at least until the end of the Joint Core Strategy (JCS) period in July 2031, when the whole issue of housing and employment requirements for the Cheltenham, Tewkesbury and Gloucester council areas, will be debated once again.
It was in April 2014 when the three councils debated the proposals contained in the JCS and each decided separately that the proposals were sound and worthy of being presented to the Secretary of State for approval.
Not everyone in the three councils were satisfied that the areas selected for development were the right ones, and this was particularly so when some areas for development were in the Green Belt. However, in the good old traditions of the democratic process, the JCS was approved by all three councils.
It is important to be aware of one important fact. The land on the south side of Up Hatherley Way was originally included in the Cheltenham proposals: it was only removed from the JCS following persistent and the continuous efforts of the PAB Group at the preliminary discussions.
In spite of comments from the political groups on the three councils “… that alternative sites would have to be found if the Up Hatherley site was to be removed”, we wasted no time in reminding the ‘Jeremiahs’ that the south west distributor road (Up Hatherley Way), provided the strongest and most robust boundary in stopping any encroachment into the Green Belt.
This fact, of course, is clearly made in Chapter 9 of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), which was published in March 2012.
Needless to say, those who wished to do harm to the Green Belt at Up Hatherley, continued with their efforts to try to get the Green Belt status removed, using the flimsy and untrue comment that if the Up Hatherley site was removed that other development sites would have to be found within the JCS area.
In March 2014, with the JCS Pre-Submission document scheduled to be discussed by the three councils in April, Nick Boles MP, the Parliamentary-under-Secretary of State (Planning), sent a letter to all local authorities expressing his views on development proposals, and the importance of the Green Belt and its purposes.
He emphasised that “…local authorities must take into account the views of local communities when planning for the future”.
He also made it clear that “…central government would maintain key protections for the countryside, and in particular, for the Green Belt”, adding “…that a Green Belt boundary could only be altered in exceptional circumstances”.
The permanence of any Green Belt was important in any future planning (Paragraph 83 NPPF).
Much to my surprise, the leading officers responsible for the direction of the JCS Pre-Submission document did not welcome the letter from Nick Boles MP.
From my point of view, the letter not only reminded each local authority that central government attached great importance to Green Belts, but they also expected them to prevent urban sprawl by keeping land permanently open.
Reference: The five purposes of the Green Belt – Chapter 9 (NPPF) March 2012.
Up Hatherley Parish Council called a Forum Meeting to discuss the content of the Nick Boles MP’s letter on the basis that the content of the letter could have a significant bearing on whether the Green Belt at Up Hatherley Way was safe or not.
The Parish Council were also concerned that comments by those who had played, or continued to play a part in the future expansion of Up Hatherley had been disappointing following the Nick Boles’s letter. In my view, the Chairman of the Parish Council was quite right to call the public meeting, so that residents were aware of the letter, its content and the reaction of certain members of the Borough Council, who had not come to the same conclusion about the letter as the rest of the local community, which had brought doubt into the minds of local residents.
It did not go unnoticed that the two local councillors for Up Hatherley, did not attend the Forum meeting.
Following publication of the Up Hatherley meeting in the local press, there was a spate of letters from residents criticising members of Cheltenham Borough Council (CBC).
However, the controversy over the interpretation of the Nick Boles’s letter resulted in a special meeting being held in Tewkesbury Borough Council (TBC) offices.
The meeting brought two senior civil servants from the Department of Communities and Local Government, and a senior officer from the Planning Inspectorate.
The outcome of the meeting was a clearer understanding (if there was any doubt), that the Government’s position on the Green Belt was as stated in the NPPF, and the local planning policies that existed in any local authority.
I attended the ‘special meeting’ on behalf of the PAB Group.
Following the special meeting, there was a break for lunch, and then the Group Leaders from CBC and TBC met in a closed session to discuss a matter that had been scheduled as a “dispute resolution”, which needed to be resolved.
No-one but those involved, knew that it was a matter that would eventually decide whether the land at Up Hatherley would be included in the JCS as a possible development site, or that it should be deleted from the list of site locations being formulated by the JCS working group.
There are few people today who are aware that the result would depend a great deal on whether the TBC members were prepared to find sufficient numbers of housing sites within the Tewkesbury area that would take the pressure off the land at Up Hatherley.
The meeting, behind closed doors, was chaired by an independent chairman who did not even live in the county, so I can verify that it was a well-run meeting. Everyone had their chance to put their point of view, and we certainly did, but it was not ‘plain sailing’ by any means.
After 40 minutes of discussion, the two sides came to an impasse. The TBC side asked for a 15 minute break in order for them to discuss privately the possible impact of the Up Hatherley site being deleted and its impact on the JCS.
After 15 minutes, the TBC side requested a further extension.
It was a difficult period, but when the meeting resumed, the TBC leader announced “They had agreed that the Up Hatherley site should be removed from the JCS as a result of the lower housing figures that had recently been given”. He also made it clear that it had been a difficult adjournment for the TBC team, but they accepted that it was important for the JCS to go forward to the next stage.
Gloucester City Council (GCC) had already made it clear that they were supportive of removing Up Hatherley from the JCS, so that the Pre-Submission document could be approved the following month.
The historical fact is that the Joint Core Strategy was approved by the three councils in April 2014 and the Pre-Submission document was published in June 2014.
In the Executive Summary of the document (ref: page vii), it states that Up Hatherley has been removed from the JCS.
On page 139, Plan A7 – South Cheltenham – Up Hatherley Way has been removed.
The Main Modifications document to be discussed on 11th and 12th July 2017 does not include any reference to changes in the modifications that affect Up Hatherley.
The PAB Group worked hard to preserve this important Green Belt – it will always be at the top of our agenda.
Source: ‘Lifting the Lid’