THE FIELD FARM ECOLOGICAL CORRIDOR: A TEST FOR THE GOVERNMENT'S GREEN BELT POLICY
Last Monday 6 October, the Department of Communities and Local Government reaffirmed in a new planning guidance the government’s commitment to protect the green belt from development.
Field Farm, a 30-hectare farmland and woodland site stretching over the communities of Stapleford and Trowell in Broxtowe Borough, west of Nottingham, in the Nottingham-Derby Green Belt, may well be the first test for this. Crossed by several rights-of-ways and the newly established Erewash Valley Trail, this is a recreation area much valued by the community. Perhaps more importantly, it joins two local nature reserves, Stapleford Hill Woodland and Nottingham Canal, as part of a unique 2 ½ mile ecological corridor linking Wollaton Park (now also a planned nature reserve) at the edge of Nottingham City, via three other local nature reserves along Bramcote Ridge (Alexandrina Plantation, Sandy Lane Public Open Space and Bramcote Park Woodland), to the open countryside in Trowell. Ancient oak and birch sandstone woodland such as Stapleford Hill is now very rare in Nottinghamshire. Owls and many other birds rely on the surrounding fields to forage for food. The woods have been extended by a sizeable plantation on a ridge all the way to the old farm buildings, now well established and shielding the eastern part of Field Farm from the main fields.
But the land has been acquired by a developer who, over the past twenty years, has repeatedly tried to obtain planning permission for initially 250, now even 450 houses on the green belt. This would cut through the ecological corridor and pave the way for further development completely encircling Stapleford Hill Woodland, then doomed to wither. The developer thought he had succeeded when in April 2013, Broxtowe Borough Council resolved to grant him outline planning permission, in order to meet housing targets not yet debated, without proper consideration of brownfield alternatives nor any review of the green belt.
However, alerted by local group Stapleford and Trowell Rural Action Group (STRAG) and Broxtowe’s MP Anna Soubry, Communities Secretary Eric Pickles used his power to call-in the planning application and announce a local inquiry. At that point, the examination into the Greater Nottingham Aligned Core Strategies was imminent, and therefore the application was put on abeyance until the end of that procedure. It is ironic to note that Broxtowe Borough Council and the developer jointly requested this pause, while STRAG had itself previously been asking the Council, to no avail, to delay the determination of the planning application until the adoption of the Core Strategies.
This summer the Government Inspector approved the Core Strategy and the Council adopted it on 17 September. But there is still some hope for those wishing for a rational, balanced development. Indeed, a group of four Parish Councils in and around the plan’s area is currently applying for Judicial Review of the Core Strategy. The grounds for this legal action are not minor procedural issues but rather the very principles of the national planning policy, which have not been respected here: there was no proper review of the green belt, no pro-active approach to identifying brownfield land alternatives, and throughout the process the housing targets were directly determined by the assessed housing need, while the National Planning Policy Framework and the new guidance insist that constraints such as the green belt are expected to lead to a reduction of these targets.
Until the outcome of the legal procedure on the Core Strategy, Field Farm outline planning application should remain on hold. Alternatively, the Secretary of State may decide to hold the foreseen local enquiry to look in details into the merits of the various parts of the site. But if instead the call-in is now reversed and the planning application waved through, that will be a very negative signal completely at odds with this week’s press statement, which STRAG would also have to contest on legal grounds.
Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that. Public money and private energies should be put to a better use, for the sake of the quality of living of the future generations.
Chair,Stapleford and Trowell Rural Action Group
member of the Save Browtowe’s Green Belt campaign: www.facebook.com/savebroxtowesgreenbelt