Monday, 20 April 2009

Green Belt under threat in Barnet


Another Barnet Council Watch Exclusive!

If there is one policy, above all others, for which the Conservatives in Barnet are justly proud, it is their relentless determination to preserve the green belt. Indeed, it was former Chipping Barnet MP Sir Sydney Chapman’s resolute defence of the green belt which persuaded me to join the local party.


In the 2006 Election Manifesto, Barnet Conservatives pledged:
  • We will protect our Green Belt and Metropolitan Open Space from the plans that the Government has to develop every piece of land.
  • Protecting the green belt has been paramount and no planning permissions have been granted by the Borough in the last 4 years that breach our commitment. We happily re-state that commitment.
You can’t get much clearer than that, so it is with absolute horror to discover that Cllr Melvin Cohen, Cabinet Member for Planning and Environmental Protection, is proposing to give up the council’s right to determine the fate of Barnet’s green belt land.

Previously, Barnet operated a Unitary Development Plan (UDP) which was effectively a rule book for all planning, development and regeneration decisions. Every council created its own UDP based on its own local requirements.

But the government just can’t help interfering in our lives and fixing things which aren’t broken, so UDPs are set to disappear to be replaced by Local Development Frameworks.

However, councils do have the right to save policies from their UDPs by making an application to the Secretary of State for Local Government. On 22nd April, the Cabinet will be considering Cllr Cohen’s report which contains a list of policies to be scrapped and, unfortunately, protecting the green belt is one of them.

Why? Well according to the Cabinet papers, it is because green belt land will instead be protected by national policies. What this means in reality is that Barnet will no longer set its own green belt policies but will rely on the policies determined by the government. This is not acceptable.

Decisions which affect Barnet should be taken locally in Barnet. Otherwise, what is the point of electing a council?

Even if, as many of us hope, a Conservative government is returned to power next year, central government should not be able to determine Barnet’s green belt policies.

Just as Parliament has abdicated many of its powers to Brussels, so Barnet Council seems to want to give up its powers to Whitehall. It would then only be a matter of time before some jumped up European official told Barnet to build a tower block on the green belt and the council would be powerless to stop it.

The Conservatives were elected in 2006 on a clear promise to protect the green belt. No iffs or buts. Any Cabinet Member who votes to remove the green belt from local control will be named and shamed on this blog.

22 comments:

Daniel Hope said...

I was very concerned to see this being recommended by Melvin Cohen to the next meeting of the Cabinet. In my research I cannot find another Council that has proposed abandoning it's own Green Belt policies in this way.

Political suicideNot only do I think this is bad planning policy but is politically suicidal.

Have they lost the plot to be proposing this at the start of two by elections both with large areas of Green Belt?

If this is passed by this Cabinet the Conservative Party in the borough will take a massive hit for years to come. One does wonder how these proposals every came to see the light of day.

No consultation with publicAs well as being rushed through five months late and in breach of the Government's protocol, the public's voice has been shut out. This is unprecedented. This is the first time that such a major change to Barnet's planning policy has been shoved through. Even Labour's dreadful Alan Williams never pulled a stroke like this.

Cabinet need to defend the Conservative manifestoI am confident that the majority of the Cabinet are fierce defenders of the manifesto they stood for election on and of the Green Belt.

They need to amend this report at the Cabinet meeting and remove the Green Belt and MOL policies from the list of policies to be scrapped.

Those who feel unable to support such a move should think very hard if they are made of the right stuff to be Conservative candidates in 2010. Maybe they should start talks with Alison Moore!

Don't Call Me Dave said...

The lack of consultation is, sadly, symptomatic of the current Administration but any failure to defend the manifesto would be unforgivable. David Cameron recently announced his support for localism and yet here we have a Conservative council proposing the very opposite.

Anonymous said...

Theresa Villiers and Brian Coleman both actively lobbied for the building of a locally detested and quite unnecessary road across our precious Metropolitan Open Land in New Barnet - my children's school field in fact.

This is in marked contrast to Ms Villiers maiden speech to the Commons:

"Despite its nominal inclusion as part of our capital city, Chipping Barnet has a vast number of green spaces: parks, commons, open land, even farms and ancient woodlands, some of which may date back to the end of last ice age. Well over a third of the constituency is green belt land or metropolitan open space, and one of my top priorities as its MP will always be the preservation of the green belt and green spaces. I will fight to protect the green belt, both for the sake of our environment and to preserve the quality of life of my constituents. That is why, like my predecessor, I have chosen to make my maiden speech in a debate on the natural environment."

See the before and after shots here:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/newbarnet/3294300711/

Cllr Coleman went as far as implying, in the Jewish media, that opponents of this vandalism were racist. He also described us as 'idiots', and 'the usual nimbys'.
http://www.totallyjewish.com/news/special_reports/?content_id=6809

Mike Freer, of course, is not allowed to influence the decisions of the Planning Committee.I'm sure therefore that it is a complete coincidence that he sat directly opposite the chair of the committee: Andreas Tambourides, at eye level - and eyeballed him throughout.

Could it be that the abdication of responsibility you report is merely the formalisation of a policy already in motion?

John Craddock

Anonymous said...

Why is this an exclusive?

Just because your mate Hope and Newton tell you about does not make it one!

Don't Call Me Dave said...

This is an exclusive because it has not been reported elsewhere. Ask Spin Doctor McGearson for a dictionary if you don’t know the meaning of the word.

Your comments, Anon, are a typical attempt to divert attention from the fact that a Cabinet member failed to read his papers. Just like your boss did over the baby funeral price hike.

Anonymous said...

'Anonymous' - if you are a council official of some sort as 'Don't Call Me Dave' suggests - then it would be good to see some comment on the frankly very worrying issue raised in this piece - rather than pointless sniping about semantics.

John Craddock

Don't Call Me Dave said...

John

The comments by Anon are typical of those who oppose this blog. They never comment about the substance of the article. They never try to defend the council’s actions. Instead they generally attack me or my mother and think they are being clever by so doing. The public have had enough of such tactics.

The preservation of the green belt is of fundamental importance to all residents of Barnet, of all political persuasions. Once this land has been concreted over, it will be gone for ever. Not really an endearing legacy for future generations.

Anonymous said...

That sounds strikingly like Brian Coleman's approach to we parents and environmentalists in New Barnet, who opposed his appetite for the destruction of our area (see the link to the article in TotallyJewish.com).

Do you suppose that 'Anon' could be Brian Coleman?

John Craddock

Don't Call Me Dave said...

I doubt whether Brian Coleman wrote that comment personally, but I would be most surprised if he was not aware of it. Anon’s reference to former councillors Hope and Newton suggests that the subject matter of my article has been discussed amongst senior councillors.

Cllr Coleman always used to ignore his critics. If you wrote a letter to the paper opposing him, he would take no notice. But, as we have seen with the Damien McBride scandal, the political classes detest bloggers who dare to expose them, and therefore they do whatever they can to crush democratic debate – by smear if necessary.

Daniel Hope said...

Re: Anon,

If only all the Councillors, the 'copy writers' at the Barnet Times, read the publically available Committee papers as thoroughly as many of the voluntary activists in the borough, the Council would be in a far, far better condition.

I read them regularly, as does Don't Call Me Dave and many others.

I expect, Don't Call Me Dave thought that his story would be news to many Councillors.

This is much too important for games. I hope that the Councillors grasp and reverse this damaging proposal, fast.

Rog T said...

David,

Conservative seems to be a redundant term in Barnet.

What on earth do the Barnet Tories stand for. I really don't know anymore, do you?

Richard Weider said...

As far as I can see from the papers, this is just an administrative change to reduce the amount of policy on the books.

The paper is not proposing to abolish the policy restricting development on Green Belt. It is just removing it from Barnet policy because it has to accept the same policy from London, which has a policy (which I'm sure Boris will continue with)to restrict building on green belt.

Sadly, planning is top down, where councils have to accept the policy of the regional or national government.

Duncan Macdonald said...

These policies are apparently being given up because they are substantially the same as national / regional policy. If this is the case then it means that the Conservative claims that they were the protectors of the greenbelt are nonsense as they didn't have anything better that central government policy with which to protect greenbelt land.

Back in 2005 the Tories were more than happy to propose re-building Foulds School on Greenbelt land until they realised how unpopular it was going to be. The acid test will be how effective the new policies in the LDF are. I'm not holding my breath for great things!

John Craddock said...

This administration has already demonstrated that they'll drop their championing of our green spaces pretty damn quick when its politically expedient to do so.

Surely this proposal makes it much easier to do just that - without having to be held to account - does it not.

"Not my fault guv'. Its that nasty Gordon Brown and his green-belt destroying policies innit."Shame!

Theresa Villiers was quite right to focus on the protection of green spaces in her maiden speech. The people of Barnet care aboout it passionately, as I have been proud to see. Those who represent us should therefore be fighting tooth and nail to retain some authority over the issue.

John Craddock

Don't Call Me Dave said...

Rog. Defending the green belt is a manifesto pledge. The public are entitled to expect the Conservatives to fight this to the death. Shame on them if they don’t.

Richard. If the Government legislates to force Barnet to accept national green belt policies, then you have a point. But I have been advised that Enfield council successfully retained its green belt policies and we are entitled to expect Barnet to try and do the same. If, ultimately, the council loses the battle then fair enough - provided they at least tried everything possible to retain it. But by scrapping the policy now, they have simply thrown in the towel. This is not what you were all elected for.

John. I agree with you. We know that the government wants to build on every inch of land in the South East and we are entitled to expect the council to defend our right to have these decisions to be taken locally by elected councillors, not by some unaccountable mandarin in Whitehall.

Duncan Macdonald said...

We do need local policies. The LDF in scheduled to come in in early 2011 and must contain robust Barnet specific controls to retain and enhance the greenbelt. The problem is that our current local policies simply parrot national guidance and therefore have little value. The problem will occur if in the gap between losing the UDP policies and gaining the LDF ones national guidance gets watered down. We should fight to retain our policies but it looks to me that we will lose that battle if the policies are judged to be the same as national ones. The fault is clearly with the current administration for failing to introduce robust planning controls. We see this in New Barnet where the failure to produce a Town centre strategy despite promising one for years has weakened the Councils ability to challenge the big supermarkets.

Don't Call Me Dave said...

Duncan. I could accept losing control of the green belt if the council had tried everything in its power to retain its policies. But they are not even trying. Once again, an officer report has been put on the table, and that seems to be the end of the matter.

danfhope said...

What has just been pointed out to me is that this potentially even more serious. These policies give firm protection to Metropolitan Open Land (MOL). Government policy PPG2 does not prevent this land in this way. By scrapping these policies we would be doing immense harm.

Let us hope the Cabinet can grow a spine tonight. Unfortunately Mike Freer, Matthew Offord, Lynne Hillan and Brian Coleman 'don't do planning' and are heavily influenced by Melvin Cohen.

My prediction is that any Conservative Cabinet Member who votes for this tonight is going to have a very rough time in the selection process given the party's really tough stance on Green Belt and the 2006 manifesto commitments.

John Craddock said...

'Don't call me Dave' - I'd be very interested to see which way councillors vote - whatever their political affiliation.

Will you be naming and shaming those from all parties please?

John Craddock

Don't Call Me Dave said...

John

This is a decision being taken by the Cabinet – so it is only Conservative councillors involved.

A local resident has prepared a report destroying the argument put forward by officers for scrapping the green belt policies. I am awaiting his permission to publish that report on this blog.

Duncan Macdonald said...

David

It's what happens when the officers are allowed to run the show with no effective scrutiny or questions being asked and when no one reads the papers and when some councillors simply want to end a meeting as quickly as they can, all reinforced by an allowance scheme which encourages meek compliance or else!

John Craddock said...

Got it. Thank you for the explanation. I hope you are able to publish the report you mention.

John Craddock