Letter: What Are The ‘Exceptional Circumstances’ That Would Justify Altering the Green Belt?
Guildford Borough Council’s (GBC) Draft Local Plan is not logical or sound because it does not set out the “exceptional circumstances” on which GBC relies to make the most drastic changes to the property rights of everyone living in the green belt since 1945.
The green belt is intended to be permanent, so the law provides that it can only be changed if exceptional circumstances necessitate the change.
The National Planning Policy Framework states (paragraph 83): “Once established, Green Belt boundaries should only be altered in exceptional circumstances, through the preparation or review of the Local Plan.”
The 2005 UK Government Sustainable Development Strategy paper sets out “Guiding Principles”, one of which is: “Promoting Good Governance: Actively promoting effective, participative systems of governance in all levels of society…”
GBC should justify changing the boundaries of the green belt by setting out the exceptional circumstances on which it relies inside the draft Local Plan. It has not done this.
I made a Freedom of Information request of GBC to discover what exceptional circumstances it is relying on :
‘Please set out the legal advice taken by GBC in full stating a) the author of Appendix 4 of the document [which I quoted – which has almost identical wording to the Topic Paper] b) the author of the cited legal advice c) the substance of the legal advice.’
This was the response: “The council’s solicitor considers that the advice is covered by legal privilege and that failure to disclose would not be a breach of the Code of Conduct.”
What about accountability to the public during a public consultation? This is a matter of public policy affecting the entire borough. This is a matter of public interest. Legal privilege is a flimsy pretext not a serious argument. Why does GBC not want to disclose this? Other councils have disclosed legal opinion. Why won’t GBC?
Many people consider that the ‘public consultation’ is a sham. GBC’s failure to set out and consult upon its case for exceptional circumstances reinforces that impression. It has a public duty to be accountable and transparent about its justifications for the radical changes it proposes, changes which profoundly affect the property rights of everyone living in the green belt.
Go to Guildford Dragon to see public comments: