Protect our Green Belt Land
Updated: Dec 17, 2021
In England since 2013, we have lost 25,110 hectares of Green Belt land. This is the equivalent of a nearly 2% reduction.
And now, with our area’s Local Plan, we are set to potentially lose 2% of our green belt too.
The rich history and culture of our area is very much tied up in the land. Our legacy from coal mining should never be forgotten. This memory has been preserved in some fantastic developments of former coalfield sites into open green spaces for everyone to enjoy, for example at Frickley Country Park.
The future of our area is also tied up in the land. The pandemic has shown us how incredibly valuable to our health open green spaces are. Not just for the enjoyment of the outdoors, but to exercise, walk your dog or even relieve mental health issues.
At present, there are huge pressures on our public services after a decade of austerity cuts. Some of the proposals below will, in my view, put more pressure on schools, GP surgeries and other public services.
We also have a diverse ecology here, with various species of flora and fauna. Our Green spaces should be protected, not destroyed. Many Green Belt sites are important spaces for nature and biodiversity that will be destroyed by building developments.
Whilst there is a need for decent affordable housing across the country, I am adamant that this need can be met without building on Green Belt land.
Let me be clear, the Government should not be pressurising councils to build on Green Belt Land. Planning decisions should be made by local people, not by bureaucrats in Whitehall. Local people are opposed to plans to build on Green Belt land in Hemsworth, Springvale Rise. The government should listen to their views rather than riding roughshod over them.
As many of you may know, the Wakefield District Council Local Plan has earmarked sites which may be developed before 2036.
Around 1,400 homes a year are proposed to be built across the constituency over the next decade and a half.
The plan identifies 11 sites within the Hemsworth constituency which would involve building on Green Belt land. The Green Belt designation is a planning tool aimed at preventing urban sprawl by keeping land permanently open.
Hemsworth, Springvale Rise proposals
I have received nearly 300 emails from local residents opposing the proposals on this site. As such I made a submission to the consultation on behalf of residents raising their concerns. I have also written to the secretary of state and I attended the planning meeting at Wakefield Town Hall to put forward the case against the proposals.
Today/last week I went to Wakefield Town Hall to make the case in person. Although I did not have long to speak, I wanted to share with you what concerns I raised.
Firstly, the fact that the site behind Springvale Rise is Green Belt means that there is legislation to protect it. Specifically, I pointed to the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) which clearly states in Chapter 13 that Green Belt Land should be protected:
Once established, Green Belt boundaries should only be altered where exceptional circumstances are fully evidenced and justified, through the preparation or updating of plans.
In addition, under section 138 of the NPPF, Green Belt land serves the purpose of preventing the merging of towns, safeguarding the countryside from encroachment and preserving the special character of historic towns. As we know, Hemsworth is mentioned in the Doomsday book.
Secondly, the plan has now been submitted to the Government for approval. However, the consultation with the local community was deeply flawed due to Covid. The consultation documents were placed in the library over a period when we had a national lockdown and no one could access the relevant documents due to the library being closed.
Thirdly, there are a raft of other issues with the site that have been raised, which I have listed below:
As my constituents have rightly said, the proposals will have a huge detrimental impact on local wildlife. The Local Plan itself acknowledges that the site in question is part of a “Wildlife Habitat Network”. My constituents have told me of the wildlife that inhabit the site, including deer, rabbits, foxes and newts, the latter of which could include the Great Crested Newt which is of course a protected species Europe-wide.
The Local Plan clearly states that an impact assessment would need to be carried out to establish the impact of the proposals on biodiversity. The fact that this has not yet been done yet the site is included in the Local Plan is unsatisfactory.
There are clear concerns about how the proposals would impact hydrological concerns. The site adjoins Vale Head Marsh Local Wildlife Site which stablising water flows and retention in the local area. As you will be aware, water has to go somewhere and residents have raised with me the fact that the area is already prone to flooding. This could make the flooding situation worse.
There have already been issues with the movement of the land due to water, with a number of residents having to replace bricks which have cracked due to destabilising movement in the land. Adding further buildings to the site will aggravate an already existing issue.
Quality of Life
As mentioned above, the site is in the heart of West Yorkshire countryside and a great deal of the locality has been reclaimed as semi-rural land after the closure of the coal mines and the abandonment of the surrounding land by former pit owners.
It is a testament to the local communities that the land has been reclaimed to make it clean, safe and enjoyable for all, and safeguarded it for future generations. Local people have told me of how they cherish outdoor green space where they can relax and enjoy the environment, wildlife and outdoor activities.
There is an added need to protect such spaces in our area because of the chaos about to be caused by the HS2 line which is currently proposed to go straight through my constituency. Despite the huge impact the route will have on local communities, there is absolutely no advantage to residents because there will not be a station nearby and I have been told that there is very little scope for tunnelling.
As such, the aesthetics and the quality of the physical environment are likely to be changed dramatically. This will not only impact residents, but may also deter walkers and cyclists from visiting the area.
Also, local residents tell me of how they value the unique character of the settlement. It is peaceful, has a certain community atmosphere and many people have spent time and money improving the outlook of their homes to better enjoy the natural beauty of the area.
The proposals could also serve to blight the investment many people have put into their homes which has caused great worry amongst the community.
My constituents have many concerns about the impact of 266 potential new homes on local infrastructure. Firstly, the roads surrounding the area are simply not equipped to handle additional traffic which will result from the development.
The Local Plan even references these concerns: “have an impact on the capacity, operation and safety of the local road network.” Constituents have told me that there have already been a number of traffic incidents, including fatalities.
With more homes come more people, and no solution has been offered about how schools, GP services and other public services will be able to cope with an additional 266 households.
More people will obviously lead to more cars on the roads, as highlighted above, which will impact air pollution levels. The levels of air pollution are already concerning and any development is likely to increase this.
I know that local residents feel frustrated at the lack of information and communication about the proposals in the Local Plan. Understandably so, these are their homes, their families and their communities.