Mr Perrin’s blog
A Word in Your Ear
“You cannot be serious”
WHILST watching and listening to the Councillors on the planning Committee debating the issue of what to do about the Benton’s Farm site in Mollands Lane, South Ockendon, Cllr Charles Curtis angrily declared “there is serious green belt and this site is not” [serious green belt]. So there we have it, straight from the old horse’s mouth, there are two types of green belt land “serious” and “not serious”.
To be fair to Cllr Curtis he was not the only member of the Committee to deem this site could not be classed as “serious green belt, Cllr Barry Johnson strongly supported the development of this site saying “I agree green belt is green belt but there are differences and [In this case] there are significant differences, there is “real green belt” this site is definitely not “real green belt” it is an “infill” site that has already been built on”. There is a familiar ring to the assertion by Cllrs Curtis and Johnson that there are two types of green belt land, I refer of course to the Labour Party’s idea there is an acceptable type of discrimination when it is deemed to be “positive”. In my opinion discrimination is discrimination and green belt land is green belt land neither can be justified or changed by terminology such as “positive”, “serious” or “real”.
The advisory council officer advised that the points made individually by Cllrs Curtis, Johnson Hipsey and Ojetola were not sufficient enough to outweigh the laws protecting green belt land. However, taken collectively, the Committee considered there were “very special” circumstances which did outweigh the protection of this particular green belt site. The Planning Committee approved 4-3 the proposal to demolish the existing buildings and permit the building of eleven houses on the site.
Coincidentally two of the four Councillors who voted in favour of the proposal, Cllrs Curtis and Johnson, happen to live in Brandon Groves which, also coincidentally, happens to be adjacent to Bentons Farm. It could be that both of them have a vested interest as to what happens on that site. There is money to be made if that site is developed as proposed but not if it were allowed to regenerate to “serious” green belt. The site was used for the disposal of asbestos waste so I assume that tests would have to be made to ensure that the land was free from contamination, safe to build on and safe for future residents.
I agree with Cllr Richard Speight who, speaking in opposition to the proposal, expressed his concern that it would be setting a dangerous precedent to circumvent the law to protect green belt land simply by terming some green belt land as not serious or not real. Who decides what criteria deem some land to be serious or not serious green belt? Should it be four Councillors who may or may not have a personal vested interest in the outcome or should the matter be put to the public who would be directly affected and their views taken note of by the decision makers?
The enthusiasm shown by Cllr Curtis for the redevelopment of this site would be commendable if it was motivated by concern for the preservation of green belt land as demonstrated when he opposed a petition by residents of Stifford Road supporting a proposal by Howard Tenens to develop and improve the site known as “Hangmans Wood”. Had that proposal been approved, whilst it would have involved destroying a small proportion of green belt, the loss would have been adequately compensated by the overall proposed improvements to the remaining green belt and the benefit accrued to the public. There would also have been a considerable improvement to the environmental quality of the lives of people living in the houses along Stifford Road. How different his attitude towards the preservation of green belt land becomes when the problem is close to home I watched as he remonstrated in the Council Chamber, stabbing the air with pointed finger, declaring the site was a tip and an embarrassment but at the same time admitting, owing to the fencing surrounding the site, you have to “fly” over it to see inside.
What is he actually remonstrating about, is it health and safety or a threat to the quality of the environment? No, it seems he is more agitated about what he calls an embarrassment than being concerned about the impact on the lives of people living on Stifford Road who have to endure heavy goods vehicles thundering past their houses 24/7. Cllr Curtis’s approach to the protection of green belt is governed by what is, in his opinion, “serious” green belt and what is NOT serious green belt. Some members of the Planning Committee, Cllr Curtis included, have a penchant for picking and choosing what green belt land can be sacrificed to the “developers” whilst at the same time proclaiming they are the true protectors of the green belt
Brandon Groves and Chafford Hundred, home to 3 of the 4 Councillors who voted in favour of building houses on the Bentons Farm site, were designated green belt sites at the time planning permission was granted, a fact which does not seem to trouble them at all.
How many of the eleven houses, to be built on this site, will be housing available for rent to Council tenants? I suspect the answer is none. The houses will be an adjunct to Brandon Groves and possibly called Curtis Close.
Parting shot:- I add to the nomenclatures mentioned above, two that Cllr John Kent may consider when referring to absentee Councillors:- non-serious Councillor Kiely or non-real Councillor Herd.