We need a Local Plan to protect our Green Belt

Tandridge is a unique and beautiful area, surrounded by rolling hills and full of tight knit communities, all within easy reach of London. We really are incredibly lucky to have such beauty and such convenience on our doorstep.

This does however mean that Tandridge faces a range of challenges when it comes to house building, but it does not mean that we shouldn’t build. The average house price in Tandridge puts our area among the least affordable in the country, outside London. Not building sufficient homes is not an option. Not planning for where these homes will be built is out of the question.

Without a Local Plan, the future look and feel of our communities will be out of the control of our democratically elected and accountable Council, putting developers in the driving seat. Tandridge would face a planning free for all, risking all that makes our area unique and special. The choice is between a credible plan that would be accepted by the Planning Inspectorate and no plan, jeopardising the very things we are all seeking to protect.

Of course, residents are right to question the projected housing numbers for the area, and the council should be in listening mode, but to focus on process as a way of delaying the development of a plan is not the way to protect our Green Belt. Speculative and exaggerated numbers designed to make political points, however, do not help anybody.

I have always argued that where and how we build new homes must be influenced by local people, taking into account the styles of our towns and villages, our history and our unique environment. Protecting the Green Belt, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and Sites of Special Scientific Interest are key to ensuring that any new development is consistent with the look and feel of the area.

For the Local Plan to work, the right infrastructure needs to be delivered, with a clear plan. We cannot have a 1960s-style approach, where houses were dumped in an area and road networks, health centres and schools were an after-thought in both planning and funding.

The approach the Council is taking is the one that is the most likely to deliver the infrastructure investment we need, which is why it has cross-party support. I am also very conscious that the reason Tandridge remains 95% greenbelt is that successive Councils have over the years carefully balanced the needs of the area against the demands of central government to deliver for local people.  This careful balanced approach is what we need. For my part, I will be seeking evidence from the Council about their plans and time frames for future infrastructure investment.

The exact locations of the homes, and the number of homes, are a matter for the Local Authority and as an MP it would be inappropriate for me to comment on specific sites within this consultation. What I can do is ensure that constituents’ views expressed to me over the last few months are forcefully represented in Westminster.

I will do everything I can to make this happen, whether that be facilitating meetings between Councillors and Ministers, ensuring the uniqueness of Tandridge is recognised on the national stage, or raising specific concerns directly. I am currently, for example, in the process of organising a meeting between Councillors and new Housing minister Alok Sharma MP, following on from a previous meeting with his predecessor Gavin Barwell MP.

Local planning policy is currently based on a strategy published nearly a decade ago in 2008. The longer we go without a Local Plan, the more we are playing into the hands of speculative developers. This is not the way to preserve the quality and way of life that makes Tandridge the desirable area it is.

As ever, I am grateful to those that have shared their concerns with me and I will continue to be available to engage with, and represent, residents as we go through this process. If you would like to get in touch, please feel free to email me at sam@samgyimah.com