That is the West Sussex Gazette’s message to our parliamentary representatives today (Wednesday, October 13), following Mr Johnson’s Conservative Party Conference speech last Wednesday, in which he called for new homes to be built on brownfield land – ‘not on green fields, not just jammed in the South East’.
The remarks provided hope to residents fighting the development of green spaces from Buck Barn to Barnham and beyond – all because of gargantuan government housing targets that are simply not proportionate for a county with space at a premium.
But soundbites will not save one square metre of treasured land.
Without new planning policy, the Prime Minister’s words will count for as little as residents’ concerns over creaking infrastructure do now when statutory consultees raise the dreaded ‘no objection’.
The clock is ticking – every day lost raises the chance of a new planning application to pave the way to permanent loss of a greenfield site – so our Conservative MPs must do everything in their power to push this issue to the very top of the agenda.
Our councils need clarity. Can they tear up their local plans, which clear the way for so much destruction of our countryside?
They should join with our MPs to lobby the Prime Minister, too.
Speaking last Wednesday, Mr Johnson said: “You can also see how much room there is to build the homes that young families need in this country.
“Not on green fields, not just jammed in the South East but beautiful homes on brownfield sites in places where homes make sense.”
Turning the focus away from greenfield development has long been the aim of campaigners.
The Countryside Charity CPRE highlighted in its State of Brownfield Report last year that there was 1,007 acres of abandoned brownfield land in Sussex.
It said this would be enough to build 23,000 houses, equivalent of a large town.
And Arundel and South Downs MP Andrew Griffith is among those who have already done a sterling job in raising this issue.
He and others helped to see off a ‘mutant algorithm’ which would have sent Sussex housing targets soaring ever higher.
In a parliamentary debate last year, he said: “We should exhaust every single opportunity to prioritise building on brownfield land.
“How can we teach our children to recycle plastic bags from a supermarket and yet let an algorithm, mutant or otherwise, dictate that we bulldoze by numbers through ancient fields, hedgerows, water meadows and woodland while land capable of reuse stands idle?”
We heartily agree with every word.
Of course, if the government persists with its hefty housing targets, the Prime Minister cannot credibly claim it possible to avoid greenfield development.
Indeed a time may come when we have exhausted every inch of brownfield land and more homes are still needed, however residents should not be forced to accept losing swathes of countryside before we have done so.
Now is the time to seize the initiative and reform our planning system for the better. Not to curry favour with developers – the rules are already stacked significantly in their favour – but to afford far stronger protections to sensitive and valued sites and give local people a real say in shaping their communities.
We welcome the Prime Minister’s remarks and applaud the sentiment. His words must now be backed up with substance – and soon.
A version of this comment piece appeared on the front page of this week’s Gazette, out today. A copy of the front page has also been sent to our county’s MPs.
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