Save our Green Belt!
The beautiful Warwickshire countryside, all around Coventry, is in grave danger of being covered with thousands of houses – at Eastern Green, Kings Hill*, Westwood Heath*, Keresley, Allesley, Cromwell Lane, and more. During the 2016 Local Plan process Coventry Council took land out of Green Belt, and allocated it for housing, on the basis of population figures now questioned by the Office of Statistics Regulation (OSR).**
Eastern Green update, July 2022
The following update by our Chairman Sir Andrew Watson was first published in the Outlook magazine, Summer 2022 edition.
Working in conjunction with Keep Our Green Belt Green (KOGG), CPRE on Merle Gering’s recommendation approached Buxtons Solicitors known to him. In addition, we received advice from Andrew Parkinson, a busy junior at Landmark Chambers. Andrew advised us that he believed it was unlawful to treat the housing mix as a ‘Reserved Matter’, as had occurred in this case. What he did not tell us was that he had another case where he was taking the same point and it came as a total surprise to us when we learned that the Secretary of State had briefed Treasury Counsel to advise him on the same point.
It seems that the senior Planning Judge, Mr Justice Holgate, had advised him of the fact that the same point had arisen in another case (Wealden) and it was in the public interest that the point be determined by the same judge. Treasury counsel in due course delivered an opinion fully supportive of Andrew Parkinson’s argument, point out that a number of Planning Inspectors had reached the same conclusion and referring to two cases in the Administrative Court where the issue had been determined on appeal in the same way.
Before the application for leave was determined, we received a letter from the developers’ solicitors inviting us to give a unilateral undertaking to appoint an independent arbitrator to mediate the point, each side to bear their own costs. We felt that this was a substantive point of public interest on which our own barrister and the Treasury Solicitor believed we were likely to win so we took no action.
Our second argument was that the Transport Assessment had failed to consider other developments likely to be completed in the foreseeable future outside the City boundaries and their cumulative effect on the local and Strategic road network.
Merle Gering swore an affidavit reciting his evidence at the relevant Planning meeting:
“They have not looked at the whole of the A45 and the estates planned at Westwood Heath, King’s Hill, Pickford Lane, and traffic from Keresley comprising 13,000 new homes all using theA45 and it is already severely congested at 104% capacity at Kenilworth Rd and the A45 junction.”
The Highways Officer assured the Committee that it was based on all known developments both within Coventry and beyond the City boundaries. He ended by assuring the Committee that he had taken all those factors into account (clearly referring to the developments listed by Merle). There were a number of sites identified by Merle in respect of which it was unclear whether they had been taken into account but it was acknowledged that they had not been.
- HS2 Birmingham Interchange Station, where there is provision for 7,000 parking spaces.
- The growth projected by Birmingham Airport of a million passengers per annum.
- Just 4 miles to the west a substantial new development planned by Solihull Borough in their Local Plan.
On 15 November 2020 Mrs Justice Lieben refused leave on both grounds. Despite the fact that the presiding Planning judge and the Treasury counsel instructed by the Secretary of State each described the first ground as a matter of public interest, she dealt with it with a degree of contempt. She accepted the argument advanced by the developer and the Council for which there was no legal precedent and stated that she did not understand Treasury counsel’s argument, which could not have been clearer and chose to ignore entirely the only decided cases on the point one by a respected High Court judge and the other by an acting High Court Judge. On the second point she made no reference to Merle’s affidavit at all.
After some consideration we decided to ‘renew’ our application (appeal to another Judge). The interested party in the Wealden case did appeal to another judge and has been given leave to appeal by Mrs Justice Lang and Lisa Foster (of Buxtons Solicitors) has undertaken to inform us of the final outcome.
When discussing whether to renew our application Lisa Foster expressed the opinion that we should have had an acknowledged Transport assessor for our case to be taken seriously. I asked then what it would cost if the Transport issue had to be tried with witnesses and I was told at least £30,000. Merle acted extremely quickly in getting us signed up to Crowdfunding, which we would clearly need to get to that figure. On grounds of cost and speed we aimed for an academic and to my astonishment we had three offers to choose from.
Professor Lee Woods has specialised in Traffic assessments at Strathclyde and now Portsmouth University. In two days over the course of a weekend he prepared a detailed critical report, which we all felt enabled us to present a strong arguable case. Now that we had an expert with critical appraisal we felt it was worth obtaining a second opinion from Counsel in whatever time was available. Some other suggestions were unavailable at short notice so we hit upon Jenny Wigley.
Jenny Wigley delivered her advice in writing. She noted that a court will not arbitrate as to which developments should or should not be taken into account for modelling purposes. She acknowledged that it was arguable that 1,890 houses had not been taken into account but this was insignificant. She appeared to overlook the fact that the airport should have been taken into account under the Coventry Area Strategic Transport model (CASM) but she felt that there was no possibility of obtaining a quashing order on the evidence placed before her.
In the light of this advice we did not feel that we could take this matter any further. From Crowdfunding and other appeals we managed to collect more than we had expended in costs and are in the process of returning monies to those who wish for its return. Thank you to those who have allowed us to keep their donations for future campaigning.
Eastern Green update, February 2022
After the disappointing order from the judge, refusing to grant permission for the Judicial Review claim to proceed, CPRE considered the case prospects with the advice of its legal team and decided to discontinue the proceedings in settlement with the Council and IP.
CPRE Warwickshire maintains its long standing objection to development in the Green Belt and remains concerned about the transport impacts on the local road network. However it accepts the decision of the judge.
Eastern Green update, September 2021
We have reached our initial target of £13,000 and have what’s called ‘stretched’ the figure we are looking to raise to fight the City Council at court. £50,000 is about the figure it will cost us to undertake this course of action – something we would rather not do obviously, but needs must on this occasion.
Our countryside is unnecessarily being trashed for the sake of housing that is patently not required. What is needed is affordable housing for our youngsters and key workers and that means being close to jobs and amenities within the city and there are plenty of ‘brownfield’ sites available to do this.
So please continue to donate and help save Coventry’s green belt and green spaces.
Some good news also – the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government seems to agree with the ‘Housing Mix’ grounds for our case. If you have the strength, have a look at the submissions on his behalf. But if you haven’t, trust me it’s good news!
Our first legal battle has commenced
In the Planning Court 15 July 2021.
Urgent funding needed for the case.
In June Coventry granted planning consent for 2400 homes at Eastern Green in the Meriden Gap, (‘mixed use housing’) and urgent action is needed now to fund legal proceedings to halt the development from going ahead.
New housing must meet local needs
Our legal team has framed the case as a fundamental issue that goes to the heart of housing growth in the region. If we have to lose Green Belt, then new housing must deliver housing to meet local needs.
Seems obvious but when approving the Eastern Green consent, Coventry City Council failed to ask that question and failed to condition the consent to ensure the development delivers housing suitable for our population. That failure puts more Green Belt at risk as developers provide unaffordable “executive” homes, creating more pressure to release additional Green Belt land.
Sir Andrew Watson
Chair, Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) Warwickshire
*While Kings Hill and Westwood Heath are in Warwick District, the homes are for the benefit of alleged Coventry housing need.
**We are monitoring the OSR very closely and will use their reports to influence future housing policy.