Ashtead Community Vision (ACV) are delighted that the Forum has been officially designated by Mole Valley at the executive meeting July 30th 2013, this means that they can now carry out overseeing the production of Ashtead’s Neighbourhood Development Plan (NDP).
One of the comments made by the councillors was that they would like to see more younger (18-34) people represented. The forum was already aware of the lack of representation and has been actively trying to recruit younger people. Andy Ellis, chairman of ACV says: “This is about planning for the future of Ashtead for the next 15 years which will be most important to this age group – will they find or afford a house, and will there be sufficient school places? These are some of the questions ACV is grappling with. This is a great opportunity to plan for the longer term and to have local input into the planning process right from the start. If you are in that age bracket, or know someone who is please urge them to get involved by joining the Forum.”
The Forum had their third meeting on Saturday 10th August 2013 chaired by John Morgan. Andy Ellis updated the group on what the working sub groups had been doing, particularly the surveys that have been carried out to find out about what the community will need in terms of housing and what the attitudes are to possible adjustments to the green belt boundary. Andy gave a presentation of the results of the survey aimed at younger people at Ashtead Village Day. The answer included that 30% would like a 3 bedroom detached house for their next move. There was about a 50/50 split between those who think that the green belt boundary should be adjusted to allow for some development if absolutely needed and those who think it should not be altered at all. There was a general agreement at the forum that although most people disliked the green belt boundary being moved there was realism that unfortunately we do not have much other land available for development. This was a view particularly expressed by the younger people surveyed. ‘Making the best out of a bad job’ was one of the comments.
Dr Patricia E.J. Wiltshire (consultant forensic ecologist, botanist, and palynologist) gave a fascinating presentation to the forum. She outlined the main criteria required for the Neighbourhood Development Plan (NDP) stating that ecological, archaeological, and historical status of the areas under review were included in the 19 points that were required to be considered for the NDP. She gave a brief overview of the geology and land use of the Green Belt land around Ashtead, and information about their findings so far. In particular, she stressed that the botanical surveys that she and her husband, Professor David L. Hawksworth (CBE, biologist, ecologist, and mycologist), had done so far demonstrated the very great antiquity and high biodiversity of field boundaries and lanes. Patricia also explained that arable fields tend to be ecologically sterile because of the amount of pesticides and fertilizers used by farmers. There is a stark contrast between this kind of land-use and that which has been under grazing for very long periods. Grazed grassland can be very species-rich.
Dr Wiltshire said: “I can’t emphasise strongly enough that any plan must aim to protect these boundaries. In themselves, they are important habitats for wildlife, but also provide corridors linking one with another. These are very important for maintaining the richness of wildlife around Ashtead.” She also described the areas that have yet to be surveyed but will be covered shortly.
Roy Guy, who has been helping with the ecological assessments said: “Ashtead is very fortunate to have two such eminent scientists on the forum who are able and willing to help us do this important work.”
John Morgan said: “We want to assure the community that just because we are assessing all the green belt this does not mean that there will necessarily be any development on it. We have to assess all areas using the same rigorous and fair methods. Any sites that have been put forward for development will have to be assessed by the same nineteen criteria”.
ACV have been awarded a grant of £5000 by the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) and have also been allocated some direct support in the form of much needed help and advice, which is to be provided by Planning Aid England. In August Stella Scrivener from Planning Aid will hold a workshop with ACV on site selection and sustainability appraisal which is a very difficult part of the process. Once the Green Belt Boundary Review and Housing Allocation Plan have been done ACV will present their evidence and recommendations to the next forum meeting in November and afterwards they will have an exhibition of the plans for the community consultation.