Amber Valley green belt controversy set to be key election issue in Belper and Ripley

Plans to pave the way for thousands of houses on protected green belt land have stoked a wave of controversy in Amber Valley.

In March, a slim majority of Amber Valley borough councillors voted to propose that 14 additional sites would be deleted from the protected green belt to free up space for an extra 2,010 houses by 2028.

Campaigners have been fighting to protect  green belt land

Campaigners have been fighting to protect green belt land

These additions are currently out for consultation, along with the rest of the borough’s Local Plan – a blueprint for future development.

Supporters of the “deletions” from the green belt say that this must be done to prevent developers being able to pitch housing plans wherever they choose across the borough.

They say this is happening now and would continue because the borough cannot currently prove it has a five-year housing land supply.

However, opponents say that green belt land ought to be the very last resort and should be permanently safeguarded – with former industrial brownfield sites made use of first.

The issue could prove crucial for voters in the coming election

The issue could prove crucial for voters in the coming election

They fear that the plans would affect the borough’s wildlife and ability for future generations to enjoy the countryside.

Ahead of this year’s local elections on Thursday, May 2, the topic of green belt housing seems to be at the forefront of voters’ minds.

We asked each of your political parties what they had to say on the issue.

Here is what they said:

Conservatives: Kevin Butter, leader of Amber Valley Conservatives, said: “The purpose of green belt land is to protect towns and villages from merging and to keep areas open and free from inappropriate development.

“It does not address the issue of the quality of land.

“Government targets to build 300,000 homes a year, to address the housing crisis, with sanctions if you fail to do so, inevitably brings councils into conflict with residents who, quite rightly, oppose building on green belt land.

“However, this needs to be balanced against our young people being priced out of the opportunity to buy or rent privately.

“Putting forward green belt land for consideration was only undertaken after we had exhausted all other options.

“It was a very bitter pill to swallow to put sites forward, which should only be accepted if developers prove to the government planning inspector the special circumstances for such development.

“Just because sites are being considered doesn’t guarantee they will ever be built on.”

Labour: Chris Emmas-Williams, leader of Amber Valley Labour, said: “The Labour Group’s manifesto has consistently included the protection of our precious green belt, this is in stark contrast to the Conservatives who have ever since 2012 included at least one green belt site in the Local Plan submission.

“Because of their sheer incompetence the inspector has intervened, as once again a five year supply of housing could not be demonstrated.

“The Tories are now proposing the removal of 15 sites for housing development from the green belt, totally ignoring the advice contained in the NPPF and also the instruction from the Inspector to only include sites with ‘exceptional circumstances’.

“Protesters from the sites at Marehay, Ripley, Belper, Heage, Duffield, Codnor and Heanor have demonstrated against these proposals as these areas have infrastructure issues already.

“The roads are struggling to cope with current traffic levels, schools are full to capacity and there are issues with doctor and dental services.

“When it’s gone, it’s gone. Save our green belt.”

The Liberal Democrats: A spokesperson for the Amber Valley Liberal Democrats said: “We have been opposed to green belt development since the battle for Lily Street Farm, Swanwick, in the 1990s.

“The Conservative Borough Council has lost the ambition to ‘conserve’ anything.

“New housing development is about the most destructive thing we can do to the environment.

“There is real pressure for growth, not least because more people are living singly, and more older people want to downsize.

“We demand the council removes its blinkers on brownfield sites – in Belper a specific study for the Neighbourhood Plan has shown these are more than adequate to meet projected demand.

“A Lib Dem influenced council would investigate these sites across the borough (including Stevensons at Bullbridge), proactively engaging with developers to use them, and at national level pushing developers to release land banks.

“It would switch taxation to land values.

“Where development is permitted, it would insist on every practicable energy efficiency measure as a basic and enforced condition.”

UKIP: Adrian Nathan, chairman of Amber Valley UKIP, said: “The Tory controlled borough council have given approval for large areas of land to be taken out of Greenbelt for massive housing developments.

“The Labour opposition have said that they would only allow the development of brownfield sites.

“Both sides are totally missing the point, our roads and services cannot cope with this level of expansion.

“The character of our region is being irrevocably altered with villages losing their individuality as they gradually merge into one sprawling mass and our beautiful countryside is being concreted over.

“Our roads are already gridlocked for several hours a day, adding thousands more car journeys per day will only increase the misery and stress of commuters.

“Our wildlife is under ever increasing threat as their natural habitat is taken away for housing developments and roads.

“We need to stand up to the Government and take control of our region and stop this madness, something our two main political parties seem incapable of.”

Green Party: Amber Valley Green Party was approached for comment but had not responded at the time of this article’s publication.