Of all the political parties that one might imagine would propose building on a green field, the Green Party would probably be bottom of the list. And yet that is precisely what they are proposing to do at Toads Hole Valley. Opponents have jumped all over them pointing out the apparent hypocrisy of pouring concrete over grass. The reality isn’t quite that simple.
The 47 hectare green field in question was once connected to the wider South Downs but was left stranded by the construction of the bypass which rendered it difficult to access and unviable to farm. When the boundaries for the new South Downs national park were determined, the valley wasn’t included because it was not deemed to be of sufficient landscape quality.
From the air, it is easy to see why; apart from its western bank it consists mainly of unexceptional scrub deeply scarred by the tracks of joy riders who use it as a motocross course. It contrasts sharply with the lush, green rolling Downs on the other side of the A27.
Of course, bikers using it as an unofficial motocross are breaking the law because it is private land. As the “no trespassing” signs around the perimeter testify, anyone who sets foot on it is guilty, whether scramble bikers or dog walkers or ramblers. Many people think that it belongs to the city but it has actually been privately owned by the Cook family for over seven decades.
It is a shame that, apart from a tiny patch with SNCI designation, access to such a large expanse – the equivalent of 64 football pitches – is denied to the people; even more so because the Brighton & Hove Sports & Recreation Study highlights this as a location that requires more publicly accessible open space. And that isn’t the only type of space that is in short supply; the need for a new primary school in the area is becoming increasingly desperate.
The Greens are proposing to include the valley in the Core Strategy [now renamed the City Plan] so that part of it could be developed to provide about 700 much needed homes and a new school; all with the impressive environmental credentials that the city demands. It could also possibly accommodate some employment space linked to the universities just five minutes along the bypass. About a third of the site might not be developed at all becoming parkland, open to visitors and properly managed to encourage biodiversity.
Some people have already started to lament the loss of a green field but in truth we don’t have one to lose. Toads Hole Valley no more belongs to the city than your back garden does; it belongs to the Cook family.
If we play our cards right the city could gain a green space but if we do nothing we may see one disappear anyway. If the coalition government’s draft National Planning Policy Framework [NPPF] [see earlier story] is adopted and Toads Hole Valley isn’t included in our City Plan there will be nothing to stop the owners from submitting a planning application for as many houses as the site can carry. The NPPF’s “presumption” to give consent as long as the development is sustainable [and there is no legally binding definition] would guarantee approval.
Fortunately the owners have no desire to do this preferring instead to work with the local authority to provide a comprehensive mixed use scheme to meet the long term needs of the city. They have owned this site for 70 years; no one could accuse them of having short-term interests.
Those who are busy compiling petitions to “save” the site need to ask themselves who they are saving it for; perhaps the 11,000 people on the Council’s housing waiting list or the 6,000 additional people who will be looking for a job by 2014 or the 150 children who will be shoehorned into already overstretched primary schools this year.
View a video of Toads Hole Valley
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Toads Hole Valley