Probably more than any other single factor, the Surrey Green Belt has protected Chipstead from high density development. This article describes the evolution of the Green Belt, with particular reference to Chipstead, and also describes the other planning restrictions such as AONB and SSSIs that have helped preserve the countryside and village that we enjoy today.
A 1972 map of the Green Belt in north-east Surrey, showing most of Chipstead at the top left,
A long gestation period
The fundamental aim of green belt policy is to prevent urban sprawl by maintaining an area where agriculture, forestry and outdoor leisure is expected to prevail. The idea of the Green Belt can be traced back to Tudor times. Queen Elizabeth I's “Cordon Sanitaire” was a ring, three miles wide, drawn round the City of London in an effort to contain the City, and more particularly, the Plague if it should break out. However, this did not prevent London's outward growth especially in Victorian times. By the end of the 19th century, London had become so large that people again began to think in terms of a green belt or green 'girdle' (the latter term was used at first, but apparently was considered to be too effeminate and so the girdle gave way to the belt) to restrain its further expansion.
In 1883, before even the idea of a Green Belt had been formally introduced, the Corporation of the City of London, in a most generous and farsighted act, decided to acquire certain areas of open space in the Coulsdon and Purley area for the use of the public. These areas included nearby Riddlesdown, Kenley and Coulsdon Commons and Farthing Downs.
Looking east across the Brighton road to Farthing Downs, acquired by the Corporation of the City of London in 1883.
Ebenezer Howard introduced his idea of the Garden City in 1898, and at the same time he introduced a plan for a Green Belt. It had both a negative side (to restrain the growth of the city) and a positive side (to provide food, recreation and natural amenity for the people of the city), and these two ideas have been present, in varying degrees of importance, in every subsequent proposal for green belts.
A succession of prominent men recommended variants of this idea. First, Lord Meath with his 1901 plan for suburban parks linked "by broad sylvan avenues and approaches"; then W. Bull, with his scheme also in 1901 for "a circle of green sward or trees which would remain permanently inviolate"; and finally G. L. Pepler with his idea, in 1911, of a great parkway encircling London at a radius of 10 miles from Charing Cross. So many brilliant ideas - but still no action.
In 1924 the London County Council got so far as asking its Town Planning Committee "To consider and report whether or not the preservation of a green belt or “unbuilt-on” zone or zones within the boundaries of, or adjacent to, Greater London is desirable and practicable, and if so, what steps can be taken to effect this". It was a step forward, and it led to a great deal of talk, but still no action.
It was to be another decade before the Green Belt was translated from theory into fact, after almost 50 years of talking. In the event it was the ribbon development of the 1930s, and the wholesale swallowing up of so much of London's countryside by huge estates, that so awakened the public conscience as to enable the London County Council (LCC) to introduce their green belt scheme in 1935.
The LCC`s scheme was a relatively modest one. It was intended "to provide a reserve supply of public open spaces and of recreational areas and to establish a green belt or girdle or open space lands, not necessarily continuous but as readily accessible from the completely urbanized area of London as practicable". The LCC. offered to make grants, covering up to half the cost, to neighbouring county councils, including of course Surrey and Croydon, to enable them to acquire open space. In Surrey as a whole some 4000 acres of land were purchased under the LCC scheme.
In 1938, to give legal protection to the land acquired under the Scheme, the LCC introduced The Green Belt Act which prohibited the sale or development of green belt land acquired under the Scheme without the consent of the Minister responsible for planning and of the contributing county councils.
Land purchased in Chipstead in the 1930s by Surrey County Council
Much to Chipstead’s lasting benefit, Chipstead Downs - the area of chalk downland to the west of Outwood Lane ( and which includes Stagbury Downs) was acquired by Surrey County Council under the LCC scheme.
View of the Chipstead Downs and, above it, Banstead Wood .
In 1936, after the death of Lord Marshall, Surrey County Council, decided to buy Shabden Park, for £44,782 under the LCC Scheme. This estate of 479 acres included the mansion house, Noke Farm and 26 cottages. It stretched from Banstead Wood on the west to Upper Gatton Park and the Brighton Road on the east. At that stage the Council had no plans for the mansion house but, possibly as the LCC had paid £16,793 of the purchase price of the estate, Surrey County Council retained it and used it as a geriatric hospital until 1975, when it was subdivided into individual private dwellings and sold off.
In 1938 Coulsdon and Purley UDC acquired two relatively small areas of land in Hooley - Millstock Field and Pibright (shown in the map of North-east Surrey at the start of this article). After the Second World War Millstock field was considered as a site for a national athletics arena, to be named after Gordon Pirie, Coulsdon’s international athlete, but this was finally erected at Crystal Palace. The other area, described as Pirbright, was part of Noke Farm.
Hay making in the Millstock Fields during the wet summer of 2012.
Part of Noke Farm acquired by Coulsdon and Purley UDC in 1938
Green Wedges to Green Belt
The overall impact of the 1938 Green Belt Act was relatively small, The cost of having to acquire land to protect it was so high that few authorities could afford to buy much land simply to preserve open spaces. What had been created was not a Green 'Belt' but rather a series of Green 'Wedges'.and there were still huge areas of agricultural land in the Home Counties unprotected from development.
It was The Town and Country Planning Act of 1947, that really made the Green Belt what it is today. The Second World War was the catalyst as it gave people a desire to build a better Britain and to protect the countryside close to London. This desire found expression in the 1947 Act which introduced comprehensive land planning which made effective control of all land use possible for the first time. Henceforth, the appropriate use of land had to be designated on a map, and once the land use had been approved by the Minister it could not easily be changed. No longer would it be possible for sporadic unplanned development to take place..Areas of Great Landscape Value (AGLV) were also established in the 1947 Town and Country Planning Act.
The Surrey Development Plan was created in the early 1950s. Most of the Parish of Chipstead (other than the built up area called 'the village' was designated Green Belt. and much of the Parish to the west of the High Road was also designated as AGLV.
The other Home Counties did likewise and as the plans were completed London's Green Belt had been formed. It constituted a large area of land lying between the built-up edge of London at about the 12-mile radius, and an outer ring at about 20-25 miles from London.. Of course it is not all green but 86% of the land area in the Green Belt was either agricultural or recreational land, including the areas acquired in the 1930s.
While the Green Belt has been a great success it not been able to prevent all development, nor was that ever its purpose. Old Victorian houses have been pulled down and new houses built in their place. Here and there, small areas of land lying between built-up areas have been developed - what the planners call 'infilling'. New roads have had to be built, new gas mains laid, new motorways slash across the countryside. Some changes of this sort are inevitable. But what the Green Belt policy has done is to prevent the outward expansion of the built-up area.
However, the Green Belt is under pressure as never before. The population pressure of Greater London has never been greater, and the planning authorities are at a loss to know how to accommodate the rapidly increasing population. It has always been a corollary of the “green belt” idea that if the natural outward expansion of the city is to be prevented, then provision must be made beyond the green belt for that expansion to take place. To some extent the new towns, like Crawley, have siphoned off some of the pressure, but they are now reaching capacity and still the pressure is there.
It is also well known that a substantial acreage of land adjacent to existing built-up areas in the Green Belt has been acquired by property developers against the day when they succeed in obtaining planning permission to develop, when of course the land will rocket in value. Hitherto they have mostly waited in vain. But there are some fears that their patience (and persistence) may yet bring its reward in the years ahead.
Looking east across the upper Hooley valley from Starrock Farm, an important farm in the Green Belt around Chipstead
Other Planning Controls.
As well as the Green Belt and Area of Great Landscape Value there are a number of other planning restrictions that help to preserve Chipstead's rural appeal. As shown in the map below,these include
- Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB),
- Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI),
- Conservation Areas, and
- Residential Areas of Special Character (RASC).
While not directed at planning it is of note that Shabdon Park is covered by the Countryside Stewardship Scheme.
Other planning controls AONB (brown). SSSIs (green), Conservation Areas (red), RASCs (blue) and the Countryside Stewardship Scheme (yellow)
Much of the eastern part of the parish forms part of the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). An AONB is land protected by the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 in order enhance its natural beauty. Only local authorities or the Secretary of State can give permission for development in, or affecting, an AONB. There is a degree of overlap between AONB and AGLV (although AONBs provide greater protection) and Reigate and Banstead Borough Council undertook a study of them in 2007 which may, in due course, lead to an expansion of the area designated as AONB within Chipstead.
Within the Parish of Chipstead, Chipstead Down (including Stagbury Down), Fames Rough and the Long Plantation are designated Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and are listed as such in the Land Charges Register. Owners and occupiers of SSSIs are required to obtain consent from Natural England if they want to carry out any ‘potentially damaging operations'. SSSIs were originally set up by the Nationl Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949 but the current legal framework for SSSIs is provided in England and Wales by the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 amended in 1985 and further substantially amended in 2000 (by the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000). Also shown on the map above are Banstead Wood and Park Downs (neither of which are in the Parish of Chipstead).
Conservation Areas are established under legislation dating back to 1967 to give local authorities greater control over development within them. There are about 20 Conservation Areas within the Borough of Reigate and Banstead. The Elmore Road Conservation Area, the first such area in Chipstead, was created in 1980 and included St. Margaret’s Church and Elmore Road. This area was expanded in 1990 to include The White Hart, Longshaw and Palmers Cottage. The High Road Conservation Area was also created in 1990 taking in Shabden, The Grove, Ruffetts and the north end of Markedge Lane.
Certain areas in the Borough have been designated by Reigate and Banstead Borough Council as Residential Areas of Special Character (RASC). Their objective is to ensure that specific development patterns and features considered to be integral to the character of the borough are preserved in order to contribute to the maintenance of ‘sense of place’. RASC designations are specific residential areas recognised for their wide plots set back from the road dominated by leafiness and mature landscapes. Walpole Avenue was designated a RASC in 2005. In 2017 this RASC was extended to include parts of Coulsdon Lane, the High Road and Starrock Lane. New RASCs were also designated for Court Hill and an area comprising Hollymead Road, Bouvrie Road and parts of How Lane and Coulsdon Lane.
The Countryside Stewardship Scheme aims to improve the environmental value of farmland throughout England. In 1996, the administration of the scheme was taken over by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the scheme expanded to include new landscapes and features, including old meadows and pastures (important for maintaining and increasing biodiversity). Shabden Park was also designated a Historic Garden of local interest in 2001. Under this there is a requirement to manage its parkland features including maintenance of coverage of ornamental trees.
Rupert Courtenay Evans 2015 with additional material from Jon Grant April 2021