Probably more than any other single factor, the Surrey Green Belt has protected Chipstead from high density development and has preserved the village atmosphere we all still enjoy today. The Surrey Green Belt is, of course, part of the Metropolitan Green Belt encircling London, and other English cities also have green belts, making up a total national area of over 4 million acres. There are similar arrangements in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
A 1972 map of the Green Belt in north-east Surrey, showing most of Chipstead at the top left, including the Millstock and Pirbright fields, purchased by Purley and Coulsdon boroughs in 1938. After WW2 Millstock fields were considered as a site for a national athletics arena, named after Gordon Pirie, Coulsdon’s international athlete, but finally erected at Crystal Palace.
A 2002 Map of the Green Belt in north-east Surrey showing Chipstead in more detail. The boundary in Chipstead follows the line of Starrock Lane to the north, Hogscross Lane to the east and generally west of High Road, including Shabden and Elmore.
The fundamental aim of green belt policy is to prevent urban sprawl by keeping land permanently open, and consequently the most important attribute of green belts is their openness. Green Belt creates a ring of countryside where urbanisation will be resisted for the foreseeable future, maintaining an area where agriculture, forestry and outdoor leisure can be expected to prevail.
But in the early decades of the 21st century, the rapidly increasing population of London has persuaded the government to exert great pressure on local authorities to release Green Belt land for housing development, and this is already beginning to happen.
This article, contributed by a number of authors, sets out the history of the Green Belt from the time of Elizabeth I.
A Living Memory by J.C. Batley of the Bourne Society, 1974
“It must have been on the afternoon of October 6th, 1937, when my sister, who was learning to drive, was overtaken by a Rolls Royce on Coulsdon Road near Lacy Green in Old Coulsdon. What was her discomfiture when the august vehicle turned right into a field where, to avoid embarrassment to an equally distinguished procession on her tail, she followed it.
Out of the first car came the Lord Mayor of London. Out of the following cars emerged officials of the Urban Districts of Coulsdon and Purley, Caterham and Warlingham. Out of the Austin Twelve got the Batley family, who in this unrehearsed manner assisted at the birth of our Green Belt!
The Lord Mayor, Sir George Broadbridge, planted an oak tree with a well polished spade. He happened to be a local resident, I remember, and gave a speech in which he reflected upon the rise in land values since the Corporation's last enlightened acquisition of open spaces in the area in 1883. We were all presented with a map to mark the occasion—a treasure I have kept to this day.”
A History of the Surrey Green Belt by Basil E. Cracknell (Ph.D.) of the Bourne Society, 1974
Queen Elizabeth 1st started it!
The idea of the Green Belt can be traced back directly to Queen Elizabeth's “Cordon Sanitaire”, a ring 3 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, the law was powerless to prevent London's outward growth and the Great Wen continued to swell until, by the end of the 19th century, it 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 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. After such a long gestation period no wonder the idea had taken deep root. 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 to introduce their green belt scheme in 1935. For a decade, Raymond Unwin, sometimes called the father of the London Green Belt, had worked for this and at last his persistence was rewarded.
The Tattenham Corner Railway cutting through the Shabden Valley, currently tenanted by Mark Banham of Shabden Farm. The Shabden estate is a significant portion of the Green Belt around Chipstead. The original landscape titles have been inserted.
A view of the grounds of Longshaw. Longshaw house was built circa 1890, and is now divided into apartments under an initiative by the CVPS in 1979.
The Green Belt—by Act of Parliament
The LCC`sscheme 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 L.C.C. 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 this scheme, and it is a remarkable fact that no less than 844 acres of this total was acquired by Coulsdon and Purley U.D.C. to supplement the considerable areas already preserved for public use by the generosity of the Corporation and City of London.
Included in this total were:
274 acres at Farleigh near the Selsdon Nature Reserve;
50 acres at Riddlesdown and near Kenley Common to preserve the skyline either side of the Godstone Road valley;
20 acres at Foxley Wood;
146 acres at Coulsdon Court (now a municipal golf course);
237 acres at Happy Valley and Devilsden Wood linking Farthing Downs and Coulsdon Common;
117 acres at Mill Stock and Purbright, near Chipstead, overlooking the Hooley Valley.
Hay making in the Millstock Fields during the wet summer of 2012. These fields are currently owned by Croydon Borough Council and rented by Steve Churchill of Starrock Farm.
Good Out Of Evil
The Green Belt had become a reality. But as yet its scale was still small, and there were still huge areas of agricultural land unprotected from development. The cost of actually having to acquire land to protect it was so high that few authorities could afford to buy much land simply for open space. The pre-war scheme itself could not have achieved the vision of the early planners. What had been created was not a Green 'Belt' but a series of Green 'Wedges'.
It was the War, and in particular the Town and Country Planning Act of 1947, that really made the Green Belt what it is today. The War, because it gave people a desire to build a better Britain and to call a halt to the wholesale spoliation of London's countryside. This desire found expression in the magnificent Abercrombie Plan for Greater London and in the 1947 Act, because this introduced comprehensive land planning which made possible really effective control of all land use 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.
View of the Banstead Wood Green Belt looking west from Longshaw. Banstead Wood is also part of the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
Changing Concepts of the Green Belt
The planners at County Hall set to work and submitted the Surrey Development Plan during the early 1950s. The other Home Counties did likewise and as the plans were completed London's Green Belt took shape. 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. It is impossible within the space available in this article to show the whole of the Surrey Green Belt, but the map shows that part of it within our local area, and this gives a good impression of what the rest of it is like. Of course it is not all green. It includes some houses, roads and railways, and quarries. But 86% of the land area in the Green Belt is either agricultural or recreational land, including, of course, the areas acquired in the 1930s.
With the new powers to control land use, the planning authorities no longer had any need to acquire land to ensure its preservation as open space and so the 1938 Act faded into the background. By any standards the post-war Green Belt has been a great success. It has achieved the two objectives that have always been inherent in the Green Belt idea. One has only to guess what outer London would look like today if there had been no 1947 Act to realise what it has achieved. Consider, for instance, how the LCC estate at Merstham changed the landscape in that area, and multiply this a hundred fold, to visualise a Surrey without the Green Belt.
But the Green Belt has not been able to prevent all development, nor was that ever its purpose. Old Victorian houses are being pulled down and new houses built in their place. Here and there, small areas of land lying between built-up areas are being developed - what the planners call 'infilling'. New roads have 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. It is 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.
For the Green Belt is now 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 seems inevitable that more land in the outer parts of Surrey, in the area provisionally scheduled as green belt in the Development Plan, but not approved as such by the Minister (these areas cover virtually the whole of Surrey beyond the approved Green Belt) will have to be released for housing. The Green Belt cannot throttle London to death. It was never intended as a strait-jacket. As the chief technical planner at the Ministry of Housing and Local Government has commented: "The Green Belt cannot stop growth in the City Region, it can only shape it".
Additional Notes by Rupert Courtenay-Evans, Chipstead Village Archivist, 2012
In 1936, after the death of Lord Marshall, Surrey County Council, the manager of the substantial property of Shabden Park in Chipstead, decided to buy the Park, 561 acres of open space, for £65,000,(£115 per acre) to be included in their total purchases of 3,860 acres for the LCC Green Belt Scheme. This estate included the mansion house, Noke Farm and 26 cottages, and stretched from Banstead Wood on the west to Gatton Park and the Brighton Road on the east. At that stage they had no plans for the mansion house, which they felt was not necessarily an asset! As the LCC had paid most of the money, Surrey County Council later used it as a geriatric hospital until 1975, when it was subdivided into individual private dwellings and sold off.
No lands were acquired under the Green Belt scheme in the 1930s by the Caterham and Warlingham U.D.C., but several valuable pieces of open space came into their ownership in various ways at this period, including Manor Park (also a golf course at the time of purchase), White Knobs, Timberhill Recreation Ground and the land between Stafford Road and the railway.
Best known of all the open spaces in the urban district, however, is Viewpoint between Godstone and Caterham, and the story of how this came into public ownership is a curious one. It appears that some time in the late 1920s a committee of local councillors was debating whether it could raise the finance needed to acquire the property for public use and after the discussion had gone on for some time, one of the councillors present suddenly drew out his cheque book and wrote out a cheque for the purchase price (some hundreds of pounds) on the spot, suggesting that now the committee might pass on to its next business!
In 1937 a pleasing little ceremony took place at Lacy Green to commemorate the inauguration of the Green Belt scheme in the district, which performs the prologue to our story. 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.
Looking east across the upper Hooley valley from Starrock Farm, an important farm in the Green Belt around Chipstead
The Future by Rupert Courtenay-Evans, Chipstead Village Archivist, and Barry Pepper, Chipstead Residents’ Association, 2012
When the above article was first published in 1972 by the Bourne Society, there had just been a planning application to build 800 houses on the Green Belt at Honister Heights on Riddlesdown, which thankfully had been turned down. Then in the mid 1990`s after the closure of Netherne Hospital, there was a successful application to build the new village of “Netherne on the Hill” on the footprint of the old hospital, with its own new approach road off the A23.
Now, in 2012, Chipstead is again confronted by the prospect of around 700 new homes and commercial development on the Portnalls Estate Green Belt, site of the former Cane Hill Hospital. It is hoped that this development will be confined to the old hospital footprint nearer to Coulsdon, with access from the A23 Brighton Road. This project, by Barratt Developments plc, is within the Croydon planning area but Reigate and Banstead council are getting involved with the project to represent the views of Chipstead. Definitive plans from Barratt for public consultation are expected early in 2013.
So there will be a significant increase in the population of Coulsdon, partly accommodated in “affordable housing”, on the southern boundary of Croydon adjacent to Chipstead. Vehicle access to the site needs to be carefully managed to prevent a further increase in traffic through Chipstead. Barratt intend to complete the build-out of the site over the next decade.
An update at 2020: Barratts expect to complete the Cane Hill development in 2021. Despite local pressure, no A23 road access was built to date, and instead an access was built onto Portnalls Road, in addition to the primary access onto Brighton Road in Coulsdon
Although the new National Planning Policy Framework, issued in March 2012, makes the controversial presumption in favour of sustainable development on unprotected land, it is quite clear about the continuing purposes of the Green Belt.
1 - to check the unrestricted sprawl of large built-up area;
2 - to prevent neighbouring towns from merging into one another;
3 - to assist in safeguarding the countryside from encroachment;
4 - to preserve the setting and special character of historic towns;
5 - to assist in urban regeneration by recycling of unused or derelict land;
So the principal guidelines in the Framework do not apply to the Green Belt, except in very special circumstances. If the local council feels that such circumstances exist, they must to refer to the Secretary of State before granting planning permission. Examples of such circumstances are sites of abandoned buildings, but the total area of new development must not exceed the total area of the abandoned buildings, as is the case at Cane Hill.
Looking at the broader picture, Basil Cracknell’s article states that “the population pressure of Greater London on the Green Belt has never been greater, and the planning authorities are at a loss to know how to accommodate the rapidly increasing population”. But that was written in 1974, and since then population pressure on housing has increased tremendously.
In 1974 the population of greater London was about 6.5 million, and, as the 2011 census shows,it has risen to over 8 million, mainly over the last 10 years. This has been primarily driven by immigration, making London one of the most ethnically diverse cities in the world. The indigenous population of London currently stands at about 55% of the total. Current trends indicate that a further 1 million residents will be added during the next 10 years, putting even further pressure on the green belt.
So there is ever increasing pressure on governments to find new land on which to house this rapidly growing population. The current government is trying to persuade local authorities to abandon some of their Green Belt land to development, and some authorities outside London have already agreed to this. This may cause an undesirable precedent for the London Green Belt.
If, at some time in the future, population pressure in London becomes inexorable and the London Green Belt were to be abandoned to development, London could become another megacity like Tokyo (35 million), or Shanghai (23 million), with seemingly endless suburbs stretching beyond the horizon
Let us all hope that our cherished Green Belt survives.
Rupert Courtenay Evans 2012