Green Belt is for all, it can be an amenity, a place to be amongst nature, it is green lungs against pollution, a haven for wildlife, and primarily – it is to stop urban sprawl, and once it’s gone, its gone, lost to future generations.
But if a formal, but alarming letter drops through the letter box from your council’s planning department – threatening to flatten your local bit of Green Belt or Metropolitan Open Land (MOL), you have two choices, let them destroy your treasured bit of land, and suffer the loss and changes that such development will bring, or fight it … but how, and where do you start ?
This short video from the CPRE gives an outline: https://youtu.be/xf9XSpE0tro
Firstly though, do know that you can make a difference, we have (for now – we await a revised planning application), for others- see ‘Success Stories‘ at the end of this article.
Many may put a dampener on your efforts, but the journey you take will have many twists and turns, expect the unexpected.
Below is a guide to help you run your own campaign, this is written in the context of what we experienced and implemented, and wish to share our acquired knowledge to help others, even though each application is different. Included is some Web publishing information, please skip this if it is not of interest.
We have included additional references near the end of this article for local residents here in Barnet London (references numbered), although we feel this plan can be applied wherever you are in the UK, and not just specifically to Green Belt or MOL applications.
One of your biggest tasks will be to raise public awareness, the council will define the consultation area around the site, and post letters to these residents, but as it is Green Belt it may not address that many residents, it can seem a disproportionate loss of Green Belt in comparison to the number of consultations letters sent out, here the 21 acre Hasmonean application resulted in just over 1000 letters being posted by the Council … your biggest impact will be to inform people. Residents, simply at the top of the road may not be aware of such an application.
Planning website and objections.
Explore the application on the Local Council Planning website pages (1), familiarise yourself with ‘Important Dates’, end of ‘Neighbour Consultation’ date, and ‘Determination Deadline’ dates.
To view the application online, the formal letter from your council will quote a planning reference, a ‘Search’ facility on the council site will locate the application, along with all the documents submitted, and other pertinent information.
Call the Planning Officer allocated to the application (name and number will be found on that formal letter) and say hello, they will be impartial but helpful, confirm with them the last date that on-line submissions will be accepted.
The on-line submissions deadline date however is not the end, the website may not accept any more on-line objections from a certain date – but comments will be considered right up to the date of determination, so objections can then be emailed and posted or handed in, confirm the date of determination with the planning officer or planning department. This date can also be found on the Local Council Website for the particular planning application under ‘Important Dates’, note – in our experience, dates maybe extended where a great deal of public interest is shown, and the project is classed as ‘Major’ – we found that the ‘important dates’ were not always updated on-line to reflect these changes !
On-line submissions deadline
Absolute date of determination
Confirm the email address to send to (1.1)
Confirm the postal address (2) to post objection letters (remember some residents still do not have email), include the planning case officer’s name.
Always quote the applications Reference and Site address in any communications.
Guidance on how to object:
Further information can be found here:
And a handy book on the subject (please make a donation, details at back):
Know the Application
Read the Planning Application, understand what is being proposed, the Hasmonean application here was 290 documents – a major project, in this case be prepared to spend time reading through and understanding lots of documents, the ‘Planning Statement’ should be sought out in the list, this will give an initial outline of the application. Here in Barnet, the Council web site can be a little slow and temperamental when accessing documents – be patient and persistent.
Note any factual and pertinent points in the application, put these in bullet points in your publicity.
National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF)
Read Section 13 of the updated and now reduced NPPF, understand the policy that should serve to protect Green Belt, NPPF clause 133 outlines its aim.
Local planning authorities should ensure that substantial weight is given to any ‘harm’ to the Green Belt, and the applicant must prove ‘very special circumstances’ on which to build on Green Belt (see NPPF clauses 87, 88), be aware though that local councils can decide what are ‘very special circumstances’ – in our case incorrectly, and approved the application – however the GLA consequently determined ‘vsc’s had not in fact been proven correctly, and over ruled to refuse.
London plan, and the Local Plan
Your Council’s Local Plan should include a suite of Development Plan Documents (DPDs) and Supplementary Planning Documents (SPDs) that will outline its policies towards Green Belt and its Green Infrastructure.
The GLA has its own ‘London Plan‘.
Again all such policies were ignored by our local councillors who voted to approve, but finally upheld by the current Mayor of London.
Hopefully, more knowledgeable local organisations will already be familiar with these policies and will have quoted them in their objection letters.
Connect with Concerned Organisations:
Join with local (3) and national organisations, each will be willing to give you help, direction and assistance:
Tel: 01767 680551
Your Council will consult many groups, look on the application website to find these, make connections with them.
Local concerned societies and organisations will most likely object if it is felt the application is harmful to the Green Belt, they will comment and send an informed objection, request a copy of this and take guidance on the material planning considerations they quote.
Reach out to politicians and local Councillors for support (4), some will be influential in expressing residents concerns to those that count.
It is important to connect with those who already have the planning knowledge and will have objected, and may have already done much of the leg work forming the basis for objecting, you maybe able to add a more local perspective – especially if you live opposite the site – but your priority is to take these peoples knowledge – and get out there and publicise the application.
Council Committee Meeting
If the application goes to committee for a vote – you will need as many councillors onside as possible, make contact with committee members (4) prior to the meeting and during the consultation period.
Historic and Ancient Trees are a national asset, contact the Local Councils planning department to see if any trees already have Tree Preservation Orders (TPO) on them, ask that they be applied them if not, the Tree officer will be very knowledgeable and will go take a look, issuing a TPO if he considers them to be of value, this gives recognition to their value in planning terms, and the amenity value they bring to your area. None of this may have been done previously – possibly deliberately so by the land owner.
Contact the Tree Register and Woodland trust who will help you date your trees, and register them on their own databases:
The Tree Register:
Note: A TPO is provisional for 6 months, after which time it must be decided by the Council whether to confirm, not confirm, vary or revoke the order, it is important to know that there is just a 6 week period after the initial Order is made, when comments can be received by the Council for inclusion in the officers report.
You may find the land also contains historic hedgerows – enclosure of the fields occurred around the 17th century locally here, Ordinance Survey Maps date from the 18th century, you may find the hedgerows and trees already on these maps, this will pre-date the trees – possibly by 100’s of years.
You can search these historic Ordinance Survey Maps:
Time is of the essence – get it done and get them out there.
You can design a leaflet in something simple like Microsoft Word, save your page as a PDF and submit it to someone like:
Tel: 0800 496 0350
They have a 24/7 phone number you can contact and they will help you submit your file.
It will be printed very quickly and cheaply for you and delivered to your door – within 24 hours if you choose the Express Service.
Choose an A4 size on standard 130gsm gloss, (go for 170gsm if you can – helps posting through letter boxes) choose single or double sided print, depending on how much you have to say.
Design using bullet points, brief paragraphs – and keep it fact based !
Include a Google Map in your artwork, so people can relate to the site (and often the scale of the development) you can use simple tools like ‘Paint’ to draw around and highlight the site perimeter.
Do not use photos from the submitted planning applications documents, these are copyright !, take your own photo’s of the site, shoot many and then choose just a few of the best, they will take up a lot of space on your leaflet. (make sure your images are 300dpi, or you will get pixelisation)
The Hasmonean and St vincents leaflets as an examples
The St Vincent’s leaflet, was a simple MS Word document, laid out as an A4 leaflet, the Hasmonean Leaflet was laid out using Indesign – professional layout artwork software.
If you are publishing – you must be aware of copyright, you cannot lift any images from the online application documents, without the owners permission ie the applicant.
You may use Google Maps in your published material – but you must show the Google Logo, see Attribution:
(You can make a screen grab using the ‘Snipping Tool’ (in Windows) and save it as a JPEG).
Be aware of defamation (statements which may affect the reputation of a person, company or organization – including, by implication) – as a guide, know your facts, quote them – and keep emotion out of what gets published.
If you wish to acquaint yourself with the law more fully, we recommend reading Part 3, chapters 19-24 of:
McNae’s Essential Law for Journalists, 23rd Edition, Mark Hanna and Mike Dodd.
Professional fees for Legal advise can be very expensive – which are unnecessary, if you’ve read the above chapters then you will be forearmed.
Be aware – when acting behind a Limited company, laws of defamation still fall upon the person that makes the statements.
Distributing your leaflets
Distribute leaflets door to door, one person can do 60-100 letter boxes per hour depending on the type of street.
You will find letter boxes on the outside of blocks of flats sometimes, often at the side of the entrance, post one through each.
If letter boxes are behind a latched door such as in a block of flats, you will need to press some buttons and ask politely if you can come in to distribute – tell them what you are doing, most will be accommodating if they know it affects them.
Give them to passing pedestrians, dog walkers …. go into pubs, restaurants, shops and businesses and ask to leave some on the counter. Remember its public interest, you’re not selling anything – and people’s charitable side will come out.
Get to know your neighbour’s in roads adjacent to the site, they will be most affected, go knock on all their doors with a leaflet – and explain the application briefly. They will be most encouraged to speak to someone engaged in the common cause, and most likely object.
Take pen and paper and note the house numbers of who is in and who isn’t, as you will often find people out when you go knocking, but be persistent – you will need to revisit and try again. Neighbours know neighbours – so you don’t have to cover every house – but it helps if you can.
If any of these residents feel particularly charged – ask if they would like to get involved, in what ever way they can, leaflet distribution, researching, web work – their help will increase your knowledge and to help spread awareness.
After a day out leaflet posting, see the objections pop up on the council website – you will be encouraged, some comments will raise points you may not have considered.
Some people may not respond immediately, we found 1-2 weeks later that some people’s objections would pop up on the website – so you need to build in that time. Our consultation period ran just prior to and over the Christmas period, so many people were away, however the planning department kept the consultation period open for an extended time to help with this issue.
You do not necessarily need a website, but if you have some knowledge it is relatively easy to register a domain name (www.green-belt-etc.org.uk) – and get yourself a web presence.
We recommend https://www.fasthosts.co.uk/, (tel: 0808 1686 777) for £2/3 a month you get a domain name, web space and some email addresses (ie firstname.lastname@example.org). They can have you ready to go in 10 minutes – whilst on the phone.
You can use a ‘one click’ install for WordPress, and you have a blog on-line in minutes, use the default theme, set yourself a static page for the home page, contact or any other pages you wish to add, see below a list of recommended plug-ins (6).
Geographic Map of objectors/approvals
Using ‘MyMaps‘ in Google it was possible to create a visual of exactly where objectors and approvers resided, postcodes should be available on your councils website.
Our map graphically illustrated an important point.
Our application attracted many ‘approvals’, but mostly from people who did not live locally, they had nothing to lose, where as nearly all the objectors could be seen as living adjacent to or near to the site, and had the most to lose.
Social media may not necessarily light the fire or create a media storm as you expect, despite all the effort it takes to run such a campaign, it is just another avenue to engage the public, so I recommend getting out on the streets with your printed leaflets first !
If you wish to start a social media campaign on sites such as facebook and twitter – that will all help.
On facebook you will want to create a facebook ‘Page’- you will need to have an account as a ‘person’, so go create that if you don’t have one first, once logged in go here:
and select ‘Cause or Community’ bottom right, and follow the screens.
The Page will appear on ‘your’ personal page, you can post as yourself – or as your organisation.
For twitter it is more straight forward, go here to do that:
Once your up and posting, keep posts short and to the point – also be wary not to get too wrapped up in running your campaign through this medium, use it just to inform, give people facts – but keep emotion out of your posts. It is important to research anything you wish to post, so you can back the information you publish.
When you post you will possibly get a minority who will not be onside, and may criticise your campaign – do not engage in an argument on-line with such posters, you have more important people to reach out to – you will not change these peoples point of view – no matter how many hours of thought or typing replies that you post.
Also remember that ‘internet trolls’ exist – they are out there, don’t waste any time or mental energy on them after you publish.
Do not publish your email address on-line, as this will be picked up by spammers and you will receive an unwanted amount of junk mail, use/publish a ‘contact page’ for people to contact you. If you do publish it, make sure it is encoded, on a WordPress page you can use this plug-in to do it automatically: Email Address Encoder, or for a non Worpress site see this guide : http://rumkin.com/tools/mailto_encoder/custom.php
It is advised to publish an email address on your printed leaflet, invite residents to get in touch, or even ask if they wish to be added to a mailing list, you may consider using such a service as MailChimp to deliver your emails, remember though to only use the personal details they give you in accordance of the Data Protection Act.
If people email you – you must be aware you have obligations under the Data Protection Act to protect these people’s data, and you should abide by the 8 principles of the Act:
As a ‘not for profit’ organisation you are not required to register, but you may do so voluntarily if you wish:
If the application is controversial and is threatening a large area of Green Belt – reach out to the press, local (5) and national papers, you may at least have a ‘letter’ published, if not an article:
Evening Standard (London)
Council Committee Meeting
If your application requires a Planning Committee vote, Councillors will vote on whether to approve or refuse the application.
The principal planning officer will also have written a report with recommendations – if he judges the application to be harmful to the Green Belt – then he will recommend refusal.
We unfortunately experienced a biased council, with several councillors declaring non pecuniary interests in the school – they voted against their own ‘Qualified’ planning officers recommendation of refusal, and totally ignored the 600 residents objections, granting an exception to the Green Belt policies – approving the application.
However, the application was then reconsidered at length – and refused by the higher authority – the Mayor of London (GLA), who did recognise the residents objections, and made sure his officers decision complied correctly with the Green Belt Policies, and London and Local Plans in place.
Higher Authority Consultation.
Here in London, the Mayor (Greater London Authority – GLA) can decide over the local Council Authority whether to approve, refuse or take over the application.
This will be the case if the application is for a significantly important and strategic area of Green Belt – as was our application, a site of 21 acres.
After our local council had incorrectly approved the application, we were faced with a second round of gathering public support, inviting objectors to now write/email again – to the Mayor and his officers, the issues this time would also include comments on the voting councillors, in view of the disregard for objectors, and their own officers recommendation of refusal.
If the Mayor still makes, what you feel to be an incorrect decision, then Judicial Review can be sought, but that is a costly avenue.
If the Mayor refuses – then the applicant will still have several avenues open to them:
1) Make a request to the Secretary of State to ‘call in’ the application.
2) An appeal with a possible hearing, lasting approximately 1-3 days – depending, with evidence from both sides heard.
3) Amend the existing application – with a second round of public consultation, or make a fresh new application.
If it is ‘called in’, writing/emailing the Secretary of State will then be a third round for all concerned, we did so after a request was made by ‘interested parties’ of the applicant – however at this time we understand negotiations are ongoing with the GLA, Local Council and Applicant about developing on the existing site – so while that process continues the Secretary of State cannot ‘call-in’.
Good luck, go make some connections, go read, and make a difference.
Green Belt Man.
Once It’s gone, it’s gone !
Local Contacts and References:
Note the Planning website can be a bit slow and temperamental, you will need to be patient.
Email address for objections in Barnet:
London Borough Barnet
1255 High Road,
MHNF (Mill Hill Neighbourhood Forum)
MHRA (Mill Hill Residents Association)
4) in Barnet your ward Councilors can be found here:
5) Local Papers:
6) Word Press recommended plug-ins:
Broken Link Checker
Contact Form 7
Easy Updates Manager
Email Address Encoder
Limit Login Attempts
WordPress Backup to Dropbox
WordPress Visual Icon Fonts
WPtouch Mobile Plugin
If you have a facebook and twitter page/account:
Easy Twitter Feed Widget
Facebook Feed WD
Save Oakfield Site
A major campaign involving many people, resulting in the Planning Inspector finally ruling that the land could not be allocated for housing in the Local Plan.
See the ‘Outline’ produced for the 2017 AGM … as a Case Study:
Saving Oakfield Presentation to LGBC AGM Nov 2017
Also see these positive press reports:
Ilford Recorder 21 Sept 2017
Save Warren Farm
Campaigners have won leave to appeal a court decision. Campaign ongoing.
Save Lea Marshes
This group had a complaint upheld by Advertising Standards – because the Academy advertising in the local paper was saying it would open on an MOL site on a particular date, and yet no planning permission had been sought or issued. Campaign ongoing.
Battersea Park Action Group (BPAG)
Waged a big battle with the council over Formula E and won