Saving green spaces

Martin has never believed that the best way to help the homeless or make homes affordable was to build all over the countryside. So he has always strongly supported campaigns to protect treasured green spaces around Cheltenham.

Cheltenham’s new local plan allows for new homes and a brand new secondary school (purple and yellow striped area) but also permanent protection for Leckhampton’s most precious green fields after a 40 year battle to preserve them (green cross-htached area). Burrrow’s Field (pale green) is protected as a sports field.

But he welcomed Lib Dem-run Cheltenham Borough Council’s new local plan, adopted in 2020, which will allow several hundred new homes (not the thousands that once threatened to engulf all our local green fields) and a brand new secondary school aimed at local children as well as permanently protecting 26 hectares of Leckhampton’s precious green fields.

As an opposition MP, Martin developed a policy for the Liberal Democrats which was then implemented by the 2010-15 coalition government as the Local Green Space designation now being used to protect green spaces in Leckhampton and across Cheltenham.  It provides protection for local green spaces not for their landscape value or scientific importance but simply because they are important to local people – providing free recreation and quiet enjoyment, growing local food, improving physical and mental health and absorbing both CO2 and dangerous particulate pollution.

It’s been a long battle. For 40 years, Martin and other local campaigners have had to fight planners who wanted all of Leckhampton’s green fields “safeguarded” (!) for future development, then Labour’s centrally-driven Regional Spatial Strategies and now Conservative attempts to let developers ride roughshod over local plans.

As Cheltenham, Gloucester and Tewkesbury councils worked together to develop their own Joint Core Strategy, Martin consistently lobbied for enough housing for local people in need but not the tens of thousands required by a strategy based on economic growth regardless of environmental consequences.  In particular he lobbied hard against the loss of precious green spaces at Leckhampton, Chargrove and Springbank.  This was made difficult because neighbouring councillors like Tewkesbury Conservative councillor Derek Davies condemned Cheltenham Lib Dem councillors as ‘greedy’ and ‘precious’ for trying to protect Leckhampton and regularly blocked moves by Cheltenham to protect key green spaces. In the end the JCS ruled out a huge ‘strategic’ development at Leckhampton, reducing the likely housing there from over a thousand houses to a couple of hundred and with most of the green fields permanently protected.

At the 11th hour, the Conservative-run county council moved the planned school onto land they had previously agreed would be protected green space while an unelected government inspector arbitrarily ordered the Local Green Space to be reduced in size. So less green space has been protected than originally planned but we can still look forward to new homes and the new school and 26 hectares of green space for new residents and students to enjoy along with everyone else.

Martin’s father, Don Horwood, was one of the founders of the Leckhampton Green Land Action Group (LEGLAG) and Martin joined at an early age. When he returned to Leckhampton with his own family and his children began attending local schools and nurseries the need to protect a green, safe and healthy local area for the future became even more personal.

Martin believes more homes should be built on brownfield sites and in mixed use developments as they have been at Leckhampton View and in St.Paul’s, the Brewery and North Place in Cheltenham, in urban city centres in need of regeneration and close to smaller villages and market towns whose shops, post offices, pubs and schools are closing for lack of people.

Martin has also called for more action to support rural housing (for instance in and around farms) where it is wanted and needed, tougher measures to bring more of the UK’s 850,000 empty homes back into use and new powers at local level to encourage the buying and building of more social housing for rent which is where the need is greatest.

Author: Martin Horwood

Lib Dem councillor for Leckhampton, ex-MP for Cheltenham and ex-MEP for South West England & Gibraltar

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