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Another night, another meeting on the Guildford’s green belt. Last night (Friday, November 22) it was the turn of Gomshall and Shere.
Once again, it was standing room only as 150 concerned souls packed into Village Hall at Shere to hear the parish council and ward councillors explain their view of the Local Plan consultation and hear opinions and questions from other residents present.
The parish council were mainly concerned with the suggestion, contained in the consultation documents, that both Gomshall and Shere villages should be removed from the green belt.
Several speakers criticised the Pegasus report titled Green belt and the countryside study. Cllr David Wright (Con, Tillingbourne) said that the methodology they had used was questionable and the views, albeit from expert consultants, necessarily subjective.
He had warned, he said, that the council’s approach to the consultation might set a lot of hares running and that the issues were not clear cut: there would be difficult choices ahead.
Cllr Wright added: “The key to it is for you all to write individual letters. They have to contain cogent planning arguments. It is not really good enough to say, ‘This is the place that I have loved all my life, why should anyone want to change it?’ You have to use the sort of language that has been used [in the consultation documents].
“We are going to have to fight the good fight on just how many houses Guildford is going to have to build.
“If we can prove irreparable harm to the green belt as the result of having to build anything anywhere then that is a reason that the [planning] inspectors are bound to take into account.”
Tim Harrold, chairman of the Campaign to Protect Rural England’s (CPRE) Guildford branch said: “I represent the green belt and the countryside.”
He referred to the council questionnaire on the Local Plan and the question, ‘Do you support using the Green belt and the countryside study to help to decide whether we should decide new insett settlement boundaries for our villages?
“Well the answer to that is no!” he said, “Because the… study is hopelessly flawed. It was prepared by a company who are based in Bracknell and whose principal customers are developers.
“I have studied the document and I can tell you it worries me to death, it is full of mistakes and it shouldn’t have been allowed to be used.”
Campaigner Susan Parker was the first from the audience to speak. She said that a website had been set up called Save Shere, Gomshall and Abinger to provide information on the campaign.
She urged the audience to write to their councillors who, she said, needing encouraging. Then, addressing the two Conservative ward councillors present, David Wright and Richard Billington, directly, she said: “I know you are on the right side but I think you need to be a lot more robust, I really do.” This met with applause.
She also questioned the selection of Pegasus as a suitable company for the consultation, given their track record of providing consultation for developers.
Later Mrs Parker recommended that the audience read the Guildford Dragon’s interview with Cllr Monika Juneja to understand her view that if the popular consensus was a rejection of any growth then some would be forced through on central government terms, in line with their housing targets.
Cllr Wright returned to the debate to explain that the 19 PDAs (Potential Development Areas) had been identified in the study but that not all would be developed and the situation was not as apocalyptic as some portrayed it to be. He also pointed out that any development site could only be developed if the owner wished it to be.
Several residents said that objections should not be totally negative and the need for some development acknowledged in areas that residents found acceptable.
Another pointed out that land value increases, once development is even thought remotely possible, would make affordable housing impossible.
Awareness of the issue was also raised. A member of the audience said, “It is not just some people in London that don’t know about this threat there are some in Surrey that don’t know about it. Even Boris Johnson, when he came through our countryside on the recent cycling event, said, ‘I didn’t even know this existed.”
One Abinger resident echoed the view that it was not good enough to simply say no, He pointed out that it was not just the Shere area that was affected and deplored the lack of reference, in the consultation documents, to required infrastructure improvements.
Cllr Wright rejected the popular view,expressed again at the meeting, that the problem could be solved simply by utilising the brownfield sites in Guildford. “If it were that easy I don’t think there would be any problem. But the plain fact of the matter is that Guildford is in a very narrow valley.
“There are very few available sites… The green belt washes over 89 per cent of the borough so if you have got no space in the town then what do you do?… There is no ready, easy answer.”
The chairman of the parish council Roy Davey closed the meeting urging the audience to communicate their views before the end on the consultation period ends on November 29.