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Public Consultation on Local Plan Given Go-ahead In the Face of Angry Public Reaction

Council leader Paul Spooner (second from right) addresses the full council meeting last night just before the vote was taken to submit the Local Plan to public scrutiny.

Council leader Paul Spooner (second from right) addresses the full council meeting last night just before the vote was taken to submit the Local Plan to public scrutiny.

The Local Plan for Guildford will proceed to another public consultation stage following a vote taken at a full council meeting last night (May 24).

Only two Conservative councillors voted against the proposal to approve the revised draft plan to a six-week public consultation period before it is submitted to the Planning Inspectorate for approval. Three Lib Dems and the three Guildford Greenbelt Group councillors also voted against. One Conservative abstained.

The vote count was 34 for, 9 against and two abstentions (this includes the mayor/chairman who normally abstains).

An overflowing public gallery showed overwhelming support for public speakers and councillors who spoke against the plan. On several occasions Cllr Gordon Jackson, who chaired the meeting, threatened to clear the gallery if members of the public did not remain quiet.

Some showed signs of anger after the council voted against an amendment to remove Garlick’s Arch, near Send Marsh, from the plan. One man threw his hat at the councillors while others shouted: “Shame on you!” and held up notices showing Conservative election slogans. One sign simply said: ‘LIARS!’”

Tempers were further raised in an overflow public gallery when the video link failed. Some individuals, visibly irate, tried to enter the main chamber but resumed their seats when the link was restored.

Before the debate proper, 10 members of the public addressed the meeting, all but two, one of whom represented the company wishing to develop Wisley Airfield, urged the council to resist progressing the plan further.

Save Hogs Back campaigner Karen Stevens

Save Hogs Back campaigner Karen Stevens

Karen Stevens, a leading Save Hogs Back campaigner asked who was driving the plan which includes a proposal to build at Blackwell Farm, at the foot of the Hog’s Back: “Is it you, our elected representatives, is it the government, or is it the University of Surrey? You have the opportunity to reduce the housing number by applying constraints, as you promised, but you have chosen no to. Why?”

The leader of the council, Paul Spooner (Con, Ash South & Tongham), responding to the speakers and their objections to individual aspects of the plan said: “If everything is impossible then we don’t actually ever move forward. We have to work on assumptions and theories.”

Then, when proposing the motion to submit the draft plan for public consulatation, said: “This evening we take an important step forward with the Local Plan… I want to pay tribute to the many councillors and council officers who have worked tirelessly to create a plan that balances the needs of all not just a minority.

“This evening we must decide if the people of Guildford Borough should have a say in the revised draft plan.

Paul Spooner

Cllr Spooner, “It’s simple to look no further than our own back yards.”

“It’s simple to look no further than our own back yards. But instead we must look borough wide and address the realistic challenges we face…We cannot push them away to other parts of the borough or elsewhere.

“Across the South East there is a housing crisis and Guildford Borough is no different. The house prices show that demand is ahead of supply. The traffic queues coming into Guildford each morning show the numbers of workers that must travel from far. That is why we must take action.

“The Local Plan takes a realistic, sustainable approach to balancing the needs of residents, businesses and visitors. We are protecting the borough’s most important countryside, landscapes and heritage.

“Development is being directed at making better use of land that has already been built on under a brownfield first preference… The problem we have is that we simply do not have enough brownfield sites available.

“But the Local Plan is about much more than housing, it is about how different parts come together to improve the whole, underscored by a clear social conscience so everyone benefits.”

Leader of the opposition, Caroline Reeves

Cllr Caroline Reeves

The leader of the opposition at Guildford Borough Council, Cllr Caroline Reeves (Lib Dem, Friary & St Nicolas), said: “We can only hope to get the least worse option. What we don’t want is a battle between the villages and the urban area. What we do want is a balanced distribution of development across the borough.

“We are between a rock and a hard place. The Conservative government is frequently moving the goal posts and managing to make sure that local authorities are getting the blame for outcomes when we follow the NPPF [National Planning Policy Framework] the NPPG [National Planning Practice Guidance] and other policies and Acts as they are amended and updated.

“The South East seems to be taking the brunt of the bad news. The methodology … to produce our housing numbers has been used across the country with no real allowance for the existing constraints that we have in the South East, through lack of regional improvements to infrastructure, in spite of the fact that the area is a source of huge financial gain to the government.

“Nor does our surrounding landscape and topography help us. So we are struggling to find places to build what we have to build with every community fighting for their own area.

Cllr Hurdle

Cllr Mike Hurdle

“We also have the sword of Damocles hanging over us. If we don’t have a Local Plan in place the government might well decide what will be built and where… The answer has to be to go out to consultation again to make sure that we are seen to be moving forward…”

“We, as councillors, need to ensure that the demographic of the [public] responses is as wide as possible and not just those who can shout the loudest.”

Commenting on widespread reservations over the Strategic Housing Market Assessment or SHMA calculations, Cllr Hurdle (GGG, Send): “As we know the housing calculation process came up with a number of 693 with no real idea of how this was developed because of commercial considerations.

“We should not dismiss this as a mere technical quibble. The House of Commons local government committee was somewhat critical of the process… their reported concluded… ‘Residents need to have confidence that the figures on which their Local Plans are based area accurate… Good government is about openness and transparency.’ ”

Cllr Matt Sarti one of only two Conservatives to vote against the plans progression to public consultation.

Cllr Matt Sarti, one of only two Conservatives to vote against the plans progression to public consultation.

Cllr Matt Sarti (Con, Chandon & Horsley), who, at a previous meeting, reminded his fellow party members of their election commitments to protect the green belt, said: “I don’t personally agree that this Local Plan is ready for consultation. The SHMA is obscure … and it is open to challenge.

“I don’t think that we have imposed the constraints we should do. Seven per cent of green belt will be removed by changing settlement boundaries and by building on strategic sites. Can we really justify that?

“When we look at the evidence base for that we are using the Green Belt and Countryside Study of 2014 which was commissioned by a council officer with no reference to the council whatsoever. It was scrutinised, but those involved will tell you that it was not scrutinised properly because it was too large a document to do that effectively.

“I cannot accept that we are using the green belt properly as a constraint.

“Relying on planning to remove some of [the proposed strategic sites] in future is the wrong way. Our Local Plan should be deliverable and if we are putting things into our Local Plan that rely on us not to authorise it, because technical issues mean that it shouldn’t be granted planning permission, then I think we are being dishonest to the public and to the government.”

Individual amendments to remove the strategic green belt sites of: Blackwell Farm, Wisley Airfield, Garlick’s Arch and Gosden Hill Farm were all lost. As was an amendment proposed by GGG leader Susan Parker to reduce the housing number.

In a statement issued today (May 25) Cllr Paul Spooner said: “This is an important step forward. When we last went to public consultation in 2014, we received over 20,000 responses.

“We listened and have made considerable changes as a result. We want people to see the revised draft Local Plan and understand how it will balance the needs of everyone who lives, works or visits the town, villages and countryside in Guildford borough.”

The borough has a population of 140,000 people, an increase of almost a half since 1951. The council expects this to rise by over 15% to 162,000 by the end of the Local Plan period in 2033.

Cllr Matt Furniss, deputy council leader and lead councillor for infrastructure and governance, said: “Many young people cannot afford to live in this borough and essential workers must travel from a distance, putting a strain on our transport systems.

“If adopted, all future planning applications will be decided in line with the Local Plan, helping to limit piecemeal and inappropriate developments that lacks supporting infrastructure.”

The six-week public consultation will start on Monday, June 6. It will include three drop-in events: Saturday, June, 11 at GBC’s Millmead offices between 10am and 5pm; Thursday, June 16 at Tongham Community Centre between noon and 8pm; Tuesday, June 21 at East Horsley Village Hall between noon and 8pm.

The draft Local Plan and supporting documents will be available to view at the council’s Millmead office during weekday office hours and at Guildford Library, Ash Library, Shere Diamond Jubilee Library and Horsley Library. Further details, including the addresses and opening times of where the documents can be viewed, will also be on www.guildford.gov.uk/newlocalplan.

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13 Responses to Public Consultation on Local Plan Given Go-ahead In the Face of Angry Public Reaction

  1. Bernard Parke Reply

    May 25, 2016 at 2:03 pm

    It is a shame that this is to be a distraction when the EU referendum is also on people’s minds.

  2. Jim Allen Reply

    May 25, 2016 at 6:00 pm

    The vote should have been delayed until after the referendum. Perhaps the blank pages and the missing reports would then be available. Agreeing to carry on regardless of the missing pages and reports is a recipe for disaster.

  3. Mary Bedforth Reply

    May 26, 2016 at 10:07 am

    There are 48 councillors.

    34 voted for, 9 against and 2 abstained. That totals 45

    So where were the other 3?

    The three absent councillors were Christian Holliday (Con, Burpham), Elizabeth Hooper (Con, Westborough) and Jenny Wicks (Con, Clandon & Horsley). Ed

    • Martin Elliott Reply

      May 26, 2016 at 6:27 pm

      Well if the rebuild of the council chamber was fully commissioned, rather than just a show of hands, there would be an electronic record of how everybody voted.

      I suppose its reserved for those close votes that never seem to happen despite, of course, the majority party not having a whip.

  4. Alan Robertson Reply

    May 26, 2016 at 2:49 pm

    Sadly, the council and it employees have a very poor track record of transparency and honesty when it comes to planning matters.

    It is unlikely that the council’s decisions will truly be in the best interests of its electorate.

  5. Jules Cranwell Reply

    May 26, 2016 at 5:19 pm

    A most outrageous performance from our so-called representatives, apart for the nine brave souls who voted against.

    How can we trust councillors who have now twice promised us to protect the green belt, in their manifesto, and have so palpably lied to us, and reneged on their pledges?

    They really are pretty shameless.

    It has been shown over and over how out of touch they are with the majority of the public, so what is their agenda? And who do they answer to?

    Time for another “March on Millmead”?

  6. Jan Lofthouse Reply

    May 26, 2016 at 10:19 pm

    How contradictory to refuse planning application for the former Wisley Airfield by Ockham on 14 grounds, mainly green belt matters, yet keep the site in the local plan.

    Will the developers magically resolve the 14 grounds? This makes the whole plan unsound.

    Cllr Spooner said he has legal opinion from his barrister, so let us see this. Have the other councillors seen it? I want to.

    GBC is as bad as ever. Councillors do not care. They are not acting in the interests of villages in Surrey. They will ruin Surrey. Clean up the derelict sites, use them for housing and make developers relinquish the land banking sites they are sitting on. Then the council does not need to touch the green belt in Surrey.

  7. John Robson Reply

    May 27, 2016 at 11:12 am

    So, politicians were Conservative with the truth in order to gain office. Why the surprise when these people take their lead from David Cameron?

    What amazes me is the relish and glee in which this sycophantic council Executive seems intent on delivering this bogus housing number for Westminster which is clearly slanted to accommodate uncontrolled net migration, hence the reason the SHMA [Strategic Housing Market Assessment] data is being suppressed prior to the EU referendum.

    Furthermore, the wording in the Local Plan has been specifically drafted to ensure that these developers do not have to deliver affordable housing for local people, so what exactly are we giving up huge swathes of our green belt for?

    The Conservative councillors know this but choose to follow a blue rosette rather than their duty to represent local people.

    If it wasn’t so serious the naivety displayed by the lead councillor for infrastructure is breathtaking, does he really believe he can dictate to Westminster on this local plan? Does he really believe he can demand an extra lane on the A3 car park before they start to deliver the overflow housing for London?

    But that’s what you get from career politicians – they don’t seem to live in the real world.

    • Anna-Marie Davis Reply

      May 27, 2016 at 5:58 pm

      Well said.

  8. Alan Robertson Reply

    May 27, 2016 at 1:36 pm

    Many houses, which would be suitable as much needed family residences, are occupied by a non Council Tax paying, transient population of students. Surrey “University” should provide halls of residence on their own land to release much needed housing and to prevent voracious developers from ruining the green belt with the complicity of our local “representatives”.

    • Anna-Marie Davis Reply

      May 29, 2016 at 11:22 am

      They have planning permission and have promised to do this in the past, but reneged on that and stand to make a killing by getting planning permission for green belt land to sell to a developer.

      Senior university figures are on the Board of “Enterprise M3” an unelected quango, along with leaders of local councils, tasked with driving the economic growth of the area in the M3 corridor.

  9. Karen Stevens Reply

    May 29, 2016 at 12:13 pm

    I fully agree with John Robson – planning policy should be based on what the borough needs and what will make it a better place to live, not on a dodgy deal with central government to provide more infrastructure in return for selling off our protected and most valuable green spaces.

    Guildford’s draft Local Plan seems to be saying, “Look at all these strategic sites we can give you – not one, but five of them – but only if you widen the A3 for us.”

    Has the council even stopped to consider whether a six-lane motorway severing the town is what the people of Guildford actually want? Or whether there would be any net gain for us and future residents?

    I’d wager that it wouldn’t be long before the residents of the 13-14,000 new homes across the borough fill up the extra two lanes, as well as adding to the existing queues on local roads.

    Karen Stevens is a Save Hogs Back campaigner

  10. David Scotland Reply

    May 29, 2016 at 11:14 pm

    It wasn’t any old hat that was thrown at the councillors, it was a Panama hat. Nuff said really.

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