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Letter: Ash Electors Should Not Accept GBC’s Argument

From Ben Paton

In response to: Why Shouldn’t Ash & Tongham Have Some Green Belt

The point I was making in my earlier letter is that if there are rules then they should be applied and applied properly, honestly and impartially.

The point I have made on many occasions is the same point that Cllr Reeve has made, which is that the housing model produced for Guildford, Woking and Waverley Borough Councils by J Gardiner Consulting has never been properly disclosed and is based on fallacious assumptions.

Those assumptions, for example, about the effect of the university on the demographic projections result in an exaggeratedly high figure for “housing need”. The Guildford Residents Association commissioned independent research that reached the same conclusion. If the housing need was properly calculated the risk of Ash or other parts becoming a “concrete jungle” would be diminished.

By refusing to obtain this model, that we have all paid for with our taxes, and by refusing to scrutinise the assumptions, the Conservatives (who control GBC) have driven a coach and horses through the planning rules.

The significance of this failure to disclose the figures and this exaggeration of the housing need figures is that green space across the whole borough is at greater risk of being built on. That consequence is not inevitable. It is the result of deliberate policy decisions first promoted by Cllrs Mansbridge and Juneja but continued by their successors.

One of the long-standing national planning policies is that existing Green Belt should be permanent and kept open. If GBC wants to change Green Belt boundaries it is supposed to show exceptional circumstances. The same test applies if GBC wishes to create new Green Belt.

I have pointed out that when GBC actively promotes development on the green belt without showing exceptional circumstances it is another example of their apparent disregard for the rules. Creation of new green belt in Ash might ingratiate the leader of GBC with his electorate in Ash but it is not a compensation for the green belt that serves Metropolitan London. And it is not justified by exceptional circumstances. By all means protect Ash – but do so within the rules rather than by subverting them.

I am not aware that anyone has suggested that Ash & Tongham are “being let off lightly”. I have simply pointed out that the rules state, and ministerial statements have emphasised, that non-green belt land should be prioritised ahead of green belt land.

If the electors of Ash feel that they are suffering from too much development, I sympathise. Ash electors should not accept GBC’s argument that the housing model must be right because it has paid a consultant to produce it. Residents of Ash should demand that the housing numbers model is obtained, properly scrutinised and properly justified by verifiable facts.

If the housing need numbers were properly calculated and properly constrained, as permitted and required by the rules, then Ash and the whole of the borough would suffer less inappropriate and unsustainable development.

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