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Opinion: Whatever Happened to Localism?

By Martin Giles

Three planning inquiries and three major planning decisions to be taken that will have a major impact on our borough; particularly, of course, on the parts of the borough in which they are located: Effingham, Wisley and the area around Guildford railway station.

But these decisions will not be taken locally. They will be taken by the Secretary of State, as advised by planning inspectors. None of them will have to live with the consequences.

So what happened to localism and local democracy?

According to a 2013 article in the news website Local Gov, “localism” is defined as the: “…transfer of power, authority and resources from central government to local government and other local public agencies, who in turn devolve to and empower communities.

“However,” the article continues, “there is a tendency for some parts of both central and local government to use the term as a political soundbite, rather than attempting to achieve true localism.” Ain’t that the truth!

The planning applications for Effingham, the former Wisley Airfield and the railway station were refused with large majorities, if not unanimously, by Guildford Borough Council. But councillor votes count for nothing when it comes to planning appeals and the implicit direction from central government is to allow development to, they say, deal with the housing “crisis” and encourage economic growth.

No matter that the crisis has been, in large part, caused by successive central government migration “policies”, if they can be described as such, that have resulted in unprecedented population increases, mindless of our, already groaning with the strain, infrastructure. No matter that ours is already the most densely populated region of the country. No matter that thousands of residents, in unusually high numbers, have written in response to public consultations objecting.

No matter. The real control of what gets built in our borough is no longer ours.

It seems to be generally accepted that one of the causes of the EU referendum result was that many voters wanted to signal their disapproval of the political class, a class that appeared to have become detached from the world in which the rest of us live. There was much hand-wringing at the time, even some admittance of culpability. Many politicians claimed they now “understood”. They must “listen” to the people. “Things must change,” they said. But have they?

Do politicians really want to listen to us, ascertain what is the majority view and represent it? Or do they still feel that they are somehow superior, that they have more insight, more wisdom? There is scant evidence that they have.

We can now only hope that the planning inspectors and/or the Secretary of State, Sajid Javid, will understand that you cannot build an extra 13,000 houses here; houses that will be unaffordable to our 20- and 30-year-olds, without first creating the necessary infrastructure. And, if you do that, if you build out the strategic developments and create the road space necessary to deal with the extra traffic generated, you will change, irrevocably, the character of the borough and its 89% green belt, created to prevent the very metropolitan expansion that is now being so heavily promoted as the solution to many of our problems.

That is not to say we cannot tolerate some properly managed expansion and our priority should be more social housing.

But if all we care about is economic growth the future of this borough is bleak. If all growth means is a bigger town and a more populated borough with more houses and cars, higher levels of pollution and less green space but the same percentage of us on minimum wages, what will we have achieved?

Most of us know that there is no simple link between economic wealth and happiness. When we next vote we should consider that. It’s time the politicians, at all levels, and in all parties, understood that too. It’s time they really listened.

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9 Responses to Opinion: Whatever Happened to Localism?

  1. J Dickinson Reply

    November 19, 2017 at 11:38 am

    To say “with the same percentage of us on minimum wages” misses the point, and to suggest that our housing “crisis has been caused by successive central government migration policies” is complete nonsense!

    Housing here isn’t affordable for our residents and it is not affordable for our workforce despite the fact that the vast majority of us are earning much more than the minimum wage. The medianM gross weekly wage for those who work in Guildford Borough is £655, which is £34,034 per year, and for those who live in Guildford Borough, it’s £709, ie £36,863 per year.

    How many homes are there in the £100k-£200k price range for our own young couples, those born and raised here to buy and start families in? What about the parents here whose relationships have broken up and suddenly need to find two family-sized homes that can be afforded? What about the would-be-empty-nesters who can’t downsize because their adult offspring can’t move out?

    Why is it that the vast majority of people who grumble about in-fill housing and say the answer is flats in our town centres and on our employment land are empty-nesters and pensioners who are still living in the large homes in which they brought up their children? The only way that we can meet the needs of our own communities without impacting the green belt is for those who have finished raising their families to move into flats and maisonettes in the centre of their villages, so the next generation can bring up their families in decent-sized homes with gardens.

    Maybe it is time that letters of representation on housing developments have to include a declaration of personal circumstance such how many bedrooms, bathrooms and living rooms they have in their homes, how many people are resident and how big the footprint of their property and land is.

  2. A Tatlow Reply

    November 19, 2017 at 1:22 pm

    Well said.

    Letters published by The Dragon since this one, point to the same attitude – “The Village” (nobody there at all one recent Wednesday morning when I went into town to shop) and over Ripley Village Hall. At least localism had some success over Newlands Corner.

  3. Susan Hibbert Reply

    November 19, 2017 at 5:21 pm

    Well said, Martin Giles. I attended parts of the Solum Public Inquiry and was fortunate to be there when Julian Lyon of the Guildford Society gave his excellently argued and compelling evidence. One can only hope that the Planning Inspector makes the right decision for Guildford.

  4. George Potter Reply

    November 20, 2017 at 2:30 pm

    To say that the crisis has been caused “in large part” by migration is to utterly miss the point.

    Firstly, because significant migration only really dates back to the 00s, and not before, whilst the housing crisis predates that.

    Secondly, because about half of the demand for housing comes from the combination of rising birth rates and a population that is living longer.

    Even if there were no immigrants whatsoever then there would still be a housing crisis. You can see the evidence for that in that a house in London in the 60s was worth, in terms of the average wage, just a tiny fraction of what it is now.

    You simply can’t blame a housing crisis 60 years in the making on net immigration which only really first became a significant factor about 15 years ago.

    • John Fox Reply

      November 21, 2017 at 6:21 am

      I think you can.

      The UK has a housing crisis. Put simply there are too many people chasing too few homes. In 2004 the Barker Review estimated that 240,000 additional homes needed to be built in the UK every year to cope with demand. However, in the last ten years an average of just 170,000 have been built.

      The House of Lords Select Committee on Economic Affairs has now concluded that 300,000 new homes would be needed annually in the UK. In England alone, the DCLG projects that based on net migration to England of 233,000 a year (it is currently 307,000 and has averaged 223,000 in the last five years) 240,000 new homes will need to be built each year for the next 25 years to keep up with demand, 45% of which will be due to future migration.

      We will, therefore, need to build one home every four minutes to house future migrants and their children. The government has committed to building one million new homes across the UK by 2020, which the House of Lords Committee said: “will not be enough”.

    • John Perkins Reply

      November 21, 2017 at 9:09 am

      If half of the demand for housing comes from birth and death rates where does the other half come from?

      The rate of births in the UK has generally declined over the last 40 years and has done so dramatically since the “baby boom” ended about 50 years ago. Therefore the birth rate does not seem to affect house prices. Also, the population of London is generally younger than the rest of the country with half as many of pension age, so it’s unlikely older people are a particular cause of higher prices.

      House prices in London are not directly linked to population. If they were then they might be expected to be similar (albeit increased by inflation) to what they were in the 1950s when the population was similar to what it is now and the early 80s should have shown a dramatic fall compared to the 50s.

      House prices are forced up by demand from those with access to cheap money. If there is a crisis then it must surely be caused by people coming in who cannot afford the prices dictated by the wealthy and who do not wish to live where housing is cheap.

  5. Valerie Thompson Reply

    November 20, 2017 at 5:36 pm

    The decision by Maggie to sell off council houses and then deny the Local Councils permission to use the money generated to build more is the root of our housing problem. Council houses are still being sold off. Why?

    As I have said before, no-one has a “right” to own a house, but if there are no suitable houses for young people and those on a limited income to rent, and the cost buying a house is more than can reasonably be afforded with a mortgage, then those house hunters are stuck between a rock and a hard place.

    Flats were good enough for those of us starting out in the 60s and 70s. I don’t see that young people should object. When you have earned enough money then you can think about buying a house, perhaps.

    The council should stop spending on vanity projects and get on with building council houses.

  6. David Roberts Reply

    November 21, 2017 at 11:43 am

    Local democracy in the UK is in a dire state, characterised by council cronyism and voter apathy. No wonder localism can’t thrive.

    It’s no use blaming central government for taking decisions instead. This often suits councils, enabling them to avoid responsibility and accountability by putting the blame on “planning by appeal”. In Guildford, this is a game that perpetuates the unhealthy monopoly of office by a single party.

  7. Jules Cranwell Reply

    November 21, 2017 at 3:29 pm

    I do not believe localism is the issue. It is local democracy. Where entrenched majority parties ignore the will of their constituents, make false promises, such as “the green belt to stay”, localism cannot flourish.

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