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Council Votes To Submit Local Plan for Examination to Central Government

Guildford’s controversial draft Local Plan is to be submitted to the Secretary of State for examination following a vote at this evening’s (November 21) full council meeting. Only seven councillors, three Guildford Greenbelt Group (GGG), two Conservatives, and two Liberal Democrats voted against. Three councillors, all Tory, abstained.

The council leader described it as the most important decision taken by the council since at least 2003, when the last Local Plan was agreed.

In a tense, occasionally fractious, meeting, with a public gallery clearly unsympathetic to the plan, the debate ran along the well known lines, presented over the past years.

Those in favour of submitting the plan, some reluctantly, said that not doing so would lead to planning “by appeal”, in other words developers appealing against council planning decisions simply because no Local Plan was in place. Their other main argument was that homes were needed for the younger generation currently unable to afford the high house prices that exist throughout the borough.

Those not wanting to see the current plan submitted argued that the loss of green belt would damage the borough, and the environment, and that the houses built would remain unaffordable to local people looking to get on the housing ladder.

Cllr Paul Spooner

But the council leader, Paul Spooner (Con, Ash South & Tongham) quoted in a prepared GBC press release, issued shortly after the meeting, was upbeat. He said: “This is great news and a crucial move forward for the future of Guildford. Our plan is about enabling people to thrive, wherever they live or work in the borough, and I would like to thank everyone for taking the many opportunities to get involved. I would also like to thank the officers for all their hard work in the long but necessary process in producing a new Local Plan.”

“Without a plan in place that allows us to consider the bigger picture there is a greater risk of a piecemeal approach driven by developers or those outside the borough. As expected, it was a lively debate with input from many councillors and public speakers. It’s great to see how deeply people care and it is a fundamental part of what local democracy is all about.

“We aim to submit the new Local Plan next month and it is then over to the planning inspectorate to manage their independent examination. However, it is still vital that strategic partners complete their supporting transport and other infrastructure projects. That way we can deliver the new plan in full and give our residents and future generations the great environment, homes and jobs they need.”

Cllr Caroline Reeves

In the debate, Caroline Reeves (Friary & St Nicolas), the Lib Dem leader of the opposition, highlighted the pressure imposed by central government on planning authorities. “The Conservative government has not dealt us a fair hand when setting out the methodology for the Local Plan. The contradiction of balancing the restrictions of the green belt and our AONB with the Government drive for housing has been either ignored by our representatives in Parliament, all of whom are Conservative MPs, or their proposed solution has been to simply put it all in a part of the borough that isn’t in their constituency.

“The Tory government’s dictatorial approach makes the decision on this Local Plan very difficult for all local councillors. That’s why Lib Dems are free to vote as they think best in the interest of the residents they represent.

“We must think of our children and grandchildren, many of whom are unable to live in the borough unless they share accommodation. Renting even small properties is out of the reach of far too many. We are already seeing Universal Credit impacting on residents with some losing their homes, this problem will not decrease and our vulnerable will be become more so.”

Cllr Matt Sarti

Matt Sarti (Con, Clandon & Horsley) began by thanking all those who had taken part in the public consultations. He thought pride should be taken in the fact that so many, far more than in most local authority areas, had responded.

He said: “…it is partly for this reason that I cannot support the Local Plan in its current form. Prior to, and since, the borough elections my constituents consistently gave their objections to the plan, on doorsteps during canvassing, in questionnaires and during meetings. They took part actively during the consultation. I have previously spoken on my concerns regarding how infrastructure will be able to cope with the new demands. The issues still exist despite some positive changes.

“Whilst I agree that we need a Local Plan, and acknowledge that the plan services the whole borough, I feel that with the strength of feeling that is evident I would be failing in my duty to my constituents if I did anything but vote against the Local Plan as it stands.”

Cllr Susan Parker

Susan Parker (Send), the leader of the GGG, which came into existence as a political party only three years ago, with the purpose of protecting the green belt, concentrated her fire on the environmental risks that she saw.

She said: “Our land is not just for housing. England’s green and pleasant land is precious. Our fields provide food, without air food miles. Land around our cities acts as a sponge for flood defence. Our woods and hedgerows allow carbon capture and filter our air, improving air quality … and our open spaces provide a vital playground for city dwellers.”

Then switching her aim to the public consultations, she said: “There have been record levels of public dissent for this local plan. There were 32,000 objections to the first plan; carefully argued, well presented – and disregarded. There were 9,000 objections to last summer’s plan though the council only allowed comments on changes. That public response has been ignored… there is no public support for this plan.”

Agreeing that housing for younger generations was important, she continued: “We must have housing that is decent and civilised for all our population. But there is no point building homes that will increase carbon emissions from commuting or the risk that our descendants will suffer environmental catastrophe.”

Six members of the public addressed the meeting all but one, Mike Murray speaking on behalf of Wisley Property Investments, developers who wish to develop the former Wisley Airfield, spoke against the plan. Several were interrupted by Cllr Nigel Manning (Con, Ash Vale) who, as mayor was chairing the meeting, for mentioning the university and other third parties in their speeches.

One speaker, Peter Shaw, put up an image of a Conservative election newsletter from 2015 with the headline: “Conservatives Say Green Belt To Stay.” He said: “In 2015 you all made manifesto promises to the community that you would protect our countryside… Please don’t let me believe they were just cynical pledges, just to win votes.

“I’m sad that you believe this plan helps families professionals or those in need, that this plan will provide truly affordable homes.”

An amendment proposed by Cllr Parker, that would have delayed submission of the draft plan while the Strategic Housing Market Assessment (SMA) figures were re-examined, was defeated by 39 votes to 3, the three votes being all GGG.

Once the examination of the plan has been completed a report and recommendation will be produced. The council will then need to consider any recommended changes and once agreed and incorporated the revised plan will be resubmitted to the full council for adoption.

A council spokesperson said: “We hope this final stage for the plan will be achieved by the end of 2018.”

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5 Responses to Council Votes To Submit Local Plan for Examination to Central Government

  1. Jim Allen Reply

    November 22, 2017 at 3:52 pm

    The plan is basically unsound. The new road proposals have not been tested, site requirements, for which GBC spent hundreds of thousands of ponds objecting to in planning appeals and the south-east plan going back decades, have suddenly been wasted by ignoring the very arguments put forward at that time when traffic and pollution levels were much lower.

    No account has been taken or the practical ability of foreign owned infrastructure companies to supply their statutory needs to the existing community let alone new homes.

    We need a plan, of that there is no doubt. We might be short of homes but not at the level stateded (we can’t house the world in Guildford Borough). The SHMA is so incorrect it is obvious to any objective view.

    And in conclusion the word “mitigation” is used far in excess of solution and currently the reoccurring mitigation at 10% of solution has now reached 110% of capacity.

  2. Jules Cranwell Reply

    November 22, 2017 at 9:34 pm

    This is a very sad day for Guildford, and nothing but a betrayal by the party which promised to protect the greenbelt.

    Make no mistake, this has nothing to do with providing housing for those in desperate need, unless like the GBC executive, you believe that £400,000 is ‘affordable’. Instead, it has everything to do with greed and ambition.

    Greed, for the new homes bonus to stuff the GBC coffers and to be spent on self-aggrandising vanity projects, for example, “The Village”.

    Ambition, because some on the Executive appear to hope for the reward of higher office, in return for building a ruinous number of new homes, mostly on the green belt. They should get real, there is enough mediocrity in government already, without their help.

    What will they promise next time, “Air quality to be solved by the Conservatives”?

    We won’t be fooled again!

  3. Valerie Thompson Reply

    November 23, 2017 at 2:46 pm

    We have been told time and time again that GBC is listening to us, the public.

    I have used the same analogy before, referring to the three wise monkeys, “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil” except I would change evil for “truth”, and definitely describe them as unwise.

    The Executive may have heard what we have said but they have been determined not to take any notice of reasoned arguments or to use the constraints on building that the NPPF allows. Why do they want to destroy our environment? What have they to gain from concreting over the countryside?

    I despair of what will become of our lovely countryside.

  4. Fiona Samuel-Holmes Reply

    November 24, 2017 at 4:38 pm

    Cllr Spooner says: “It’s great to see how deeply people care and it is a fundamental part of what local democracy is all about.”

    Sadly, I think my interpretation of democracy varies quite considerably to that of Cllr Spooner.

    Public comments/concerns have been ignored, submitted amendments to the plan have been ignored. Green fields and countryside have taken precedence over brownfield sites.

    All in all, an absolute “top job” done by the council leader and his cronies.

  5. John Fox Reply

    November 25, 2017 at 8:11 am

    Jules Cranwell, as always, hits the nail right on the head. A poorly thought out, poorly introduced, unsound, unproven plan that will ruin the borough for generations to come. An epic and disgusting display of utter contempt for local residents.

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