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Mole Valley MP Raises Guildford’s Local Plan at Prime Minister’s Question Time

Sir Paul Beresford – shocked that 57% of new homes proposed in the submitted Guildford Local Plan will be on green belt land.

The contentious issue of building on green belt was raised during prime minister’s questions today (December 20, 2017) in the House of Commons.

Sir Paul Beresford, the MP for Mole Valley which includes some of the eastern wards in Guildford Borough, said that it was a “shock” to him that under the recently submitted Local Plan for Guildford, 57% of the new housing developments would be on green belt land.

Theresa May responded by saying that the Mole Valley MP was “right to raise this issue on behalf of his constituents” and she concluded: “I can assure my hon friend that he is absolutely right that we want to ensure that green belt is protected.”

The prime minister has green belt issues within her own constituency of Maidenhead while the chancellor of the exchequer, Phillip Hammond, has been reported to own a property in Send.

Prime Minister Theresa May, responding to Sir Paul’s question

Opposition to the Local Plan has been most vociferous in the five Guildford wards which come within Beresford’s parliamentary constituency: Clandon and Horsley, Effingham, Lovelace, Send, and Tillingbourne.

Of the councillors that represent those wards only two, Richard Billington (Con, Tillingbourne) and Liz Hogger (Lib Dem, Effingham) voted in November in support of the Local Plan’s submission to the Secretary of State for examination by a planning inspector.

Currently, the results of two planning inquiries with Sir Paul’s constituency are awaited. One for an application to rebuild the Howard of Effingham School and build 300 houses in Effingham, the other a proposal for 2,000 homes on the “strategic site” of the former Wisley Airfield. It was announced today that the Effingham inquiry decision will not be announced until the end of February (2018).

Guildford Borough comprises 89% green belt and Guildford Borough Council has repeatedly said that it will be necessary to use a small percentage of this land in order to meet housing targets.

Here is the full question and answer exchange taken from Hansard:

Sir Paul Beresford (Con, Mole Valley): “Perhaps I could draw my right hon friend away from Brexit, which is about to crop up, I suspect. I believe it is common knowledge that the Conservative party is the party that strives to protect our green belt. It was therefore a shock to me and a vast number of my constituents in the Guildford wards of Mole Valley when Guildford Borough Council submitted its draft local plan.

“The council seeks to build 57% of the houses in its plan on green belt. Does my right hon. Friend agree that local authorities should focus their imaginations on developing buildings of sufficient height, density and imagination on brownfield sites, not green belt?

The prime minister: “My hon friend is right to raise this issue on behalf of his constituents. As he will know, a local authority may alter a green belt boundary only in exceptional circumstances. In our housing White Paper, we were very clear that this means “when they…have examined fully all other reasonable options for meeting…identified development” needs. Of course, that includes looking at and building on brownfield sites.

“In the case of Guildford, I understand that the local plan was submitted for examination earlier this month, and of course it will be examined by an independent inspector for soundness in due course. I can assure my hon. Friend that he is absolutely right that we want to ensure that green belt is protected.”

This evening Sir Paul Beresford told The Guildford Dragon NEWS: “If GBC were more imaginative and were prepared to plan for imaginative higher density and iconic higher buildings they could accommodate many more homes, leaving the green belt alone.”

Cllr Susan Parker

And Susan Parker (GGG, Send) leader of the Guildford Greenbelt Group, said: “Well done, Sir Paul!  It’s refreshing to see one of Guildford’s four MPs tackle an issue that concerns so many constituents. I’m also encouraged by the prime minister’s response.

“Guildford’s Local Plan was put together and approved by councillors before any brownfield register was published. That register –  only just published – has never been subject to any public scrutiny. Even councillors did not know which brownfield sites were included in the plan before they approved submission of the plan to the Planning Inspectorate at full council.

“Councillors can’t suggest they weren’t aware of this – I proposed an amendment to scrutinise the brownfield register before submission, so Guildford Borough Council cannot argue that it has fully examined all other reasonable options for meeting identified development.

“I therefore hope that the inspectorate decides that Guildford should reconsider its proposals for building so extensively on precious green fields, and revise the plan.”

Responding to the news, Brian Creese, a spokesperson for Guildford Labour, said, on December 21: “In Westminster the Tories are in disarray as this incompetent government stumbles from crisis to crisis – and have lost another minister overnight.

“In Guildford the Tories are in disarray as this exhausted administration stumbles from crisis to crisis. Last week The Village, last month twinning with China.

“Guildford Tories are now deeply split between the ‘old guard’ and the ‘new turks’ so expect more shambolic decisions from Millmead. If the Executive cannot agree on policy and Guildford Borough Council is split are we surprised that local Tory MPs are deeply at odds with Tory local administrations?

“The Tories want to build houses but not where their presence will upset Tory voters. The Local Plan asks for an average of less than 800 houses a year. Guildford Labour sees this as unambitious and frankly insufficient for local needs. This is a row between Tories who cannot agree on their priorities.”

Zoe Franklin

Zoe Franklin, the parliamentary spokesperson for the Guildford Liberal Democrats, said: “The question from Sir Paul Beresford and the response from the prime minister highlight the total contradiction of Conservative policy on housing, particularly in the South East. The constant demand for more housing while repeating the need to protect the green belt sets one community against another without giving a reasonable way to solve the problem.

“To follow the methodology laid down by the Conservative government in a borough such as Guildford with a very high percentage of green belt inevitably creates solutions that are unpalatable for some residents, and the government gives no support as to how these outcomes should be achieved.

“The answer is not as Sir Paul Beresford suggests to simply put the additional housing in an area that isn’t in his constituency and let others sort it out, and it is time that Anne Milton was seen to defend her constituents in Guildford from this approach.

“There is never going to be a Local Plan that works across a borough that is as diverse as Guildford, and the Conservatives all blaming each other helps no-one, least of all the residents they should be representing.”

Tony Edwards

And Tony Edwards, commenting on behalf of Wisley Action Group, who oppose development of the former Wisley Airfield, said: “The Wisley Action Group was heartened to hear the prime minister confirm the government’s commitment to protecting and preserving the green belt in answer to Sir Paul’s question at PMQs this week.

“The Conservative party, at both a national and regional level, is once again reminded of its on-going green belt protection guarantees and will realise that voters will be unforgiving should they be ignored.  The prime minister’s assurances to Sir Paul are, of course, welcomed and perhaps Guildford Borough Council should take special note of her specific confirmation that councils must examine all other options before altering green belt boundaries?

“These assurances should resonate with GBC which failed to produce a Brown Field Register to formally identify appropriate development land when councillors voted on the Local Plan. That should, surely, have been a fundamental requirement to fall in line with government policy.”

See also: Council Leader Responds to the Raising of Guildford’s Local Plan at PMQs and Surrey Council Leaders Warn Region is ‘Already Straining at the Seams’ as GBC Submits Local Plan

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7 Responses to Mole Valley MP Raises Guildford’s Local Plan at Prime Minister’s Question Time

  1. Lisa Wright Reply

    December 20, 2017 at 8:16 pm

    Unfortunately, GBC’s Brownfield Register is rather short. I seem to recall that car parks are also brownfield sites but don’t see any listed on the GBC register. Surely adding the huge amounts of car parks to the register gives GBC all the land it needs to build the thousands of houses it wants?

    I think it’s very important the public notifies the council of any brownfield sites across the borough so they may be included on the register. I’m certain we can all think of something derelict that has the potential to become homes again.

    For those interested, please see the link to the GBC Brownfield register: (select from the download options on the right).

    And central government’s guidance on what should or shouldn’t be included:

  2. Dave Middleton Reply

    December 21, 2017 at 12:16 pm

    Yet again, Sir Paul Beresford is harping on about building “Tall, iconic buildings” in Guildford.

    Guildford is a suburban county town. It is not a city centre. If he is so keen on, “tall, iconic buildings” why doesn’t he build them in his own constituency, in Dorking perhaps? I don’t want them in the town where I live.

    I certainly don’t want Guildford to go the way of Woking, which seems to be doing it’s utmost to look like an inner London borough.

  3. David Roberts Reply

    December 21, 2017 at 4:25 pm

    Where does Sir Paul “harp on” about “tall, iconic buildings”? I think this misrepresents his views.

    He recommends “buildings of sufficient height, density and imagination on brownfield sites.” He also suggests “imaginative higher density and iconic higher buildings.”

    Since our town centres consist mainly of dreary, flat car parks and one- or two-storey buildings, this is surely a better way forward than ruining the countryside. New development needn’t be more than four- or five-storeys high, which is not “tall”. And denser development would allow more public urban space between buildings than exists at present. There is no conflict between Mole Valley and Guildford, or between protecting the countryside and regenerating our towns.

    So will Ms Milton now confound her critics and support Sir Paul?

    Will Mr Creese pledge that Labour will rule out all non-essential green belt development?

    Will Ms Franklin do the same for the Lib Dems?

    Don’t hold your breath.

  4. Alan Robertson Reply

    December 21, 2017 at 6:50 pm

    Many existing houses are occupied by a transient student population, who receive council services but who pay no council tax. They take up properties which would be suitable for young workers and young families, who would not only pay council tax, but who would contribute to community life rather than destroy its quality.

    Universities throughout the country should be made to provide good quality halls of residence, run by the universities themselves, rather than third-party avaricious private landlords, thereby allowing the students and their local community to enjoy a better quality of life.

    It would also return thousands of properties to the available housing stock.

    Paul Beresford is to be commended for raising, in Parliament, important aspects of Guildford’s sub-standard Local Plan.

    • David Pillinger Reply

      December 28, 2017 at 9:28 pm

      It’s more complex than blaming students for being exonerated from council tax.

      We have an interest in promoting higher education. Let’s not be insular.

  5. Stuart Barnes Reply

    December 22, 2017 at 12:00 pm

    Good for Sir Paul. If the so-called Conservatives want to be trusted on anything again a start would be to see all Conservative MPs and local politicians making a big fuss about the ridiculous new building plans. The problems are not from a “housing crisis” they are from an immigration crisis.

  6. Jules Cranwell Reply

    December 22, 2017 at 1:44 pm

    Thank goodness we have Sir Paul prepared to speak out against GBC’s unspeakable Local Plan.

    I guess Cllr Spooner did not get the same memo as May and Beresford.

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