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Letter: Effingham Parish Council’s Strategy Failed For Three Reasons

By James Nicholls, an Effingham Parish Councillor

Cllr Hogger, in the story Mixed Views As Berkeley Homes And The Howard Win Planning Appeal For New School And 295 Homes in Effingham, commented that we as a parish council couldn’t have done any more in our case against Berkeley Homes. I disagree.

I believe our strategy was flawed from day one. The major mistake was in taking on Berkeley Homes directly. We as a parish council decided to use a Neighbourhood Plan as our weapon of choice.

I said then and have been consistent ever since that this was not the right way to go about it. And unfortunately has resulted in not just 295 new homes but also the addition of 50 homes provided for in the Neighbourhood Plan.

Very early on Effingham Parish Council decided it was going to identify both sites and propose housing numbers. I strongly believe this is where we dropped the ball seriously.

I had no problem with the Neighbourhood Plan but in several meetings with the chairman I told him that this was not the instrument with which to fight Berkeley Homes. In essence, with Effingham coming up with identified sites and housing numbers we were on the same side as Berkeley Homes the only difference was the number of houses we proposed.

In the Neighbourhood Plan it was not incumbent on us to name sites or propose these housing numbers. This should have been left to Guildford Borough Council in its Local Plan.

Unfortunately the first draft of the Guildford Borough Council Local Plan failed in 2014. I said at the time that we should wait until this plan was accepted and let Guildford Borough Council nominate the sites and propose housing numbers. I was overruled by my colleagues.

At least then if we had disagreed with Guildford Borough Council we could have put up a fight. But because of the impatience of the parish council wanting to get its Neighbourhood Plan in place it jumped the gun and approved the Neighbourhood Plan before the Guildford Borough Council Local Plan had come to fruition.

I believe that our strategy failed for three reasons; the naming of sites, the proposal of housing numbers and the completion at referendum of the Neighbourhood Plan before the Guildford Borough Council Local Plan had been approved. These factors seriously weakened our position.

I would like to say, out of respect to my colleagues who put in a lot of hard work, that they should be thanked. But it is no good working hard to dig a hole if you are digging it in the wrong place.

On a personal basis, after having taken part and given evidence in 13 appeal hearings to do with planning matters, and been on the winning side in all of those cases, I was not called as a witness by the parish council. I can understand why they chose not to use me. It was because I had disagreed all the way through with their strategy.

This is a very sad day for Effingham. I would have such preferred to have won and been proved wrong rather than lost and been proved right.

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3 Responses to Letter: Effingham Parish Council’s Strategy Failed For Three Reasons

  1. A Atkinson Reply

    March 23, 2018 at 7:16 pm

    And it’s not just the 50 in the Neighbourhood Plan, it will be the houses built on the current St Lawrence site when that moves to the new site. It will double in size to a two form entry and new houses will be built on its old site.

    An additional form will mean around 200 more kids. So in effect, there will be no new places for the area at the Howard, even if there was a proven need elsewhere, as they will be needed to cater for 295 plus Browns Lane, plus St Lawrence site as well as 50 in the Neighbourhood Plan.

    So we are left with “the school is not fit for purpose”. If it was not fit for purpose, why did ministers fail to supply money to make it fit for purpose when the school applied for funding? Perhaps it was considered not that bad? What has changed? The fabric of schools should not be funded by housing. God help the 18 out of 20 schools above the Howard on the SCC list in need of funding for buildings.

    Watch this space and I’ll start a book on what percentage of the affordable homes will be reneged on as the development unfolds, why will this be so predictable?

  2. Peter Dixon Reply

    March 29, 2018 at 6:05 pm

    Accept the fact that Effingham has lost the case with Berkley Homes. Let them get on and build houses that are urgently needed. This village needs brightening up, perhaps newcomers will get on board and give us back our Village Day, Strawberry Fare Day and not least of all our Firework Night.

    Perhaps those on the parish council who hired barristers to fight the case will let us council taxpayers how much this has cost us all. I cannot remember whether consultation was made regarding hiring barristers but suspect that it was far in excess of what the village could afford, to fight what always seemed a lost cause.

  3. J S Palmer Reply

    March 31, 2018 at 6:34 pm

    The West Surrey Strategic Housing Market Assessment (SHMA) concluded there is a need for 693 homes per annum in Guildford Borough over the 2013-33 period.

    After some juggling this broke down as 222 new homes over the 15 year period of the Neighbourhood Plan in Effingham. Because of green belt constraints, this figure
    was superceded by that produced by the process which led to the Neighbourhood Plan. The figures and discussion are available here:

    https://www.effinghamparishcouncil.gov.uk/neighbourhood-plan/

    I apologise if this is too simplistic a summary.

    My point is that even the SHMA figure was much less than the number of houses Berkeley Homes need to build to realise their required profit. Their 295 plus the
    50-odd from the Neighbourhood Plan are over 50% more than even the SHMA recommended.

    So the question is whether you’re happy to just go with housing figures whose only justification is that they keep Berkeley Homes’ shareholders happy, or you support the figures produced by the processes Effingham Parish Council or Guildford Borough Council have had to adopt and stringently follow. Which, I might add, were supported by the examiner of the Neighbourhood Plan. If there was ever an opportunity to say its housing figures were insufficient, that was it, but the plan was passed.

    It’s not enough to say “we need houses” and leave it at that when a figure has been imposed in this fashion. If you believe the opposite find me a report which exhaustively calculates that 345 houses are needed in Effingham, with precise justifications for how this figure is arrived at. That’s the problem I have; the mantra to build more houses is now so powerful and unquestioned that even democratic processes are swept aside. It’s like war fever.

    In any case, 295 homes is unlikely to be the end of it. Mole Valley District Council warned GBC that if they built up to the boundary, then they would see that as justification to also allow large-scale developments proceed on their side of the boundary (such as Preston Cross).

    Once St Lawrence Primary School is moved onto the Howard’s new campus, then that opens up the whole of that end of Lower Road to also be redeveloped.

    It’s hardly a stretch to then see the remaining gaps on the western side of Effingham Common Road also being swallowed up by new housing or commercial developments.

    A few years’ ago there was also a proposal for a development of around 100 homes for the open land on the opposite side of the road – just a fishing expedition maybe, but these are the kind of things which will be given new impetus by Sajid Javid’s reckless act.

    You want homes? I think you’re going to be spoilt for choice.

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