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Letter: Effingham Parish Council ‘Dropped the Ball’ in Its Handling of the Neighbourhood Plan

From James Nicholls

Effingham parish councillor

In response to: Mixed Views As Berkeley Homes And The Howard Win Planning Appeal For New School And 295 Homes in Effingham

Cllr Hogger 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.

As a parish council, we decided to use a Neighbourhood Plan as our weapon of choice. I said then and have been consistent ever since, this was not the right way to go about it. Unfortunately, it has resulted in not just 295 new homes but also the addition of 50 homes provided for in the Neighbourhood Plan.

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

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. But I was overruled by my colleagues.

At least 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 the 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 much preferred to have won and been proved wrong rather than lost and been proved right.

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2 Responses to Letter: Effingham Parish Council ‘Dropped the Ball’ in Its Handling of the Neighbourhood Plan

  1. Jim Allen Reply

    March 26, 2018 at 10:50 am

    Perhaps before laying blame against a political party those commenting should read para 176 – through 183 of the inspectors report and ask what the two GBC officers were doing when the dropped the ball?

  2. Jules Cranwell Reply

    March 26, 2018 at 4:48 pm

    I find that I cannot agree with this being the fault of the parish council.

    This has everything to do with the GBC Executive riding roughshod over local needs and opinion.

    Yes, the Neighbourhood Plan should take precedence over the Local Plan, but this does not happen in Guildford, where the Executive is, for some reason, in thrall to the development lobby.

    It didn’t help that the local Effingham Lib Dems supported the Executive on this.

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