With grateful thanks to the Guildford Dragon, whose articles and letters have contributed to this summary.
A REVIEW OF GBC’S LOCAL PLAN IS BEING DEFERRED UNTIL AFTER THE GUILDFORD LOCAL ELECTIONS IN MAY 2023. FOR WHOSE BENEFIT? NOT THE RESIDENTS OF GUILDFORD VILLAGES WHICH ARE BEING SWAMPED BY IRREVERSIBLE OVERDEVELOPMENT.
AND YET THE ONLY PARTY STILL CALLING FOR AN URGENT REVIEW IS THE GGG!
IN CLLR RAMSEY NAGATY’S WORDS
“The clock is ticking… A review cannot be left to the 11th hour.”
GBC’s Local Plan (LP) sets out where and when houses will be built until 2034. Guildford’s LP was controversially adopted in April 2019, days before the Conservatives lost control of the Borough Council, now run by a Residents for Guildford & Villages (R4GV) and Liberal Democrat coalition. A formal review of the Local Plan: Strategy and Sites must be carried out within five years of the Plan being adopted, so before April 2024.
The GBC Executive was repeatedly urged by the GGG to start a review of the LP three years ago, to discuss its terms of reference in a transparent and democratic manner, and to set clear political objectives for its outcomes. For instance, to correct housing targets based on population projections confirmed by the OSR to be incorrect. The Executive had the majority to do so but prevaricated endlessly.
THE DECISION TO DEFER THE REVIEW
A full meeting of Guildford Borough Council on 5 April heard that independent legal advice, questioned by some councillors, and uncertainty around planning numbers and ‘the plan-making system in general’, meant that there would be the risk of a higher housing number imposed if the review were carried out early, because a newer ‘standard method’ of calculating housing need would be used.
GBC had taken independent legal advice which concluded it was not the time to carry out an early review of the document, which released green belt land for building and has been called a ‘disaster’ by some for not protecting villages from infilling. The legal advice said there was no ‘realistic prospect of unpicking’ the allocations of sites that were once, but are no longer, in the green belt due to ‘insetting’. But we wonder if advisers can be chosen to give a desired answer……
R4GV Cllr Tim Anderson, saying he would vote against delaying a review, led the debate on this occasion, although of course it’s a topic that GGG has been pressing to resolve ever since the 2019 adoption of the LP. Tim said: “The failings of the current LP are well known… [it] concentrates on building on the green belt thousands of houses on strategic sites with little thought to how the infrastructure of roads, sewers and powers will cope with such unprecedented building. But before these green fields can be blighted, villages inset from the green belt have felt the impact of this building frenzy.
“…so much of the building is bland at best, and at worst, they resemble the faceless council estates in the 1950s. Gas boilers continue to be installed. Desire for the highest standards of architecture and housing features are thrown to the wind by the headlong pursuit of the housing number.”
And on the legal advice from planning barrister Mary Cook he said: “I believe she reached her conclusions before she found Guildford on the map. There is no coherent analysis, just assertion.”
GGG Cllr Catherine Young said that the appalling effects of development are clearly visible in Clandon and the Horsleys. The 400 new homes already being built or waiting approval result in a 35% increase in housing stock. The impact of the scale of the building already under way has ruined designated rural villages; and not one piece of infrastructure has been delivered to mitigate the effect of this development. No extra schools or medical facilities are proposed and, worse still, building will go ahead on flood zone 3 land! The presumption in Mary Cook’s report is all in favour of development.
When Cllr Susan Parker spoke, she said that there has been a massive amount of infilling on land that was previously green belt, and that we must determine that no further building will take place on unallocated sites. “Other councils do that regularly.”
Cllr Guida Esteves commented that the Guildford LP already has a higher housing number than the standard method would generate.
Cllr Colin Cross (R4GV) of Lovelace, who is now also a member of Surrey County Council, felt that the plan is ‘unmitigable’ and that a review of traffic implications is needed; in particular with reference to the £300m of new road works at Junction 10 of the M25 with the A3 upon which any start of the proposed 2500 home Wisley development has to be predicated. A decision is due shortly, but previous deadlines have been repeatedly deferred. Current links between local villages are also along narrow country lanes.
Cllr George Potter (Lib Dem) summarised his view of the national planning policy: “It is a simple fact that the national planning system is not fit for purpose. It delivers housing targets which have very little relation to the facts on the ground or to population needs or local needs. It does not make provision for infrastructure. It does not give communities a proper voice and by the same token, it makes the development process incredibly slow, complex, and difficult, with (the) result that only the largest of developers are able to get anything significant built. And we have the result that many people are left suffering from a housing crisis which leaves them unable to afford to buy a home or, in some cases, even rent a home suitable for their needs. None of us likes the flaws in the system, but we have to recognise reality.” He supported delaying the review.
Council leader Joss Bigmore (R4GV) said he was ‘well aware’ that the recommendations would disappoint those who felt ‘unfairly affected’ by the Local Plan, especially those in Ash, the Horsleys, Send and Lovelace.
Despite all of these arguments, GBC voted to delay a full review of the Local Plan until 2024, the last date by which it is legally required to do so. Note that Guildford currently has 7.3-year housing supply vs the required 5 years! AND THAT THE NEXT LOCAL ELECTIONS WILL BE IN MAY 2023.
GGG Chair Cllr Ramsey Nagaty (Shalford) and the three other GGG Councillors still believe that the Plan should be reviewed NOW!
Explaining his position to the Guildford Dragon, Ramsey said: “There are exceptional circumstances which Guildford could apply regarding constraints to the housing requirement. And fear of the standard method is a red herring because, with the correct population projections, it would likely still yield a lower number that we have currently.
He set out five reasons to back his party’s stance:
Guildford has a low and declining birth rate.
The housing number has been increased by the inclusion of foreign students who do not require a home within five years and would be expected to return to their native country.
There is a climate emergency, and our current Local Plan will not reduce car dependency as developments are not allocated in sustainable locations.
Guildford has evidenced air quality issues affecting our main routes through and across the borough.
The expected infrastructure is not coming forward, and many sites may therefore not be deliverable within the Plan period.
The LP revision must be completed by April 2024.
Unless the outcome has already been decided as ‘no revision required’, the revision with its consultations and inspection will take significantly longer than the 11 months available after May 2023.
THE REVIEW NEEDS TO BE STARTED NOW!