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Borough Council Starts Crucial Review of Guildford’s Local Plan

Published on: 18 May, 2021
Updated on: 19 May, 2021

By Martin Giles

The borough council is formally starting the long-called-for review of Guildford’s controversial Local Plan.

New official evidence on population estimates, and their effect on the number of houses required, will be included.

Both coalition parties that form Millmead’s present administration, the Lib Dems and Residents for Guildford & Villages (R4GV), had been nervous about submitting the Plan for review, fearing this might result in an increase in the housing target.

But they have come under increasing pressure from other parties, particularly the Guildford Greenbelt Group and, to the surprise of some, Conservatives including MPs, and even councillors who were the architects and main backers of the existing Plan.

Across the political spectrum, most agree Local Plan issues influenced the recent county council election, although planning is not a county responsibility.

Within the past week, research originated by Coventry council and supporters in Guildford challenged the reliability of population projections by the Office of National Statistics (ONS) for university towns with high student ratios.

Estimates of the numbers of students staying on after graduation are being questioned and the consequent doubts have been officially acknowledged.

The Office of Statistics Review (OSR) now requires the ONS to re-examine its methodology, report its conclusions, and set out an appropriate action plan by July. At present, the timescale for implementing the action plan remains unknown.

A GBC spokesperson said: “We wrote to the Office for Statistics Regulation in February, to ask for a review of the ONS population projections, and this week they told us ‘population estimates for some cities, such as Guildford, did seem to be inconsistent with, and potentially higher than local evidence would suggest’.”

Cllr Joss Bigmore

Council leader Cllr Joss Bigmore (R4GV, Christchurch) said: “We welcome the new information which we expect to receive in July. The process of reviewing the Local Plan starts with the evidence base.

“Population forecast is one of the cornerstones, along with a raft of others including transport and changing patterns of demand and working practices in the wake of the pandemic.”

A full review will take years, mandatory within five years of the Plan’s adoption, but GBC hopes to target parts of the Plan where circumstances have clearly changed, such as the cancellation of the A3 widening, the impact of Covid, including decreasing demand for retail space as well as the emerging evidence on population.

Concerns have been expressed that council officers who originally constructed the Local Plan might be reluctant to see major changes, the opening of old wounds and the expense associated with any review. GBC have employed independent planning consultants.

David Reeve

David Reeve, the former GGG councillor who has always doubted the population projections, called the start of the review “genuinely good news for Guildford”.<

He added: “Our existing Local Plan was imposed by an administration that refused to budge from its chosen ‘trajectory’ despite numerous very well‑informed community views that were almost totally ignored.

“But moving into this new chapter, let’s bear in mind a better result can be gained by working co-operatively and having due respect for differing opinions. Let’s also recognise that getting to this point required the work of many people, not least several GGG members and councillors, over at least seven years.

“I thank them all and would encourage them to keep working constructively together. There will be plenty of work ahead, and no doubt there will be differences of opinion, but with goodwill, it should be possible to move towards a Plan that will better serve all of Guildford’s residents.”

Sallie Barker

Now Guildford’s Conservatives are claiming the council bowed to their pressure. Local association chair Sallie Barker said: “[We] are pleased R4GV have finally conceded to our calls for a review of the Local Plan, which should be based on available infrastructure. We hope to see swift action and will be monitoring progress closely.”

Guildford Labour say they understand the evidence has changed the situation considerably and they will support the review. But they would like to see the views of renters, those in houses of multiple-occupancy (HMOs), and those on the housing waiting-list in Guildford having a clear voice in any new review.

Sue Hackman

Sue Hackman, Guildford Labour’s campaign coordinator, said: “There are still far too many people on the housing-list with little hope of housing, and developers are always looking to build more million-pound-plus houses which few can even dream of affording.

“We need development, we need homes for our children, we need appropriate infrastructure and we need to do this in liaison with people who live locally and will be affected.”

Ramsey Nagaty, leader of GGG, said: “There are concerns that, under government diktat, an even higher-base housing requirement might be imposed. But any review of housing numbers could be considered purely as a corrective action to an existing erroneous Local Plan and GGG stands ready to assist.

Cllr Ramsey Nagaty

“The declared GBC Climate Change Emergency and the government drive towards zero carbon emissions will be factors in any review.

“Following GGG input, the OSR, a government organisation, report confirmed estimates are too high for Guildford. This would suggest a reduction in the unusual buffer of 4,000 additional homes should ensure a more reasonable annual housing target.

“GGG applauds the efforts of Cllr John Rigg [R4GV, Holy Trinity] to address the town centre and look to improve retail and the bus station but also to allocate more of the town centre brownfield to housing.”

And David Roberts, a long-term critic of the council’s Local Plan policy, said: “Hearty congratulations to GBC on this longed-for initiative.

“The challenge now is to avoid ‘regulatory capture’ of the review by those with a vested interest in the Plan as it stands, be they councillors, developers, consultants, lawyers or council officers. My recent Dragon article suggested simple steps to safeguard against this.”

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test 3 Responses to Borough Council Starts Crucial Review of Guildford’s Local Plan

  1. Ross Connell Reply

    May 20, 2021 at 2:15 pm

    Hopefully if and when any revised local plan is submitted to public review it will not result in a rehash of previous comments.

    The current intention of the government is to have planning submissions on housing limited to local government review with the second stage cancelled. This might be the best route to speedy decision making and action.

    While housing plans may be reviewed on new ONS data it is undeniable that there is a critical shortage of affordable housng in Guildford while small developments of luxury homoes persist.

    • Jim Allen Reply

      May 20, 2021 at 4:51 pm

      A critical shortage of affordable housing? I see nothing of the sort. All the houses on the market seem to have ready buyers.

      There may be a shortage of reasonably-priced, rented accommodation. But that is another problem.

      Perhaps the new student “bunk rooms”, over 1,000 by my estimate, will result in landlords making houses, once again, family homes. That would help solve the problem of housing in the borough.

  2. Mike Murphy Reply

    May 23, 2021 at 11:55 pm

    So the current Conservative leaders are having second or third thoughts about their disastrous Guildford Local Plan. The next thing will be disowning the main architect of this dreadful scheme Cllr Spooner.

    How hypocritical? After forcing this spiteful, unnecessary plan through they now say it should be looked at again after local elections when most have voted for anyone except them.

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