Fringe Box



Letter: Where is the Conservative Promise to Protect the Green Belt?

Published on: 16 May, 2017
Updated on: 16 May, 2017

Green belt around Guildford

From Peter Shaw

The Executive at Guildford Borough Council has recently voted to move the latest Local Plan draft to consultation (again!), with the same trajectory of allowing significant tracts of the green belt being developed to create urban sprawl along the A3 corridor.

The latest version wants to build 12,426 dwellings in Guildford borough alone. If the average household rate is 2.2 inhabitants per dwelling and according to the RAC (figures from 2011 Census) the number of cars per population is around 650 vehicles per 1,000 population, this would mean over 11,500 new cars on the roads around the Guildford area in the new plan period.

This is on top of any more vehicles from neighbouring boroughs/counties using the A3, A31, A281, A3100, A25 etc as pass through routes, who would also have similar housing uplifts in their own Local Plans, exacerbating the road infrastructure network problems even more.

The green belt is supposed to limit this kind of urban sprawl. I do not want to be part of London. Who in Guildford does?

Guildford is already regularly gridlocked by traffic incidents on a near daily basis. Our town does not have the infrastructure to support this level of house building, including issues like schools, doctor’s surgeries, water and sewage.

When Guildford Greenbelt Group’s Susan Parker asked for clarification on how the Local Plan policy regarding the infrastructure before housing mantra would actually work, council leader Paul Spooner gave a weak rebuttal, saying that it was clearly in the Local Plan.

If it was that clear why would a sitting councillor need to ask the question and why didn’t the Executive leader give a straight answer? In my opinion the Executive do not have a real plan to implement this “infrastructure first” mantra they keep harking on about and until clarity is obtained this is very much a smoke screen to keep voters placated.

This whole situation is even worse as our MP Anne Milton’s latest campaign leaflet makes no mention of protecting the green belt, a “promise” she made clear to the residents of Guildford at the last election, when we all thought she would be standing for a five-year term.

With the last elections only two years ago, she seems to have changed her tune very quickly and once again without any real public comment. Her job as a Conservative party whip is stopping her from speaking up, speaking loud and speaking for the people of Guildford  whom she was elected to represent, especially around sensitive issues like green belt policy, where Conservatives are saying and promising one thing but actually delivering the absolute opposite.

In fact, Anne Milton’s campaign leaflet goes on about the need to build “affordable housing”. Readers should be wary. The legal definition the government uses for affordable housing is 80% of the market value. With average house prices in the Guildford area being high an affordable house (by the government’s definition) would be around £400,000, or so, in the Guildford area.

That is in no way truly affordable for low to mid earners in and around Guildford.

Where is the Conservative’s promise to protect the green belt in our borough in this upcoming election? It’s nowhere to be seen.

Anne Milton and Paul Spooner are ready to gear up and hand the keys to developers to bulldoze our fields in the pursuit of profit and political power.

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Responses to Letter: Where is the Conservative Promise to Protect the Green Belt?

  1. Jules Cranwell Reply

    May 16, 2017 at 1:39 pm

    Mr Shaw has put it simply and succinctly.

    The Tories have proved beyond doubt over this issue that they are prepared to lie brazenly, in the pursuit of power.

    Why would we trust their words on any other matter?

  2. Paul Spooner Reply

    May 16, 2017 at 4:09 pm

    In response to Peter Shaw, frankly why a sitting councillor (Cllr Parker) asks such a question is a mystery. Perhaps the fact she turned up without any papers is the first clue.

    My genuinely surprised response in pointing to the documentation in generic terms was not very helpful, but for those that are genuinely interested in ensuring that housing is tied to infrastructure gain, please see:

    Policy ID1 – infrastructure and delivery (clue in the policy name):
    Para 3: if infrastructure not provided permission refused.
    Para 5: delivery of infrastructure

    The above approach is reflected in the site allocations documentation:

    Slyfield site number 24 – see para 1 and 2
    Gosden site number 25 – para 8 and 9
    Blackwell site number 26 – para 8 and 9
    Wisley Site number 35 – para 3 and 5

    In summary, I believe that the question by Cllr Parker demonstrates that she has little interest in genuinely understanding the plan. It is sad for those that elected her expecting an informed contribution to debate.

    Paul Spooner is the leader of Guildford Borough Council, lead member for planning and borough councillor for Ash South & Tongham.

    • Peter Shaw Reply

      May 19, 2017 at 12:32 am

      No comment on the extra cars generated by these houses? No comment on the extra cars that will be driving through this borough? No comment on how the current road system will cope? No comment on explaining why the Conservatives broke their manifesto pledges to the electorate in the 2015 election on protecting the Greenbelt? No comment about the truth behind affordable housing? Just another poke and jibe at Cllr Parker!

      A very common and typical response from Cllr Spooner. How the good people of Ash South and Tongham put up with him as their representative I’ll never understand.

      Anyone who actually watches the exchanges at GBC on the webcast or in person will see for themselves how informed arguments and reasoned points put forward by opposition councillors (and sometimes his own party) are ignored by him and instead of addressing the point in a reasonable fashion he decides to go for a quick quip or a snide comment. How he believes this behaviour inspires leadership or confidence in his ability as a council leader I yet again can’t understand.

      I’ve read the Infrastructure and Delivery Policy in the Local Plan and I still stand by my earlier point.

      Policy ID1, Para 1 states “… To achieve this, the delivery of development may need to be phased to reflect the delivery of infrastructure.” and para 2 states “The delivery of infrastructure will be secured by planning condition and/or planning obligation”, which in slightly simpler language means Section 106 agreements between Developers and Local Authorities will be the vehicle for which infrastructure is delivered and not all the infrastructure will be provided before all the housing is built.

      One can foresee a partly built strategic site, with a railway station here, but no school there… what is stopping one developer walking away after one part of the phased approach is completed, to be replaced by another developer who re-negotiates the terms of the Section 106 agreements because it’s too expensive and not viable for them to build the missing school?

      This council does not have a great track record on enforcing section 106 agreements (take the University Manor Park development as an example, where the University should have released 132 residential units from Hazel farm back onto the Housing Market as part of the agreed deal to build student flats and release some Greenbelt land. This was back in 2004 and still this has not been done). Why should the electorate have any confidence that the council will all of a sudden change and start enforcing its Section 106 agreements?

      Policy ID1, Para 3 states “…the timely provision…” At first glance a reader may read the paragraph and be reassured, but the same paragraph can also be interpreted that as long as a developer states in the Section 106 they will “build a school in the area within five years” or something of that ilk, is that considered a timely provision? Roll on five years will the developer actually build the school or will they find some ‘viability’ reason not to build…. exasperated by a council that does not have a great record in enforcing Section 106 agreements.

      So how will Cllr Spooner convince me that the council will enforce Section 106 agreements in the future and not just turn a blind eye because it isn’t politically convenient? And will he comment on any of the other points I made in my original letter?

      Any wisdom he can impart on why he thinks an extra 11,500+ cars on the roads around Guildford would be a good thing I’m very keen to hear.

  3. Ben Paton Reply

    May 17, 2017 at 8:37 am

    These comments are richly ironic from the lead councillor for the Local Plan. By not obtaining, let alone transparently disclosing, the arithmetic model that purportedly justifies the Housing Target, Mr Spooner has ensured that informed debate cannot take place.

    Rather than engage in an intellectually honest examination of the facts, he has concealed the facts. Rather than address the facts he resorts to ad hominem abuse. The quality of his analysis is inversely proportional to the number and regularity of his flip, disrespectful and facetious remarks.

  4. Tony Edwards Reply

    May 17, 2017 at 11:10 am

    Surely the most significant aspect of Cllr Spooner’s comment is his churlish attitude and blatant lack of respect for a fellow councillor?

    It speaks volumes about the somewhat dictatorial stance he takes on all matters linked to the Local Plan – ignoring constructive comment and valid objections to a patently flawed document. Back in the day he’d have been labelled a bully.

  5. Susan Parker Reply

    May 17, 2017 at 12:21 pm

    This is yet more political spin.

    The wording to which Cllr Spooner refers with such lofty disdain says, for the sites listed:

    “Interventions will be required which address the potential highway performance issues which could otherwise result from the development. The Infrastructure Schedule in the latest Infrastructure Delivery Plan identifies the locations on the local Highway Network and the Strategic Highway Network which could be expected to experience the most significant potential highway performance issues in the absence of mitigating interventions”.

    These – and other similar weasel words – mean pretty much nothing at all, in my opinion.

    I am not convinced that “Measures designed to encourage people to make sustainable travel choices” will indeed “assist with reducing these impacts”. (Policy ID3).

    The Local Plan will require wording in planning applications, promising “to maximise use of sustainable transport modes”.

    The Local Plan will promote an increase in housing of more than 20%, without any improvement to existing congestion.

    Susan Parker is a GGG borough councillor for Send.

  6. Norman Evans Reply

    May 17, 2017 at 1:07 pm

    Couldn’t have put it better myself.

  7. Jules Cranwell Reply

    May 17, 2017 at 9:42 pm

    This is the kind of offensive rhetoric we have come to expect from Cllr Spooner.
    He likes to play the man, not the ball.

    If your position is indefensible, as is his over the green belt, go on the attack, typically against someone who is critical of his policies.

    We expect better standards from those who purport to represent us.

    I ask again, why is his Executive so hell bent on destroying the nature of our villages and countryside. This seems too personal to be accidental.

    As to a ‘consultation’ on tiny portions of the plan, this is sham upon sham.

  8. Colin Cross Reply

    May 18, 2017 at 1:08 am

    The Tories first priority is to get the Local Plan through this latest consultation and, when the final Ts are crossed, off it goes to the inspector at last.

    Just as when they were desperate to stay in power at the recent borough elections, the Tories will promise anything they think is a convincing promise that persuades the floating voter of their trustworthiness. “Conservatives Say Greenbelt To Stay,” chimes with “No development without infrastructure first,”doesn’t it?

    They are both empty phrases as the unspoken “get out” clauses lie in the subtext and we always get those too late to make any difference.

    For instance, the hidden key to the green belt promise was always, “…when we finish removing large chunks for development.” I’ll hazard a guess that on infrastructure it will be, “As much as is financially viable within our budget constraints.”

    So it’s, “promise them anything”, as they now have to move the plan on towards inspection and, ultimately, acceptance and implementation.

    The biggest remaining hurdle is now getting this botched plan authorised via the inspector. How do you do that when you know it’s fatally flawed on many levels?

    Could it be that your central government pals wade into your rescue? Why is it that all the major developments in Surrey are now being called in by the Housing Minister?

    Maybe an inspector can stop this plan in its tracks as it is a complete contradiction of so many of the NPPF requirements, but the minister has a far more liberal brief, plus he has the final say.

    Is it that Cllrs Spooner and Furniss already have, in their pockets, an assurance of safe passage for the final stage of this abhorrent plan?

    Why else are they blithely sweet talking it through when they know it’s not fit for purpose and demands a substantial reworking?

    These are not stupid people and they perhaps know that if they can continue to push this through then relief is at hand.
    It’s a logical explanation to illogical actions or maybe I’m becoming a conspiracy theorist?

    Not too long before we find out.

    Councillor Cross is the Lib Dem borough councillor for Lovelace.

  9. John Robson Reply

    May 18, 2017 at 1:52 pm

    To quote Benjamin Franklin “Believe none of what you hear, and only half of what you see,” which, when it comes to the Conservatives, appears quite apt.

    The Conservatives were elected on a mandate, in which they pledged to protect the greenbelt. Now, post-election, the council leader has since clarified that what this really means in Conservative PR spin is: The Conservatives will “protect the green belt… wherever possible”.

    That little caveat tells you that the “trajectory” has never ever deviated, even though the council leader and his predecessor now appear to be at each other’s throats.

    The weasel words in the Local Plan are deliberately designed to be ambiguous, aspirational and in my opinion, inserted into the Local Plan to provide developers with carte blanche in which to plunder the green belt for maximum profit. Looking at the Conservative management of the economy and existing infrastructure, why is anyone still surprised at how inept they are?

    If you are a council selling off its assets to the highest bidder, if you really are interested in delivering infrastructure and affordable housing, you would compel a developer to do it, not ask them nicely, wouldn’t you?

    It appears “Strong and Stable” has been replaced with “Weak and Unable”.

    As usual any alternative Tory thinking, even in defiance of logic, reasoning and basic common sens, will be whipped into shape by GBC’s Executive. That being the case, what is the point of having this number of councillors? We should save on their allowances and put it towards foodbanks or social care. It’s a good job Surrey is an economic powerhouse or the less fortunate in society would be really struggling.

    Cllr Spooner seems to revel in treating his fellow councillors and constituents with disdain, then again, the real priority here is perhaps the leader and deputy leader’s career plan, not the Local Plan for Guildford.

    They are looking more and more like a prospective Tory MPs by the day.

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