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Controversial Planning Documents Do Not Need Referral To The Full GBC Council

Published on: 1 Sep, 2012
Updated on: 5 Sep, 2012

Two controversial planning documents, critical to Guildford’s short term development and subject of the Guildford Vision Group meeting on Tuesday evening, do not need to be referred to GBC’s full council to be adopted, according to a council officer.

The question of whether they required referral was raised during the presentation given by GVG’s Julian Lyon. He showed an extract from Guildford Borough’s constitution which, he said, indicated that the two documents, the Interim Town Centre Framework and Design and Development Brief for North Street, could not be approved by the Executive alone.

The extract from the GBC constitution shown during the GVG meeting

But a council officer from GBC’s Legal and Democratic Services section has replied to an enquiry from The Guildford Dragon NEWS: “Neither the interim town centre framework document nor the North Street Supplementary Planning Document (SPD) is a plan or strategy that falls within the Council’s policy framework….The adoption of the interim framework and North Street SPD [Supplementary Planning Document, the official status of the North Street Brief] does not amend the 2003 Local Plan….

“As it does not amend the Local Plan the interim framework can legitimately be adopted by the Executive.” Also: “…any decision to adopt a SPD cannot be considered to be amending the Local Plan so it is appropriate therefore for that decision to be taken by the Executive.”

The GBC Executive is made up of eight councillors, all Conservatives, including the Council Leader. It is similar in function, at a local level, to the Government’s Cabinet. It has been criticised in the past for containing only one councillor representing a town centre ward. The full council comprises 48 councillors.

The area of the town centre subject to the planning documents is within two council wards, Friary & St Nicolas, represented by three Lib Dem councillors, and Holy Trinity, represented by three Conservatives, including Cllr Sarah Creedy, the sole town centre councillor on the Executive.

The next meeting of the Executive will be held at 7pm on Thursday, 6th September in the Millmead council chambers. Both planning documents are on the agenda.

Meanwhile, further reaction to Tuesday’s meeting continues:

Cllr Caroline Reeves in her letter to TGDN [click here to view] was one of the first to respond pointing out: “…we are time limited on this – the longer we leave matters the more likely we are to see developers making applications that we can’t refuse because we have no plan or vision of our own. We have a town centre which we want to nurture, improve and enhance for the next generation and we have already come a long way in creating a document to ensure this. Yes, we don’t yet have a traffic report (though it is about to start). Yes, that traffic report may change the Interim document – but that is exactly why it has that name.

Bill Stokoe, who chaired the GVG meeting said in response: “We share the same agenda as Cllr Reeves. It’s just we think we have to get there by a slightly different, but important, route. It’s a shame she wasn’t at our meeting. She would have heard much in support of the improved Interim Town Centre Framework. Our fear is that large developments may be approved before the results of the traffic surveys are available. The approvals may thus frustrate or bar solutions that arise from those studies.

By way of useful background, we would also be interested to learn how the much criticised Town Centre Masterplan came into being? What was the thinking of the planning team that lay behind it? What part did councillors play in its creation?’

Cllr Angela Gunning: wrote: “The GVG meeting was good for the exchange of views and comment, but  surely that meeting could have been held by Guildford Council itself. The approach to ‘consultation’ is so formal. Why not gauge public opinion in a public meeting. The documents [North Street Brief and the ITCF] are so large and not very user friendly as web-publications.  There was also some intriguing ‘throw-away’ lines…..the imminent station redevelopment application contains a supermarket – (did I hear that right?) – just as we’re about to consider the Waitrose application; and there was a suggestion that the Executive do not have a right to decide on the adoption of these documents.

“Perhaps some officers from GBC could have attended. (they came to a public meeting about the redevelopment of the Civic Hall).

“I’m not sure that simply inviting written comments is always the way to gauge opinion. A formal  council meeting can stultify freedom of expression – with its protocols and  rules of procedure.

“The ITCF version is a step forward and I hope the genuine concerns of GVG and of others are going to be heeded.”

A Press Release from the East Guildford Residents’ Association (EGRA), which claims to represent over 2,500 Guildford households, said: “Although intended to tide things over until a new Local Plan can be put in place in 2014, this ”interim” plan [the ITCF] is likely to shape several important and irreversible development decisions in Guildford.”

In addition to a request for further consultation with residents they made the following four pleas:

1. Put “bus station” on the list of possible uses when the current site is redeveloped

Bus station is not even on the list of possible uses for the “North Street Regeneration Site” even though providing one was a planning condition for the Friary extension. Developers will use this brief as an excuse to back out of providing the pledged new facility. EGRA wants a clean, attractive, cutting edge central bus interchange with full connectivity across Guildford. It believes it is vital residents have the option of catching a bus from the Epsom or London Road into the centre and with links with other bus routes Approving the draft plan as it stands would be a vote for getting rid of the bus station.

2. Add safeguards to the brief for redevelopment of the railway station

This guidance will steer what happens when Solum puts in its expected application. Solum proposed blocking off the car and taxi drop off, shifting pick up and parking to the west side requiring many more cars to cross the congested Farnham Road bridge, building an eleven storey luxury and a seven storey budget hotel, a new supermarket on the current exit road onto Walnut Tree Close, several blocks of flats along the east-side car park and student accommodation and a multi-storey car park on the west side.

EGRA is not opposed to redevelopment but suggests rather than inviting a long list of new uses and a tall “landmark” building, priorities in the brief should be:

  • safeguarding land on the site for a possible future new road bridge over the railway to ensure better links across the town remain an option
  • ensuring capacity for a rail link to Heathrow in future
  • providing space for vehicle movement and public milling needed outside a railway station for drop off and collection and even bus pick up when trains are suspended
  • good access from both sides of town so as few people as possible have to cross pinch points

3. Save London Road Station by removing it from the category “Commercial Quarter“ (page 72*)

London Road Station attracts many residents to move to east Guildford and lots of school children rely upon it. EGRA wants to see it listed as part of our Victorian heritage and its open, more rural character retained. It does not want it to be redeveloped as a major multi-storey complex. Above all, it does not want to see its closure which would undermine the attractiveness of residential areas in east Guildford, add to congestion and parking problems in the town centre and significantly increase the number of vehicles doing a school run. This area is very different in character from the main line station and the big buildings, such as multi-storey car parks and Jewsons, it has been lumped with in the plan.

4. Save our open car parks at Millbrook and Bright Hill

Decking the Millbrook car park is incompatible with opening up the river. The plan says “surface car parks along the riverside detract from its setting” but then proposes another storey at Millbrook. This site should be left open and better views of the river opened up.

Bright Hill car park is valued by locals for nipping into town and building flats on this site would block views. There is a limit to how many short stay car parks you can close before you deter residents from coming into the centre at all.

Dr Graham Hibbert Chairman of EGRA stated: “It is vital every Councillor realises what the Executive is being asked to sign up to on Thursday. If these proposals slip through the Executive without being amended, we will compromise our ability to achieve successful plans for the future of Guildford. EGRA wants a much better, more strategic plan for Guildford that tackles issues such as traffic and parking, does more to encourage high tech and creative businesses and acknowledges changes brought about by e-commerce and home working. In the meantime, we call on our Councillors to at least deliver these four essential safeguards before approving this flawed, interim plan.”

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test 2 Responses to Controversial Planning Documents Do Not Need Referral To The Full GBC Council

  1. Bernard Parke

    September 1, 2012 at 3:30 pm

    Whether it is necessary or not to go to full council, there is a need for all councillors to have an opportunity in public to express the feelings of the people.
    The people that they were elected to serve.

  2. Gerald Bland

    September 7, 2012 at 7:40 am

    GVG’s analysis of the Council’s Constitution and the inability of the Executive to adopt these two flawed planning documents is supported by two written opinions from two Queen’s Counsel in two different sets of leading administrative law Chambers. The two opinions can be read on the GVG website together with GVG’s solicitors letter sent to the Council yesterday.

    Your prompt report of last night’s meeting of the Council Executive’s decision to defer adoption of these planning documents serves to reinforce the rock solid advice GVG have taken. We drew attention to this constitutional issue at our August public meeting which was attended by nine Councillors but, as far as I am aware, not one officer.