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Council Accepts Legal Advice Not to Risk a Formal Review of the Local Plan

Published on: 7 Apr, 2022
Updated on: 8 Apr, 2022

By Emily Coady-Stemp local democracy reporter

and Martin Giles

GBC councillors have been told that conducting an early review of the Local Plan carried a high risk of the housing targets increasing and that there is “no realistic prospect” of ever being able to put land back into the green belt.

Members took the “unpopular” decision to delay a formal review of their housing plan because of the perceived risk and the uncertainty around central government policies.

A formal review of the Local Plan: Strategy and Sites needs to be done within five years of the plan being adopted, so must be carried out before April 2024.

See also: Who Cares What Guildford Borough Residents Want?

A full meeting of Guildford Borough Council on Tuesday (April 5) 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’s Local Plan sets out where and when houses will be built, until 2034. Guildford’s plan was controversially adopted in April 2019, days before the Conservatives lost control of the borough council, now run by a Residents for Guildford and Villages and Liberal Democrat coalition.

The plan is made up of several documents and policies, including a development management plan, and a strategy and sites document, which is what was being proposed for early review by the council.

The council 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.

It continued: “I can see absolutely no realistic prospect of the council ever being able to alter boundaries to put land outside the [green belt] back into it.”

Cllr Tim Anderson

Cllr Tim Anderson, saying he would vote against delaying a review, led the debate. He said: “The failings of the current local plan 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.”

Cllr Deborah Seabrook

But his party colleague Deborah Seabrook, (Merrow) while sympathising, came to a different conclusion. She said the report made “disappointing reading” for many councillors who felt that green belt, green spaces and the “well being of the borough were damaged by the Local Plan 2019”.

She called Guildford’s villages “precious communities and lovely places to visit” but said the council was obliged to work within the “legal and legislative framework, however much we may dislike it”.

And added: “As councillors, we have a responsibility to look after the interests of all our residents. In so doing, we also have to face reality. If it goes wrong, those residents will not thank us for taking risks against professional advice, just because we don’t like the advice.

“Delaying a review of the plan will be unpopular, but doing it earlier would be reckless, risking a requirement to build more homes, not fewer, and putting more pressure on green belt, not less.”

Cllr George Potter

Cllr George Potter (Lib Dem, Burpham) 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 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.

Cllr Paul Spooner

Leader of the Conservative Group, Paul Spooner (Con, Ash South & Tongham), who presided over the adoption of the plan as council leader in 2019, said: “In relation to [planning barrister] Mary Cook, … she has absolutely and completely endorsed the approach that we took during the course of [drawing up] the Local Plan. And there were almost no surprises in relation to her position.”

Regarding a part of the motion to prioritise production of a green belt Supplementary Planning Document,” Cllr Spooner said: “Green belt is important, but so are many other development management policies.”

Cllr James Walsh

Cllr James Walsh Labour (Lab, Stoke) said: “We all support the preservation of the green belt as much as possible but none of us should forget we need housing in Guildford. The problem is that not enough housing over the last 20, 30, or 40 years and children have had to move out of the town.”

Council leader Joss Bigmore (Residents for Guildford and Villages, Christchurch) 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.

Cllr Joss Bigmore

“However, it’s clear to me that the situation could be made worse by an ill-judged decision tonight.”

“I understand what everyone wants out of a formal review, people spoke with passion. The aims that people want, I think we all share I just do not think the formal review is the process by which we get there, I’m afraid.”

The members voted in favour of all four parts of the overall motion:

1. That the council notes the independent expert legal advice of a potential Local Plan review. (Votes: 34 for, 8 abstentions.)

2. That the council endorses the approach proposed to not conclude a Formal Review of the Local Plan: Strategy and Sites (LPSS) at this stage but instead undertake it towards the end of the statutory five year period unless circumstances change in sucha way that means that undertaking an earlier review would be advantageous to the council. (Votes: 23 for, 14 against 5 abstentions.)

3. That the Executive be updated on the outcomes of the review of the transport evidence base currently underway and any other significant changes in circumstance that may impact on considerations regarding the timing of the Formal Review of the LPSS. (Votes: 40 for, 2 abstentions.)

4. That priority be given to the production of a green belt Supplementary Planning Document alongside the emerging Local Plan: Development Management Policies. (Votes: 32 for, 8 against, 2 abstentions.)

See also:

Dragon Interview: Local Plan Review Decision – Council Leader Joss Bigmore

Dragon Interview: Cllr Catherine Young on Decision to Delay Local Plan Review

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Responses to Council Accepts Legal Advice Not to Risk a Formal Review of the Local Plan

  1. Jim Allen Reply

    April 7, 2022 at 2:28 pm

    What I have been saying since that fateful day when the Local Plan was approved. And now a green belt Supplementary Planning Document (SPD) and a look at transport. Pathetic.

    Surely an SPD on the availability of underground, in preference to surface, infrastructure, precluding building until it is vastly improved, would be more applicable because the damage is already being done in the green belt? The destruction of the heritage and the green belt along the Wey Navigation has already started. Nothing will stop that. It should now be called the “bare soil belt” with all the vegetation stripped for the banks along the River Wey, below Stoke Lock.

    The damage has been done. All there is left is spilt milk and the crocodile tears of the politicians, wailing “but we need houses”.

  2. George Potter Reply

    April 7, 2022 at 2:58 pm

    Point of correction please:

    I am a borough councillor for Burpham, not Merrow. I represent Merrow as a county councillor, but that was obviously not the capacity in which I was speaking on Tuesday evening.

    Editor’s response: Apologies, now corrected.

  3. Lisa Wright Reply

    April 7, 2022 at 6:46 pm

    What a mess.

    The Conservative councillors knew it would be almost impossible for the new council to reverse the damage that the Local Plan does to Guildford, the question is why were they so keen to rush through a plan that builds on so many green fields rather than invigorate the town centre?

    I frequently drive through Ash and now some of the new developments are occupied the traffic congestion is much worse. Whilst the houses seem to look nice, the roads in the new developments are lined with cars all over the curbs and pavements, not only dangerous for pedestrians but also difficult to drive through.

    The strategic sites haven’t come to fruition, a proportion of each site was supposed to be built within five years but evidently, that won’t happen now. What we do have is a multitude of smaller developments cropping up all around the villages which don’t have the infrastructure to carry the weight of the new residents.

    I’d like to see a review of what’s been built, where and how that affects the housing number to calculate how that impacts the rest of the Local Plan.

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