Fringe Box



Council To Consider Housing Fear Petitions, But Campaginers Still Frustrated

Published on: 28 Feb, 2014
Updated on: 28 Feb, 2014

Councillors have agreed to consider two petitions submitted by concerned residents over the future of the green belt and development in the borough of Guildford.

But there are still fears by the campaigners and member of the Guildford Green Belt Guardians (GGG) that they are not being listening to.

panorama-square-savehogsbackAbout 60 members of the public attended a meeting of Guildford Borough Council (GBC) on Wednesday evening, February 26, to hear the council’s responses to the petitions. A total of 119 watched via GBC’s live online webcast.

The first petition heard, Maintaining the Green Belt between Effingham and Bookham, asks the council to recognise the wishes of Effingham residents when it is consulted on the neighbouring Mole Valley green belt review. The petition was signed by 325 people, plus a further 243 e-signatories.

The second petition, Prepare a new Strategic Housing Market Assessment (SHMA), asks the council to reject the consultant’s draft report and prepare a new document. It received 1,200 e-signatures.

In statement issued on Thursday Cllr Monika Juneja, Lead Councillor for Planning and Governance, said: “The petitions show the level of concern about the green belt and future development in the borough. Public engagement is important to us. We welcome feedback from local people as we and neighbouring authorities work through the Local Plan process.

“Green Belt land makes up 89% of our borough. Through our Local Plan, we will work to preserve this valued landscape, provide the infrastructure we need along with homes and economic opportunities. We must plan carefully to meet the needs of everyone who lives, works or studies in the borough.”

Bookham and EffinghamThe Leader of the Council, Cllr Stephen Mansbridge, added: “We will consider these petitions as we respond to the work of Mole Valley District Council and progress with our own SHMA and Local Plan. The views of our residents are important. Our door is always open – we want local people to talk to us and work with us to help shape the future of our borough. I encourage everyone to get involved in the next stage of our Local Plan consultation, which is due to start in a few months’ time.”

Save Hogs Bk 3 480

Part of the area near the Hog’s Back that campaingers fear may be built on.

On Thursday, Susan Parker, a member of GGG, and who spoke at the meeting, said: “I think it is a shame that so many councillors failed to listen to what we were saying.

“We were debating the fact that the SHMA was poorly prepared, inadequate for its purpose and had statistical anomalies. All quite technical, but vital; because this first draft SHMA drastically overstates the need for housing in Guildford. It suggests a need which would imply growth of around 30%, as compared to the national growth over roughly the same period of about 12%.  All commentators say that it needs to be re-done because it is so badly compiled; but it is now subject to review and revision, not complete re-working.

“Most of the speakers on the SHMA said that we accepted that there was a need for affordable housing and this was ignored. My first speech specifically said: ‘Just to avoid you telling us we need affordable houses, or a local plan and a SHMA which must meet the requirements… let me say we accept this.’  And then Cllr Creedy spent her five minutes explaining that affordable housing was needed, as if that was justification for a poor housing need report. Repetition of this need – which has never been in dispute – was then echoed by a number of other councillors.

“We drew to the councillors’ attention the fact that GGG, and many other respected commentators throughout the borough, including The Guildford Society, GRA, CPRE, the Surrey Hills AONB and many parish councils and residents’ associations had commented on the inadequacies of the SHMA, its fundamental statistical errors and the fact that it didn’t appreciate that students who arrive for a three-year university course do, in most cases, leave. I’m not sure that most councillors heeded this; one councillor mentioned that it was good that some students stayed afterwards, as if this was justification for statistical error and calculating on the basis that all students who arrive stay for at least 10 years.

“We also noted the fact that the Waverley SHMA, also prepared by GL Hearn (ie the same consultants) was on a Waverley-only basis, although the inspector had specifically told Waverley” ‘A new SHMA is required.  However, this would require your council to work with other authorities – given that thte HMA [housing market area] crosses administrative boundaries – as well as with other stakeholders.’

“We therefore have a genuine concern that this SHMA will be justified by GBC, that they will proceed with the Local Plan on the basis of this SHMA, and then in two years’ time the Local Plan will be rejected by an inspector because the SHMA on which it is based does not fulfill the legal duty to cooperate both with all stakeholders and with other authorities in the wider housing market area. GGG has made this comment repeatedly, in writing to all councillors as well as in the debate, but it is falling on deaf ears.

“The most interesting fact is that – as indicated by Mr Mansbridge in his letter to the Surrey Advertiser, and as confirmed by Cllr Ellwood at the meeting – that a major incentive for housebuilding is the financial incentives provided by government for infrastructure. This is both the New Homes Bonus (money is only given for large developments, so less incentive for smaller infill/renovation sites) and the money from the LEP in relation to infrastructure. As we pointed out at the meeting, the people of Guildford didn’t vote to build housing to get money from government incentives, and we didn’t vote to be a Growth Hub.

“I think councillors need to start listening. Most of all, the council has a responsiblity to take control of this process and ensure that they manage the planning department – who work as employees of Guildford Borough Council – on behalf of the people of Guildford whom they represent.”

Save Hogs Back campaigner  Karen Steven said on Thursday: “A number of speakers yesterday have spent considerable time analysing the draft SHMA, as have many others who submitted comments to GBC. Much of this analysis was conducted in more detail and with more insight than the consultants who produced it in the first place.

“If the result of all this analysis had been that the SHMA was robust and the number which the consultant had derived for housing need was defensible, then the petition and the debate would not have been necessary. However, a number of people analysing the report saw a housing figure being suggested that had been inflated by the consultant at every opportunity – resulting in a figure of 800 homes a year being tabled.

“A number of public speakers outlined how this number could be halved – using the same base data used in the analysis, but interpreting it in a different way.

“There seems to be a pro-growth agenda among some of the councillors – a position that was confirmed by Cllrs Ellwood and Rooth – and there is a real concern that this agenda is being used to skew actual housing need (by tabling housing demand, which is a different thing entirely).

“The upshot of the petition was a positive one and one that was definitely worth the effort from the point of view of Guildford as a town. In response to the petition, the council has put forward and approved a motion which means that it will look at the SHMA document again and instruct the consultant to consider all the comments raised.

“I’m not convinced that without this petition, this would have happened. It was interesting to hear views of one of the councillors who suggested that if a similar process to review and debate the flawed Green Belt and Countryside Study then we wouldn’t be in a position where it is still being debated today (years after it was published).  I know that if the study had been undertaken correctly then the land at Blackwell Farm on the Hog’s Back would never have been identified as a potential development area.

“The NPPF states that exceptional housing need alone is not in itself enough to remove an area from green belt and I’m quite sure that the need of a university for income and the need of a council for money from the developer as pay off for infrastructure would not constitute an exceptional need either, particularly as most of this money would go towards putting sticking plaster on the resulting infrastructure and traffic issues a development on the wrong side of Guildford would create.”

A recording of the debate can be watched on Guildford Borough Council’s website. Go to:

Share This Post

Responses to Council To Consider Housing Fear Petitions, But Campaginers Still Frustrated

  1. R McLoram Reply

    February 28, 2014 at 11:21 am

    I could not agree more with Karen Stevens’ well, if understated, comments. There is clearly a growth agenda being pursued despite residents’ concerns.
    The increased traffic these proposed large-scale developments will bring will stagnate traffic and growth.

  2. John Robson Reply

    February 28, 2014 at 11:28 am

    GBC continues to emphasise the fact that within Guildford borough we have 89% green belt, the implication being that we can afford to lose some.

    The critical fact they continue to gloss over is that England only has 14% of its remaining surface area designated as green belt, which should surely be the matter of focus.

    Now why would GBC continue to utilise the higher number in every repetitive political sound-bite?

    Do they consider us to be obtuse? ……Be careful what you vote for…..

  3. Mark Payne Reply

    February 28, 2014 at 6:42 pm

    Lets think this through –

    More houses means the value of all our homes will fall.
    More cars means more congestion.
    More people means fewer school places for our children.
    More money in the pockets of the developers means less green belt for all of us to enjoy.

    • jim Allen Reply

      March 3, 2014 at 3:42 pm

      Mark, you nearly got the think through right, but not quite.

      At the end of the ‘plan’2035’ period we will have, on figures as they stand at present, used 1.54 square miles of land over the plan life for the 16,000 homes. It will create the need for 32,000 jobs using 6.1776 square miles of employment land (this reduces if the work is in two or more story buildings.

      Require the need for space on our roads for 28,800 additional cars, schooling for 22,400 children and 1.8 million gallons of water required per day.

      So bang on….the mark, Mark, the proposals are simply not sustainable.

  4. Mike Aaronson Reply

    March 1, 2014 at 5:54 pm

    Thanks to the Dragon for publicising this. It is important that all of us who live in Guildford borough understand what lies behind the stance taken by the council in their Issues and Options Local Plan consultation and now this SHMA document.

    If the underlying assumption is that Guildford should be a ‘growth hub’ and that a very significant increase in house-building needs to be part of this, then this must be a matter for public debate and we must be given the opportunity at an election to say whether we approve or disapprove. At the moment it feels as though we are being ‘consulted’ without being told what is really on the agenda.

    Personally I am all for well planned growth that adds value to our lives, reduces inequalities and delivers a fairer society, and allows us to continue to enjoy our natural environment. I am not excited by the prospect of growth that is essentially commercially driven and where the so-called ‘insetting’ of the villages within the green belt (i.e. taking them out of the green belt for planning purposes) threatens to change fundamentally the nature of our environment.

    This is a fundamental issue, and deserves a more transparent and informed debate than the one we are being offered at present. It’s time for the councillors to acknowledge this and to take appropriate action.

  5. Jules Cranwell Reply

    March 3, 2014 at 5:02 pm

    I attended the debate last Wednsday, and the majority of councillors made it clear that they are not listening to the genuine concerns of residents, or their representatives.

    They did, however, make it clear that the council is committed to ‘growth’. By growth, they mean economic growth and business incubation, at the cost of the green belt if necessary, and growth in housing to accommodate workers for these growing economic interests.

    This is borne out completely in the council’s ‘master plan’, see:

    They did not see fit to consult residents on the corporate plan, which was only published, on the insistence of residents, at the very end of the Issues and Options consultation.

    We did not vote for growth at the cost of the green belt. There is no benefit to the average resident in this strategy, only to those councillors wishing to curry favour with central government and feed their personal ambitions for seats in Westminster.

  6. Bernard Parke Reply

    March 4, 2014 at 11:57 am

    Do the present councillors ever listen to the people who voted them ?

  7. Susan Parker Reply

    March 14, 2014 at 9:44 am

    Central government policy is changing – are our planners aware of this?

    GGG has written an open letter to all councillors and MPs, which is copied here:

    Guildford Greenbelt Group
    12 March 2014
    Dear Councillor

    Planning issues

    GGG has been criticised publicly for not discussing matters with Councillors. We welcome any opportunity to do so. The formal debates that have arisen in the context of petitions have not allowed exploration of many points of detail.

    As a preliminary, we feel it may be helpful to prepare a digest of some recent cases and statements to send to you in an open letter. We feel these are material in the context of the Local Plan. We would be pleased to meet any councillors to discuss local concerns in some detail, in an informal discussion; please let us know if you would be willing to meet us.

    We would note that we have also proposed having a detailed working meeting on the SHMA (Strategic Housing Market Assessment) which is currently being revised. GRA (Guildford Residents’ Association) have agreed to join with us in proposing a combined meeting in order to meet the Council’s undertaking for full public involvement in that reappraisal. We have asked Cllr Mansbridge to hold such a meeting , involving the SHMA consultants GL Hearn, together with such members of the executive committee as Cllr Mansbridge feels appropriate.

    Some of the key recent developments are:


    The National Planning Policy Guidance has been recently revised (on 6 March 2014). The weblink, if you wish to read this guidance in full, is here:

    The changes include lower CIL charges for developers of brownfield sites as an incentive to build on brownfield land. The covering Parliamentary statement written by Nick Boles notes:

    The Coalition Government is committed to reforming the planning system to make it simpler, clearer and easier for people to use, allowing local communities to shape where development should and should not go. Planning should not be the exclusive preserve of lawyers, developers or town hall officials.
    We are also committed to ensuring that countryside and environmental protections continue to be safeguarded, and devolving power down not just to local councils, but also down to neighbourhoods and local residents.

    The new guidance also includes scope to block potential development of greenfield sites if the infrastructure is insufficient, including sewage outflows.

    The comments in the parliamentary debate by Greg Clark giving the definition of sustainability are also useful:

    “We followed the suggestion of the Communities and Local Government Committee and used the classic Brundtland definition, which is about protecting the ability of future generations to enjoy the benefits that the present generation enjoys. We have also included the five principles of the UK’s sustainable development strategy. In practice, the policies outlined in the national planning policy framework will determine, in each case, what is and is not sustainable. For example, it is not sustainable to have a shopping development outside the town centre and it is not sustainable to build in the green belt.”
    Saltford Decision

    This decision was a decision called in by the Secretary of State in relation to an appeal by Crest Nicholson (who you may know are partners on the M3LEP (the Local Enterprise Partnership covering Surrey and Hampshire) Land and Property Group and developers of a large site in Waverley), advised by Pegasus (who of course prepared GBC’s Green Belt and Countryside Study). Crest Nicholson’s appeal was rejected.
    See the letter sent by the Secretary of State on 4 March 2014 in relation to this:
    The Secretary of State considered that a site of 99 houses in the Green Belt adjacent to a settlement was a significant development within the Green Belt and so was calling in this policy.
    Note that Bath and NE Somerset has an inadequate land supply and does not have a 5 year supply of housing land.

    Whitchurch decision

    This decision (5 March 2014) was recovered for the Secretary of State’s determination because it involved proposals for significant development (295 houses) in the Green Belt, which was re-considered on the basis that the proposal was reduced to 200 houses. This letter was also addressed to Pegasus (see above). The written Ministerial Statement on the Green Belt of 17 January 2014 is a material planning consideration in this regard. There is no 5 year housing supply, there is significant and acknowledged shortfall in the 5 year supply, and the local plan is not yet finalised, with housing policies not yet up to date. This appeal was rejected, and planning permission refused, because of the substantial harm to the openness of the Green Belt, the visual harm to the Green Belt, and harm to the character and appearance of the area.

    Natural England letter re Thames Basin Heath Special Protection Area

    Natural England have noted general objections to developments in the TBHSPA.
    A letter is attached in full as Appendix 2. This notes the obligation to protect the habitats of the nightjar, Dartford warbler and woodlark in the TBHSPA. This covers much of the northern part of the borough from Ash to Effingham.

    Letter from Nick Boles to Planning Inspectorate

    In addition to the revision of the NPPG, Nick Boles has written a letter (3 March 2014) to the Head of the Planning Inspectorate (attached in full as Appendix 1). This notes that protections for the Green Belt remain in force through the NPPF. In particular, it states:
    “The Framework makes it clear that a Green Belt boundary may be altered only in exceptional circumstances and reiterates the importance and permanence of the Green Belt. The special role of Green Belt is also recognised in the framing of the presumption in favour of sustainable development, which sets out that authorities should meet objectively assessed needs unless specific policies in the Framework indicate development should be restricted. Crucially, Green Belt is identified as one such policy”.

    St Albans case: Hunston Developments

    The Discussion, especially paragraphs 26 and onwards, is of particular relevance. As you will note, St Albans had a very out of date plan and no five year housing supply; therefore the developer contended that the green belt provisions could be set aside to justify building. The Court of Appeal has revised the High Court decision and determined (to quote):

    28. The crucial question for an inspector in such a case is not: is there a shortfall in housing land supply? It is: have very special circumstances been demonstrated to outweigh the Green Belt objection? As Mr Stinchcombe recognised in the course of the hearing, such circumstances are not automatically demonstrated simply because there is a less than a five year supply of housing land. The judge in the court below acknowledged as much at paragraph 30 of his judgment. Self-evidently, one of the considerations to be reflected in the decision on “very special circumstances” is likely to be the scale of the shortfall.
    29. But there may be other factors as well. One of those is the planning context in which that shortfall is to be seen. The context may be that the district in question is subject on a considerable scale to policies protecting much or most of the undeveloped land from development except in exceptional or very special circumstances, whether because such land is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, National Park or Green Belt. If that is the case, then it may be wholly unsurprising that there is not a five year supply of housing land when measured simply against the unvarnished figures of household projections. A decision-maker would then be entitled to conclude, if such were the planning judgment, that some degree of shortfall in housing land supply, as measured simply by household formation rates, was inevitable. That may well affect the weight to be attached to the shortfall.
    30. I therefore reject Mr Stinchcombe’s submission that it is impossible for an inspector to take into account the fact that such broader, district-wide constraints exist. The Green Belt may come into play both in that broader context and in the site specific context where it is the trigger for the requirement that very special circumstances be shown. This is not circular, nor is it double-counting, but rather a reflection of the fact that in a case like the present it is not only the appeal site which has a Green Belt designation but the great bulk of the undeveloped land in the district outside the built-up areas. This is an approach which takes proper account of the need to read the Framework as a whole and indeed to read paragraph 47 as a whole. It would, in my judgment, be irrational to say that one took account of the constraints embodied in the polices in the Framework, such as Green Belt, when preparing the local plan, as paragraph 47(1) clearly intends, and yet to require a decision-maker to close his or her eyes to the existence of those constraints when making a development control decision. They are clearly relevant planning considerations in both exercises.
    Hunston cannot appeal since they technically won the case, which has been referred back to the PINs with the specific guidance that they must decide the case on the basis of the law as defined in this case. The law may be subsequently varied, but only by primary legislation, a subsequent Court of Appeal judgment, or a Supreme Court judgement.


    Our view is that, taken in conjunction, there is much protection for the Green Belt which should be recognised in the Local Plan. We think the Council should not plan on building on Green Belt areas to meet housing need, and that to plan to build most new housing on the Green Belt is in contravention of planning guidance. The requirement to utilise brownfield land for housing, and to utilise it efficiently, has recently increased. We think this must become a material consideration in the context of how this resource is viewed and how the Local Plan is applied.

    It perhaps seems time for GBC to consider formalising a brownfield site review along the lines of the Green Belt and Countryside Study previously undertaken, to be undertaken in conjunction with the progress of the Local Plan. GBC has spent much of our money in funding a Green Belt study; and has just reacted to this proposal by suggesting that it is our (GGG’s) responsibility to suggest brownfield sites. This is not the responsibility of the public or its representative groups, but the duty of the Council acting for its electorate. It is the legal responsibility of the Council, under NPPG, furthermore, to consult with the public in relation to matters of policy, such as the priority to be allocated to brownfield land in relation to development.

    Yours faithfully,

    Guildford Greenbelt Group

Leave a Comment

Please see our comments policy. All comments are moderated and may take time to appear.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *