Fringe Box



Dragon Interview: Council Leader on The Local Plan Consultation

Published on: 21 Oct, 2013
Updated on: 21 Oct, 2013

The council’s consultation on the Local Plan has been going several weeks now. The Guildford Dragon caught up with the council leader Stephen Mansbridge to ask how, in his view, it is doing…

Stephen Mansbridge at Holy Trinity Hall to give his speech to the Guildford Society audience

Council leader Stephen Mansbridge

How is the Local Plan consultation exercise going overall, do you think?

I think it has begun extremely well. There have been a couple of events, one down in Ash which was well attended, and very impressive in terms of what we are trying to put across to people, Then the drop in at the Guildford rotunda where lots of people came and gave their views. It is very good to see the level of interest that people have in what we have got to say and the level of participation.

The residents of Fairlands seemed very concerned about possible developments near them at the meeting earlier this month.

I think, in specific terms, the people of Fairlands had been given some incorrect information which had led them to believe that a develop was imminent on that land, something that simply isn’t true.

In a wider context, because we are doing as thorough an audit of all the potential sites in order to satisfy the Planning Inspectorate, there is always a risk that people will make an assumption that land only designated as potentially suitable is already up for development. This isn’t true.

We need to collect the views of the people during this consultation period that afterwards. Once they have been analysed, they will help us draw up a draft plan, identifying the places we want to develop. That draft will then go into a further consultation period.

Local Plan Consultation logoWhat about the issue of green belt preservation versus the need for finding land for housing development. Views seem to be fairly evenly split.

I think there are three views rather than two. The third is a very strong view that I pick up from people, probably in both camps, that is saying for goodness sake get the infrastructure in place first before you start expanding. That is a real chicken and egg argument which is, as a borough council, extremely difficult to answer in a purist way because we do not have the resources to solve that problem on our own. For that we need resources that come from the county [council] and sources that come from national government, the highways agency, people like that.

It is a highly complex problem to solve and that is why when I go out and talk to people in the borough and talk about the five pillars of our strategy, infrastructure is the first one.

But in terms of the question you ask, there is a dichotomy amongst the population of the borough. A lot of people don’t want the green belt touched at all and another group of people are saying well actually there is nowhere for my grandchildren to live: they have to move out of the borough because it is so expensive ans so on…

So trying to bring those arguments together is actually trying to look for suitable land which is the whole point of the consultation. Land that is not really suitable to be green belt, and maybe has had previous development on it or maybe in a particular location close to a big road, might actually be suitable for development and we can do a swap with other land that is not currently green belt and should be.

How can you ensure that any new houses built go first to local people?

This is the whole argument around affordable housing. What we want to try and do is drive up the percentage of affordable houses in our developments, for example the Bewley Homes development in Ash is going to be at 40 percent affordable housing, 5 percent higher than our current level that we ask from developers.

So it is by building affordable houses that we can enable people who don’t have as much money. Having said that they still require money to buy a home, they are not cheap and there is a cost to them.

Of course, affordable homes are generally run by housing associations and in social housing preference can be given to local people.

Isn’t the real, underlying problem population growth?

Well that is certainly beyond our control as a council. Population growth is an issue right round the world. By 2050 there are going to be something like nine billion people in the world and unless we take some huge decisions at an international level it will cause enormous problems: war, famine, disease, on a global scale. So we are seeing that problem in a microcosm here, ourselves. We have to think about it very deeply but it is a bigger issue than a borough council can deal with on its own.

What is the purpose of your new Corporate Plan and why should a citizen of Guildford bother to read it?

The Corporate Plan is the overarching core document for the council which lays out the political aspiration and then translates this into a clear action plan.  If a resident wants to understand the view of the people he or she elected then it is contained in this document, beyond any manifesto pledges.  So, the simple answer as to why a resident should bother to read it, is to understand what the council plans to do over the next three years.

Cllr Stephen Mansbridge is the Conservative ward councillor for (South Ash & Tongham)

To view the Corporate Plan click here  Corporate Plan 2013-2016.pdf [9Mb]

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