Fringe Box



Council Leader Warns of ‘Difficult Choices’ Ahead For The Local Plan

Published on: 24 Sep, 2014
Updated on: 24 Sep, 2014
Cllr Stephen Mansbridge, council leader and leader of the Tory group.

Cllr Stephen Mansbridge, council leader and leader of the Tory group.

The leader of Guildford Borough Council (GBC) Stephen Mansbridge (Con, Ash South & Tongham) has issued a statement this morning to coincide with the planned end of the consultation period.

No mention is made of the confusion over the deadline for the consultation. The extension of the consultation period is instead justified only by the “level of interest”.

The council has received over six thousand responses to the Draft Local Plan from nearly 3,000 residents. The population of Guildford Borough is over 130,000.

The council leader said that the housing numbers will be revised in line with new ONS (Office for National Statistics) population projections, and: “Like most councils in the South East, we are placed in a difficult position. On the one hand we are being asked to make a proportionate contribution to the national housing shortage, on the other hand 89 per cent of any new land in our borough is green belt… we are under no illusions that there are some very difficult choices ahead.”

This is Cllr Mansbridge’s statement, issued by the Conservative group at GBC, in full: “The consultation period for the Draft Local Plan has been extended to take into account the level of interest.

“The volume, quality and wisdom of public response is high and reflects the strong concerns that exist in our communities about the very difficult choices that we are being obliged to make in relation to both sites to build and housing numbers. We thank you all for the public spirited way in which you have participated in this important process so far. Your views are an integral part of it and highly important to us.

“2,873 residents and stakeholders offered 6,006 responses so far to the draft plan in its present form and we hope to be able to give you an initial view as to the themes that have emerged within the next six weeks. You have expressed understandable concerns about the new proposed housing need number that has emerged from the formula laid down in the Local Plan process and many of you gave strong reasons why not to build on some of the nominated sites under current consideration.

“We have decided that we will need more time to take full and proper account of all these views which will demand response, and of the constraints that are emerging from the process of bringing together all the various elements of the Plan. As a result we will seek to extend the current timetable for producing the next revised draft.

“The planning process requires that we cooperate as fully as we can with our neighbouring councils in Waverley and Woking in order to arrive at a defensible housing need number for each borough. The final number will also take into account the recently revised Office of National Statistics population projections which reflect population growth and the resulting pressures for new housing this places on all councils. We will publish the West Surrey Strategic Housing Market Assessment [SHMA] with our own new housing need number well before Christmas.

“Like most councils in the South East, we are placed in a difficult position. On the one hand we are being asked to make a proportionate contribution to the national housing shortage, on the other hand 89 per cent of any new land in our borough is green belt.

“We plan to put forward the strongest possible case for ensuring that we protect our beautiful countryside, acknowledge and act on the constraints, and at the same time satisfy the Planning Inspector that we have done all that could reasonably be expected of us to meet the housing needs of our area.

“We intend to do our very best to achieve this but we are under no illusions that there are some very difficult choices ahead. We thank everyone engaged in the process for helping us arrive at the best possible outcome for the future of our borough.

Comments from other political parties have been invited and will be added as soon as possible after they are received.

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Responses to Council Leader Warns of ‘Difficult Choices’ Ahead For The Local Plan

  1. Jules Cranwell Reply

    September 24, 2014 at 11:53 am

    Planning to increase housing across the borough by over 20 per cent, and in some villages (e.g. West Horsley) by 40 per cent, can scarcely be described as proportionate.

    • Jim Allen Reply

      September 24, 2014 at 11:37 pm

      And in Burpham by over 80 per cent.

  2. Susan Parker Reply

    September 24, 2014 at 2:18 pm

    We [the Guildford Greenbelt Group [GGG)] understand that the council have decided that they now need more time to take account of the level of responses.

    Many of these concerns have been expressed over an extended period, during the issues and options consultation last autumn and throughout this year. As we have suggested before, it would have been sensible to have addressed those concerns before going through formal consultation on the local plan, and this would, in the long run, have been cheaper for us all than going through this summer’s consultation process.

    The council should have revised the plan before the summer, in the light of concerns previously raised. The GGG did raise the duty to cooperate last December and were disregarded.

    The errors in the housing number should really have been revised last year, following extensive commentary by the GGG and all community groups, taking into account the Office of National Statistics errors, ministerial guidance explaining that green belt/AONB can be a reason for reducing the housing number, and the fact that empty homes, student homes and windfall sites should have been taken into account.

    It should have been noted that ministerial guidance (and the law) makes it clear that unmet housing need does not constitute an “exceptional circumstance” and so there are insufficient circumstances to consider using green belt.

    Having addressed a revised housing number, it would have been possible to look objectively at existing brownfield sites, estimate capacity properly, and ascertain the real need for that land, rather than to propose use of green belt land for new housing.

    However, if the council are now reviewing the draft, revising the evidence base and amending the thinking behind the plan, we welcome this.

    We would encourage GBC, as one of the first things that should be done, to consider the actual capacity of the brownfield land that exists in the urban area, especially in the Walnut Tree Close and Woodbridge Meadows areas, subject to design/height constraints, need for green corridors etc.

    We understand from Allies & Morrison that no capacity study of this area has yet been undertaken. This is despite the fact that we suggested a detailed brownfield study last year. If this is done, and the council compares this with its own register of land that it owns (and also Surrey County Council owns), then it should be possible to find sufficient brownfield land to avoid the need for major assaults on the green belt.

    If, on the other hand, the council are just seeking a way to disregard the arguments made and intend to carry on regardless, we will continue to oppose this disastrous plan.

    It is about time that the council started to listen to the voters in Guildford.

    Susan Parker is chair of the Guildford Greenbelt Group

  3. Roland McKinney Reply

    September 24, 2014 at 5:21 pm

    Although understandable, it’s somewhat disappointing that the number of submissions received is well down on the number made during the Issues and Options consultation.

    I say understandable as many who made a submission to the Issues and Options consultation must have been as disappointed as I was to see that the time and effort put into the submission was wasted.

    There is no evidence that submissions were used by GBC in any way. No summary of the responses was produced; for example, the “score” of those broadly in favour, or against; no geographical breakdown, by ward, by town/village; there was not a word of a summary.

    So many people must have thought – why do it again? And of course, it was over the summer holiday period.

    Relieved as I am by this delay (what’s the betting in the looming elections that the Conservative Party presents itself as the defender of the Green Belt?) I really feel for those whose lives have been blighted by these plans. There must be thousands of people living close to sites put forward for development who are in turmoil, not knowing what is going to happen. And then there are those who for various reasons have to move but are finding that the uncertainty affects potential buyers – and prices. This delay does nothing to help them: we need a firm commitment to maintain the Green Belt, and for the current councillors to display the resolve that was displayed by GBC in 2010 when they took their case to the High Court – and won.

  4. Colin Cross Reply

    September 24, 2014 at 10:44 pm

    Ripley speaks tomorrow as the voice of Lovelace.

    Let us all hope that the implications of this result are not lost on our councillors across the borough. This will be an insight into what will happen to them next May if they continue to renege on their election manifesto promies ref our villages and green belt.

    Never let it be said that the Tories weren’t warned !

    Colin Cross is the Lib Dem Candidate in tomorrow’s (Sep 25) Lovelace by-election.

  5. John Robson Reply

    September 25, 2014 at 9:12 am

    Given that the “trajectory has been set” my cynical mind tells me that this delay is for the benefit of the Ash dominated council Executive and not the people they purport to represent. Maybe they’ve realised that the Draft Local Plan has more holes than a Swiss cheese and they need to get their act together prior to examination by the Inspector.

    Maybe, they need more time to further extend the green belt around the Executive’s heartlands to ensure there’s more distance between them and us. You really could not make this up, Guildford’s green belt, which includes Areas of Outstanding Beauty and Areas of Great Landscape Value has been offered up to meet Westminster housing targets.

    Nonetheless the Ash dominated council Executive includes a dedicated policy within the Local Plan to extend the green belt around its own little enclave, who writes this stuff? Oh hold on…

    To use GBC’s own arguments, “Guildford Borough is 89 per cent green belt”.

    So why extend the greenbelt around the sparsely populated, yet blessed with good transport links, Ash and Tongham ward then? If you want confirmation that this Executive doesn’t represent the interests of 89% of this Borough, read Policy 11 “Ash and Tongham” of the draft Local Plan.

    If you want to protect the greenbelt, don’t waste your time with protests, marches, petitions, forensic examinations of the evidence base or the draft local plan, just lobby your local councillor to get a seat on the top table, but hey, that’s politics…….

    • Kathryn Dibsdall Reply

      September 26, 2014 at 11:08 pm

      Speaking as someone who lives in what John Robson terms “…sparsely populated, yet blessed with good transport links, Ash and Tongham”, I would like to point out that the current population of this area is just under 20k which is likely to expand by thousands when all the 1,500 planned homes in the south Ash and Tongham areas, and the additional ones for Ash Green are built.

      The proposed SANGs (Suitable Accessible Natural Greenspace) are due to the Thames Basin’s Heath SPA rules and are not Green Belt. It should also be noted that in Ash and Tongham itself the additional housing comes with (at best) minor junction improvements, but with little or no additional shops, doctors, dentists, employment opportunities etc that accompany the more considered developments.

      Add to that the total gridlock experienced locally with *any* mishap on the A331/A31, let alone tailbacks caused by daily deliveries to two convenience stores, the level crossing (closed up to 8 mins at a time, 5 trains per hour peak), no pedestrian access if you’re on the wrong side… and it can be seen why I take exception to Mr Robson’s very poor description of the “Ash and Tongham Urban Area” [GBC’s description, not mine].

      Whether you feel that the current council leaders are protecting their patch or not, where to build the additional homes (houses, pitches and plots) needs more consideration than just putting these all in the west of the borough because it’s not green belt.

  6. Jules Cranwell Reply

    September 25, 2014 at 2:03 pm

    Unfortunately, seats at the top table are at the sole gift of the leader. That’s democracy at work for you.

  7. Roland McKinney Reply

    September 26, 2014 at 3:13 pm

    It’s inconceivable that there was no strategy in place to deal with comments from the draft Local Plan consultation process, given that there were 15,000 plus submissions made in the Issues and Options consultation.

    If it were true that suddenly GBC has to introduce a process to deal with submissions what does that tell us about their planning ability? If they had a plan in place to deal with submissions, then what is the real reason for “the pause”?

    Whatever the real reason, it just provides a further reason for distrust. Our choice is either that GBC were incompetent in not anticipating a high level of responses or that Cllr. Mansbridge is being economical with the truth. Take your pick.

  8. George Potter Reply

    September 26, 2014 at 9:23 pm

    Looking at this, a cynical person might well think that the reason for the delay is to kick the final decision into the long grass until after the council elections next May.

    Just a convenient excuse in order to give Guildford Conservatives the best chance of retaining control of the council.

    A cynical person might very well think that but I couldn’t possibly comment (to quote one Francis Urqhart).

  9. Jules Cranwell Reply

    September 27, 2014 at 8:29 am

    The voting public is too intelligent not to see through this cynical ploy, which is clearly an attempt by this discredited Tory regime to cling on to power by their fingertips. As shown in Lovelace, the collapse of their house of cards has already begun.

  10. Janette Panton Reply

    September 27, 2014 at 10:34 am

    Since Colin Cross made his comments above he won his seat on the borough council by an overwhelming majority. Congratulations Mr Cross.

    This just goes to show that residents are extremely disillusioned with this conservative led council and this, in my view, is largely due to the Draft Local Plan.

    If Cllr Mansbridge is attempting to delay this plan until after the elections next May, he is extremely naive if he believes residents will fall for this. It is high time that GBC revise this shambles of a plan and listen to the residents of Guildford and the many groups who represent them.

    Cllr Mansbridge and his Executive committee have wrongly accused groups of being the vocal minority and not truly representing the views of residents. This Lovelace result sends a very loud and clear message to the contrary.

    I would reiterate Colin Cross’s comment – Never let it be said that the Tories weren’t warned.

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