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Councillor Claims: ‘Buoyant Local Economy At Risk Without Delivery of the Local Plan’

Published on: 4 May, 2016
Updated on: 5 May, 2016

UK MoneyThe buoyant economy in Guildford borough could be put in jeopardy without delivery of a Local Plan that takes measures to stop companies from moving elsewhere, according to a Guildford Borough Council (GBC) press release.

The revised plan, published in April, has targeted sustainable development in the borough aimed at creating more jobs and meeting identified needs.

This, the press release claims, is intended to generate increased prosperity, maintaining a competitive advantage for the borough while delivering environmental protection, all underscored by a clear social conscience so everyone benefits.

Cllr Geoff Davis

Cllr Geoff Davis

Cllr Geoff Davis (Con, Holy Trinity), lead councillor for economic development, said: “This borough’s unemployment level is below the national average at less than one per cent and many companies benefit from our strong, responsive and competitive local economy.

“However, there are signs we are losing our competitiveness to other regions. We don’t want to look back in a decade or so and say: ‘Why didn’t we do something when we could?’.

“We must take positive and proactive steps now to meet the future development needs of employers so they can create more jobs and we can all continue to support an economy fit for the 21st century.”

But members of the Guildford Greenbelt Group (GGG) disagree and say companies are more likely to be deterred by congestion from excessive numbers of new homes and commuters than anything else.

Karen Stevens, a Save the Hogs Back campaigner, said: “We will end up creating a town not dissimilar to Croydon, but without the infrastructure that Croydon enjoys. There will be traffic mayhem on a scale that most of us – businesses and residents alike – will find intolerable.”

Across Guildford borough, some 77,200 jobs exist with an unemployment rate of just 0.6 per cent. Several major multinational companies, including Allianz Insurance, Colgate-Palmolive, Ericsson and EA Games plus large employers such as the University of Surrey, the Royal Surrey County Hospital and BAE Systems are located here.

The council statement highlights that the borough hosts fast growing start-ups and small businesses with growth potential, including entrepreneurial businesses like Hogs Back Brewery, High Clandon Vineyard, Lifelines medical equipment, Silent Pool Gin Distillery and Tillingbourne Brewery.

Many of these companies are part of the rural economy, an important feature of the region.

Cllr Davis explained: “Our economy is already strong in areas set as high priorities by the government, including health and life sciences, space and satellite technology, digital and creative industries and professional services. The Local Plan aims to meet the borough’s anticipated employment needs up to 2033.”

The Surrey Research Park

The Surrey Research Park

Justifying university expansion plans the council states: “The Surrey Research Park,  home to 110 science-led companies including BOC, part of The Linde Group, and Surrey Satellite Technology, is wholly owned by the University of Surrey.

“The Local Plan includes provision for an extension of over 10 hectares to the 28 hectare Park. This gives room for 35,000 sq m (370,000 sq ft) of new office space. It is estimated some 2,000 new jobs will be created as a result.

“The park, adjacent to the Royal Surrey County Hospital and the University of Surrey’s main campus, is targeted at high tech innovation businesses which, between them, contribute over £450 million each year to the local economy.

“Many companies operate in the same fields as courses at the University such as a degree in Digital Media Arts, which includes Game Development. This means that graduates can remain within the borough, and local companies benefit from their learned knowledge.”

Other suggested developments involve an extension to Slyfield Industrial Estate, allowing existing companies to expand. The proposal for the area includes additional housing, to allow people to live near to their work.

Guildford’s leisure and visitor experience sector also gets a mention: “This sector is one of the fastest growing industries in the borough, generating over £330 million of income and supporting more than 6,000 jobs.

“In addition, improvements to shops and restaurants in Guildford will give even greater choice for customers, creating additional jobs and maintaining the town centre’s preeminent position in the region as a retail and leisure destination. At a time of increased internet and omnichannel shopping, the area will meet changing trends as well as deliver improvements to the daytime and evening leisure economy.

It is claimed that the Local Plan is designed so the elements fit together giving an holistic solution to meeting all of the borough’s needs.  According to the release: “There is a need for land for both new homes and new jobs, especially on ground that has already been built on, under a ‘brownfield first’ preference.”

But infrastructure requirements are recognised: “To support this sustainable growth, suitable infrastructure must be included such as education, healthcare and transport.

“Since residential schemes can produce higher land values for developers, designation of land for employment purposes in the Local Plan helps protect long-term jobs growth.”

Cllr Davis added: “We must ensure sufficient land is available in the right places and at the right time to support growth and innovation. Our local economy is the strongest and most vibrant outside London.

“This healthy position is a fundamental factor in shaping our society by improving the quality of life and prosperity for all residents, not just a few. The risk is that, without room for expansion and without improved infrastructure, existing companies will move out of the borough and entrepreneurial businesses won’t choose this area to establish themselves and invest in our region.

“We must take the right steps now to balance the needs of residents, businesses and visitors with protection of the borough’s most important countryside, landscapes and heritage, in planned, realistic and sustainable ways.”

Cllr Susan Parker

Cllr Susan Parker

Cllr Susan Parker (GGG, Send) responded: “There is a real confusion at the heart of Guildford Borough Council’s Executive when discussing the Local Plan.  They argue that we need to have more jobs (despite low unemployment) and, simultaneously, that we need more housing for those workers.

“This becomes a vicious spiral where more homes are needed for more workers, and then work is needed for more new residents. When does this stop?

“There are areas of genuine disadvantage in the UK that need more employment and economic stimulus, but Guildford really doesn’t need pump-priming. Do we need to compete with other regions in terms of economic machismo?

“Some organic economic growth combined with protecting our environment and quality of life are more important to most residents, and perhaps Cllr Davis, as lead member for economic growth, should I consider this.

“Would he want this much building in the countryside near Arundel, where I understand he lives?  If huge economic growth really is a key local aspiration, companies are more likely to be deterred by congestion from excessive numbers of new homes and commuters than anything else.”

Karen Stevens standing in her garden, in the background one of the threatened fields.

Karen Stevens

GGG member and Save the Hogs Back campaigner, Karen Stevens, agreed: “Cllr Davies takes the view that all we need to do to grow our economy is to bring in more people and more jobs, but will you, your neighbour, your children or any local business be better off by cramming in more people into Guildford and concreting over our countryside?

“My fear is that we will be looking back with regret because of the decisions that GBC is making, which will strangle economic growth, destroy the character of the borough and worsen the quality of life for everyone who lives here.

“Even if Guildford could accommodate the level of growth the Local Plan proposes, why does Cllr Davis suggests that 35,000 square metres of offices should be built across 10 Ha of what is now working farmland?

“It would appear that our council has pulled the wool over the eyes of the electorate by promising it would protect the green belt, including Blackwell Farm, when instead it has been planning quite the opposite.

Shame on the elected councillors if they don’t stand up and reject the plan being tabled by the Executive, of course it will be a much greater shame for the people of Guildford if this does go through.”

But a Guildford alderman and former mayor, Gordon Bridger, supported the council: “I am glad that senior councillors recognise that our economic future lies in high tech enterprises. But it  is now seriously threatened as we cannot recruit the skilled workers we need not only to maintain skills essential to survive in a competitive world, but also to man our hospitals, schools and other basic services.

“We have, so far, been one of the most successful and dynamic communities in Britain but because of  high housing costs, and traffic problems, companies are no longer coming to Guildford. Our new plan needs to highlight this the key issue much more clearly than it does. Without this policy agreement we cannot sustain the urgency for more affordable housing.

“The council’s 40 per cent affordable housing target is a formidable target and but will only be financially and numerically achievable out of community gain from some very modest incursions into our green belt. The 1.6 per cent figure mentioned as a target incursion is surely not unreasonable in a borough that is 89 per cent green belt. Surely homes should take precedence over views?

“As for housing the council will need to differentiate between skilled worker housing and welfare housing which the plan does not. We need a thriving economy to  fund welfare. Guildford was recently categorised in a government report as the community with least deprived social sector in the country.

“The Local Plan will need  to give  further thoughts on how to allocate houses , how to keep them in this category, and  determine what is “affordable”. A formidable task but soluble.

Finally, I would urge councillors to review the figure of 48,000 sq metres  for retail development in the North Street development.  This  is roughly equivalent to 48 town centre  Sainsbury’s and would add about 40% to current town centre retail space.

“It would create massive traffic jams, ruin our existing retail sector, and provide a very low value added sector. Our plan should insist that there is far more housing on the site – there is a huge demand from asset rich elderly desperate to have quality flats in the town centre.

“If current owners paid too much  for the land that is not a planning reason for their mistake to become  public responsibility.”

The revised Local Plan will be considered at Executive and Full Council meetings in May 2016. Click here for further details and to view the revised plan.

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Responses to Councillor Claims: ‘Buoyant Local Economy At Risk Without Delivery of the Local Plan’

  1. Lisa Wright Reply

    May 4, 2016 at 7:09 pm

    Most people live here because they like the smallish town and surrounding countryside feel.

    If GBC insist on expanding Guildford by 25 per cent in this Local Plan, increasing traffic, pollution and buildings, placing stress on our hospital and local services, the town’s demise will come from those skilled workers moving away to another, more suitable, quiet town where they can raise their children.

    Let’s remember, there will be another Local Plan after this one, we need to stop this now or we will all suffer the consequences for decades.

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