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Dragon Interview: Carol Humphrey, Head of Planning at Guildford Borough Council

Published on: 4 Nov, 2013
Updated on: 4 Nov, 2013
Carol Humphrey

Carol Humphrey

Carol Humphrey has a tricky job. She is Head of Planning at Guildford Borough Council. The creation of a Local Plan is the latest hot potato she has to deal with and the path has been anything but smooth.

Her department is often in the firing line, getting criticism from every quarter including, on occasion, borough councillors.

When she isn’t dealing with the Local Plan, she is overseeing the processing of all the planning applications that are made within our borough, each one a potential time bomb of controversy.

Here she speaks to the Guildford Dragon NEWS specifically on the Local Plan:

Why is a Local Plan so important?

National planning policy states that we should produce a Local Plan.  A new Local Plan is necessary to help shape and manage future sustainable development across the whole of our borough. Our current Local Plan is out of date and without a new one, which conforms with national policy, we are at risk of having to allow development we do not want in places we would wish to protect.

All the documents, the ‘evidence base’, that the council have produced, seem so long and detailed. It is bound to put many residents off reading them. Why can’t they be more concise?

It is important that we strike a balance between ensuring that the evidence is robust and detailed enough to fulfil its purpose whilst being accessible to all interested parties.    We have published briefing notes/FAQs alongside the evidence documents for the local community to read.  These can be found on our website [http://www.guildford.gov.uk/localplanstrategy].

We hope that this will help explain the purpose of each study and whether it is something residents wish to read in more detail.  Policy officers are also more than happy to explain the conclusions of each document to help answer questions should residents contact us.

Shouldn’t we limit development to less sensitive areas e.g. brown field sites?

We would like to be able provide all the development we need in our urban areas and villages, and not use countryside land.  However, this could negatively impact on those areas  We also suspect that there isn’t enough available land to achieve this.

National planning policy simply does not allow us to only consider brown field sites, or sites in the urban areas and villages.  We have to look at all possible options to provide new homes, including countryside land.

Will all the potential brown-field sites be used before the green-field sites?

To be considered as a potential development site, the land needs to be suitable, available and viable. Where brownfield land meets these criteria then we would seek to bring these forward for development. However not all brownfield land does meet the criteria, for instance it might be located in an area not suitable for housing or it might not be available for development until after 2031 (the end date of the new Local Plan). It is likely that we will need a mixture of sites.

How does the council calculate how many homes are required? Is it a Guildford Borough Council decision or are they really told how many to build by central government?

The Government has abolished regional planning which would have set the number of homes each Council is expected to deliver.  It introduced new national policy which now requires each local Council to meet their objectively assessed housing need.  Housing need is very high in the whole of the South East and ongoing work is required to understand what number is needed in Guildford borough.  This is based on a number of factors such as population change, migration and the number of new jobs.

Once we have an understanding of how many homes we need we will be able to assess whether we have enough development land to meet this need. Our evidence base will help us show how much we can provide.  If we don’t provide enough it is likely that our Local Plan will not be found sound by an independent Planning Inspector.

Can we ensure that local people, especially the younger generation, are given preference somehow when any new homes are sold?

We are not able to require developers to sell their homes exclusively to local people.  However we will require affordable homes to be provided as part of  many new developments and these may be allocated to those most in need on our Housing Register.  These are likely to be local people or those with a local connection. We will also encourage where possible rural exception sites which are located on the edge of our villages. These will provide affordable homes to help meet local needs.

Council planners seem to be constantly criticised. Do you think it is fair? Is it sometimes based on misconceptions about the planning process?

Planners have a difficult task in balancing all the many requirements of Government as set down in national policy and regulations with the expectations of the local community.  There are often difficult choices to make especially when they impact upon a particular community however we need to make decisions that benefit the entire borough.

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