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Dragon Interview: Cllr Monika Juneja On The Local Plan

Published on: 25 Jun, 2013
Updated on: 25 Jun, 2013
Cllr Monika Juneja

Cllr Monika Juneja.

Cllr Monika Juneja has one of the most important jobs at Guildford Borough Council (GBC) on her plate. Promoted to the Executive when Cllr Stephen Mansbridge became council leader in September, she has been given the planning portfolio. This includes the responsibility of overseeing the drawing up of the Local Plan, the plan that will be the reference point for all development in the borough for several decades to come.

So far, the subject has proved controversial and even this past week has seen more friction between the council and the Guildford Vision Group on the subject.

She spoke to The Guildford Dragon NEWS about the plan and her role…

The Local Plan Strategy and, in particular, the Local Plan Development Control Policies will, according to the recently published documents, take three years to produce. Isn’t there a risk of unwanted, interim development that the council will not be able to resist?

Yes, we will be exposed. It is going to allow more developers to come in and put in an application and we are going to have very little control. The thing is we don’t have that at the moment anyway. We are in a situation where developers can come in. They are, we know, circling our land. They know we have not got a current Local Plan and they think that if they put in a planning application it will go through because we are not, at the moment, providing a suitable number of new houses.

So the reality is yes, you are right, there is a risk, but once we start the process and get past the first consultation it will make it much easier to control that risk because we will be able to show the [planning] inspector that we are doing something. They will be able to see the evidence and the inspector will be able to see we are getting our policy in order. The quicker we can progress the better.

Did members of the Executive have any real choice but to accept the proposal?

From a democratic point of view they could have voted against it, but the reality is that they did not have that much of a choice because if we don’t get this into place we will continue the risk we have just discussed.

What happens when a local consensual view is at odds with the nationally imposed targets?

One of the things that people really need to understand is that no growth is not an option, it is just not.

We need to think very clearly. Once people have looked at the evidence we will show them over the summer, they will see that there are so many people coming into the country, so many people coming into Guildford. There are big companies that want to move to Guildford and companies already here that want to expand, but they have to think, “Where are our workers going to live? Where are our children going to go to school?”

…no growth is not an option, it is just not.

The idea of having no growth or no development really cannot be allowed. So, if people are at still at odds after we have gone through the consultation and shown the evidence, then we will have no choice but to go ahead and do what we need to do to make sure that developers cannot hold us to ransom.

What we are really saying is that the government has given us an agenda, but we have not done anything much in Guildford for over a decade, really, to meet it. We have evidence that there are a number of people coming in and we have not got enough space, schools or infrastructure and we are surrounded by green belt. So where are we going to deliver and develop? And really we are saying you [the residents] help us.

So the people of Guildford do not have the option to say ‘no growth thank you’. There are constraints within which the choices will have to be made?

Yes, we will say here is the government’s agenda, here are the constraints, here is the evidence. What would you do? Tell us what you think should be done. And remember, you don’t get big infrastructure changes through small developments.

What is the driver for more and more housing? Won’t the demand be infinite? When are we going to say we’re full?

I think we need to start building before we can say we are full. I think at the moment we have a five-year land deficit. We have only built one year’s worth of housing, so it’s only going to get worse.

We won’t build many affordable houses, we have not got sufficient gypsy and traveller pitches and we haven’t really started. What we are really saying is we are in the epicentre of the green belt and while we don’t want to build on it there are some areas of the green belt that are not very nice and maybe we could roll back the boundaries slightly.

It’s not for us to say ‘enough is enough’ what we are really saying is, these are the amount of people coming in, people are living longer, we have got a boomerang generation who are staying at home because they can’t afford to get their own place, so we need to find our ‘housing number’ i.e. the number of houses we need to build, for the local plan.

What is the population figure that means we are full up?

Some people might say as an island we are already full. I think I would, and we should shut our gates, but we still need to build for the people already here.

But in 20 years time won’t there be yet more demand for yet more development?

Yes there is always that fear. There is no control on the birth rate and people are living longer. Older people don’t all want to down size, while families of four are squeezed into perhaps a two-bedroomed house because they cannot afford to buy a bigger house.

But I don’t think we can say in 10 or 20 years time we will be able to stop building. I think what we need to do over the next 20- year period is say, based on what we know already, this is what we are going to need.

Is there any perception, do you think, at a local or national level of the need  for population management? It might seem to some that we are just reacting without considering how we can control the problem.

We are following an agenda that has been set a national level.

But shouldn’t you be feeding back to them saying, ‘Look we can do this, this time around but if we don’t get a grip at a national level we will be in even more trouble in years to come.’

Yes, I think that is true. I think it is two-fold. One is that we have to do something in Guildford. On a national level I think that they do need to get a grip on the level of immigration. That is my personal view.

What are the latest population figures for Guildford? What are the forecasts?

When the evidence base comes out, in the summer, you will be able to see that the population base has changed dramatically. Some of it is the number of people who work here and want to live here but can’t, so they have to live elsewhere, like Woking.

Who will pay the new community infrastructure levy. How will that work?

The developers will pay and it will replace the old Section 106 payments. We expect to have around five big applicable developments in a year. It will be only for developments over a certain threshold.

The difference from the 106 scheme is that we will be able to say that the impact of a development is so great that it will affect major parts of our local infrastructure and we will be able to pool payments together to tackle some of the bigger infrastructure problems caused, rather than the smaller, piecemeal payments that are currently made.

I want people to be excited about the Local Plan… and I really want them to give their feedback and comments.

I have heard rumours that when the consultation takes place you intend to employ some novel tactics to try and reach out to different parts of the community, is that true?

Yes, it is going to be the biggest thing you have ever seen. It really is. I don’t want anyone to say to me I didn’t know it was happening. If they don’t comment that is fine. But I am really urging them to comment and certainly those people who don’t normally think there is any point or feel disengaged.

We are going to go out and really try and engage with all residents. It is not just for those people who are continuously engaged anyway, which is good, we want that. But also, it is for, you know, schoolchildren, students, the unemployed, the gypsies and traveller community.

What special planning requirements are there in Guildford borough for ethnic groups?

Apart from our traveller community which I have already mentioned, among the ethnic groups we have the Nepalese, Poles, Asian taxi drivers from Woking to name just a few. All these groups need to be consulted and their needs and opinions taken into account.

How important is adherence to the timetable set out in the Local Development Scheme document? Has a risk assessment been carried out?

Politically it is really important because we want to get this sent off to the inspector in 2015. A risk assessment has been completed and it is updated every month. One main identified risk, so far, is not having the necessary infrastructure in place but the biggest risk is another legal challenge. The more we engage, the more this risk should be mitigated.

We know that the evidence base once published might be explosive. There could be fears about erosion of the green belt etc. and the number of houses required, etc.

Local Plan Consultation front 470

The Local Plan Consultation Document lays out how the people of Guildford will be consulted.

We have a company employed who are already looking at how the engagement will be encouraged and conducted. They will be looking at ideas like putting a map out and ask people to plan themselves and say what is missing and what isn’t.

The consultation will go out to all the different wards and we know that in some there is more disengagement currently than in others. So the consultation will need to be tailored to different audiences including the younger sections of our population. Then there are those who live here but work elsewhere. We might try and engage some of them, for instance, at the station.

We will use supermarkets and shopping centres too. We need to reach into all parts of the borough. I really want to stress that. This is a borough-wide exercise. It is going to be the biggest thing and I think it should be exciting. It will be completely different and people will really know this is happening.

How will this work fit with the Neighbourhood Forums?

The Local Plan will have more authority than the Neighbourhood Plans, but both will need to be based on the known evidence. They will all need to fit together and, once again, no growth is not an option.

Overseeing this seems to be a big job and responsibility. How will you manage with your full-time job as a barrister?

I am here at Millmead nearly five days a week in the morning. I come in at 8am and I make sure that everything is right and then I am here in the evening and I work a lot at weekends. But this is my project it has to be done and I know that my day work has taken the short straw right now and this has taken priority. I am self-employed so I can decide how many briefs [legal cases] I take.

Did your legal training encompass planning law?

No, I did study government law as part of my studies, but not planning law specifically.

Anything else you would like to add?

I want people to be excited about the Local Plan but not scared and I really want them to give their feedback and comments.

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Responses to Dragon Interview: Cllr Monika Juneja On The Local Plan

  1. Jim Allen Reply

    June 26, 2013 at 12:35 pm

    Well that’s it laid out. But I am still at a total loss, as a practical/technical type of person, just how the wordsmiths and politicians expect to increase development in areas which are 100% covered in housing.

    On a practical level you simply cannot put a litre of water in a pint pot. You cannot balance a kilo of flour with a pound of flour. These are simple facts.

    So… interesting times!

  2. Harry Claxton Reply

    December 16, 2013 at 5:55 pm

    How can Miss Juneja be believed when her own credibility is in question?

  3. Peter Elliott Reply

    February 9, 2014 at 9:20 pm

    Nick Boles says there is no ‘Government agenda’ and local councils can decide themselves how many houses they want to build.

    We can say ‘enough is enough’ because Surrey is already the most densely populated county in the UK and the brain drain to the South East is having a harmful effect on the rest of the country.

    Fears of a developers’ free for all is disproved by the recent St Albans case.

    Woking is within easy cycling distance of Guildford.

  4. Alec O'Connor Reply

    July 7, 2014 at 12:41 pm

    Truly with the threatened invasion or destruction of the green belt, the envy of other nations throughout the world, we are seeing a Mad Hatter’s Tea Party at GBC.

    It must not happen.

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