Fringe Box



Dragon Interview: The Council Leader on the Latest Local Plan

Published on: 10 Apr, 2017
Updated on: 13 Apr, 2017

Following this morning’s (April 10) press conference on the new draft of the Local Plan for Guildford The Guildford Dragon spoke exclusively to Paul Spooner, the council leader at Guildford Borough Council and the lead councillor for planning…

Questions were put by Martin Giles

Cllr Paul Spooner

Do you feel that with the Local Plan you are living up to your manifesto pledges, one of which was: “Conservatives Vow To Protect the Green Belt”?

The simple answer is yes, because what we said as a manifesto pledge, and what we still strongly believe in, is protecting the green belt wherever possible.

We have effectively looked at every possible way of ensuring that meeting the objectively assessed needs is first with brownfield urban, leaving all the green belt sites to one side, and then, from the other side, looking at areas that are not SPA [Special Protection Areas], or areas of outstanding natural beauty. That then leaves us with a grey area, as such, which is designated as green belt and, having looked at the sensitivity analysis, we look at areas that are least damaging.

This is the difference between ourselves and the Greenbelt Guardians [sic], whose view is that protecting the green belt means zero development on it, while we want to minimise green belt development.

Do you think that 650 houses per year [the target stated in the latest draft] will significantly affect house prices in Guildford Borough?

No, that’s the simple answer. I think that what we are doing with the 650, given the objective assessment, is holding things steady, nothing more and nothing less.

The new houses won’t be just for local people, will they, because they’ll be sold on the open market, most of them, at least.

Well, some of them should be allocated and we will try therefore to protect locals in some of the areas and some of the developments. There will be affordable which will be open to all and there will be some social housing which [the allocation of which] will be controlled, and then there will be general market housing, so it is correct they will be open for all.

So other than with social housing how can they be allocated for local people?

For example, where we are working with developers, let’s take for example the university, we have an expectation there that some of the housing will be allocated for workers at the uni. They are talking to other developers who are specific in looking, for example, not just at student housing but also workers and staff within the educational environment. All of those, obviously, will free up other housing in the area. The detail on numbers will come later.

More houses obviously means more cars, thousands of them, over the plan period. Although there is a condition that the infrastructure has to be in place to allow the developments, how can sufficient road space be created for all the extra car movements, without major disruptive road projects? Some busy roads, for instance the A281 Shalford Road, cannot be easily widened.

It is a common problem we have amongst other local plan areas in the South East. There is a likelihood of disruption during major infrastructure improvements. So I agree it is not easy but we are determined to be able to accommodate our existing residents and workers, but we do need to improve the infrastructure over the planned period to accommodate the extra housing.

So could that include widening routes like the A281, through the town centre?

Unlikely. We don’t want to knock down existing road side buildings.

There are improvements in terms of flow that we can look at – traffic lights, as SCC have done recently, and there is modal shift, which we shouldn’t forget.

There are strategic things with the A3 – but again balancing the A3 is not easy because on one side we can improve the A3 for those moving through, not coming into the town, but we don’t want that to happen at the expense of those in Guildford. So there is a lot of work still required and that is why the Local Plan is talking about that being nine years away – until we have the infrastructure in place – and that significantly constrains the housing in the short-term.

You mentioned modal shift, the only example I could find of modal shift occurring was with the impact of the congestion charge in London. Has congestion charging been ruled out for Guildford or is it something you have not yet considered?

It has not been considered seriously. It has not been ruled out – but that does not mean it has definitely been ruled in.

When do you envisage the new railway stations at Park Barn and Merrow, being built? Have there been any serious negotiations?

Yes, in terms of Guildford West [Park Barn] we are progressing that very well. Network Rail of course, have publicly recognised that and, following the recent franchise change, the new franchisee [for Southwest Trains] specifically mentioned the new railway stations and the fact that they were supporting them. The rail operator is onside, network rail is onside, local authorities including Surrey County Council are onside, so I think in general we are in a very good place for Guildford West.

Merrow station is further behind, whilst again it has been recognised as a good thing, that one is still very early in the planning process.

If there is a new school incorporated in the Blackwell Farm development, as we have been briefed, is it envisaged that it will co-exist with King’s College?

All options are open. I am on public record as saying one school is sufficient.

See also: New Draft Local Plan – Small Reduction In Housing Targets – More in Brownfield Sites



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Responses to Dragon Interview: The Council Leader on the Latest Local Plan

  1. Ben Paton Reply

    April 10, 2017 at 8:43 pm

    Why have didn’t the council leader and his so-called “Conservative” party let councillors scrutinise the arithmetic model that underlies the Strategic Housing Market Assessment (SHMA)? If councillors and borough officials have never seen, let alone scrutinised it how have they done their jobs?

    If it cannot be tested, how can it be objective? If it has not been tested, then how can it be relied upon? If the council leader won’t roll up his sleeves and actually check the arithmetic and the assumptions why should we trust him?

    Instead up coming up with quips and sarcasms, why doesn’t the council leader take the public seriously and address these questions?

  2. A Atkinson Reply

    April 10, 2017 at 10:02 pm

    The following answer is straight out of Yes Minister:

    “It has not been considered seriously. It has not been ruled out – but that does not mean it has definitely been ruled in.”

  3. Jules Cranwell Reply

    April 10, 2017 at 10:37 pm

    What utter, utter tosh!

    “Should be allocated”, “working with developers….,who are talking to other developers”‘ “modal shift”.

    What does any of this mean? Other than he is just opening the floodgates to uncontrolled development in the green belt.

    As for the manifesto pledge/ vow/ promise/ unqualified commitment to protect the green belt, I have searched high and low (and this is very low) and I can find no reference to the qualifier “wherever possible”.

    We have been conned, but never again!

  4. Bibhas Neogi Reply

    April 11, 2017 at 6:35 am

    I know most readers would be talking about houses and protection of green belt but too often transport infrastructure is neglected, as is the case in this exchange:

    Martin Giles: “So could that include widening routes like the A281, through the town centre?”

    Cllr Spooner: “Unlikely. We don’t want to knock down existing road side buildings. There are improvements in terms of flow that we can look at – traffic lights, as SCC have done recently, and there is modal shift, which we shouldn’t forget.”

    Have Surrey County Council and Guildford borough Council not considered a tunnel (or a tunnel like structure) to put the A281 underground so that the surface road could become pedestrian friendly?

    Yes, they have under the GOTCHA evaluations by their consultant WSP, but that option at the same time did not include a new east-west route to take the traffic away from the gyratory. I would ask Cllr Spooner, “Why not?” Why shy away from evaluating the most obvious solution?

    I understand that such a public announcement would not be fair before valuation of properties that are likely to be affected are made to avoid blighting them, but at least say that what the councils have in mind, in the usual political speak e.g. “We have not ruled it out and not ruled it in.’

  5. John Robson Reply

    April 11, 2017 at 9:47 am

    Surely the Conservatives would not renege on a Manifesto pledge!

    Now, “we’ll protect the greenbelt” is qualified with, “wherever possible”. More backsliding from a discredited administration.

    £2-4m spent on a “Local Plan” consultation, 32,000 comments received but the only voices GBC listens to are those coming from the developers of the three strategic sites.

    One of the said developers, the university, accompanied GBC on it’s recent junket to Freiburg.

    Can we expect GBC to remain impartial and objective when it keeps property developers who will generate hundreds of millions in profit through the desecration of the greenbelt, at such close quarters?

    “Wherever possible” is the answer, I guess.

    We should be careful what we vote for, or what we think we are voting for.

  6. David Burnett Reply

    April 11, 2017 at 12:18 pm

    Without an A3 or A281 tunnel, the A3 and Guildford will become one big traffic jam as a result of this plan. The big difference between the Guildford Conservatives and the Guildford Greenbelt Group (GGG) is that whilst the Conservatives are happy to slice up the green belt for housing (both through strategic sites and insetting) GGG are advocating to keep all of it. For them there is no “grey area” when it comes to green belt. That is why the group has my support.

  7. Valerie Thompson Reply

    April 11, 2017 at 5:20 pm

    GGG is the only viable party who are determined to stand up and try to protect our beautiful corner of England.

    I was appalled to read that almost no reduction in the number of sites within the green belt are to be considered, after all the the Conservatives have said about protecting it. This new phrase, “wherever possible,” is yet another example of the GBC planners trampling on the thousands of objectors, who commented on the last plan.

    Of course it would be possible if the council put its mind to it. What about the site of the failed pop-up village; what about the huge open-air car park at Waitrose? Both of these sites should have been designated for flats. I could go on.

    Shame on all those who approved this latest whitewash.

  8. Harry Eve Reply

    April 13, 2017 at 10:05 am

    So that is what SCC Highways have been doing – looking at traffic lights? Perhaps it is a new form of meditation or mindfulness. I had wondered as they have still not provided answers to the questions I raised, as part of the draft Local Plan consultation, concerning the transport assessment.

    There is a limit to what you can do with traffic lights with regard to synchronisation and efficiency – especially where you also need to cater, quite rightly, for pedestrians. Time dilation will not help and, as far as I am aware, Dr Who has no plans to join the Surrey Highways team.

    It is time to face up to reality.

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