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The Dragon Says: Silly Questions? Don’t Worry – Tell the Council Your Views Anyway

Published on: 12 Aug, 2014
Updated on: 15 Aug, 2014

Draft_Local_Plan_Page 1 350 longImagine you are a Guildford Borough councillor. Imagine, and this might be a bit tougher, you really want to represent your constituents views on the Draft Local Plan – not your view, your political party’s view or Westminster’s view.

Imagine that you are thinking up the best way to find out what most people in your ward actually want?

You decide a questionnaire would be a great idea. All right, it’s not original, but it will allow everyone to have their say and you want to encourage everyone, not just the well organised campaign groups but those who are very busy: mums with young children, those who return home late after working hard, or those who sometimes just shrug, finding politics, especially perhaps local politics, anathema.

So you get out a piece of paper, or your tablet if you are one of the few more whizzy councillors, and you start writing the questions. You want to make them interesting, provocative, inviting. You want to write them in an accessible style that will welcome and encourage response. Of course you do.

Dragon Says 470

Well, in a month of Sundays, I wager, you would never come up with this as the first question:

“Question 1: The evidence base
All Local Authorities should prepare a Local Plan for their areas. The draft Local Plan: strategy and sites document sets out how we can direct and manage development across the borough up to 2031, making provision for homes and employment and environmental assets. It is based on up-to-date evidence. Evidence contributing to the preparation of the draft Local Plan: strategy and sites, is listed in Appendix C.
Do you agree that the evidence used for the draft Local Plan: strategy and sites is adequate, up-to-date and relevant?”

If our council really and truly want the people of this borough to engage then this questionnaire is a disgrace.

There are even councillors who, we suspect, have not read, in any detail at least, much of the evidence base, let alone men and women in the Guildford streets. For the minority who have actually taken the trouble to pick up a questionnaire, how many, having read that opener, will think: “Oh this looks interesting, they seem to really want to know what I think”? Not many – and who can blame them?

If our council really and truly want the people of this borough to engage then this questionnaire is a disgrace. Who on earth signed it off as acceptable? It is not just question 1; nearly all the questions expect a level of familiarity with long winded, detailed local plan documents that most Guildford citizens simply will not have.

Guildford Borough Council have recently, at least, issued a summary document. It is still 19 pages but a lot more digestible than the full documents. However the questionnaire remains populated with questions that seem to demand you are some sort of Local Plan professor before you give an answer.

Opinion Logo 2The questions should have elicited views on the following key areas:

Housing – need do you think new houses should be built in the borough at a rate greater than the last decade, lower than the last decade about the same as the last decade? Should we prioritise local housing needs?

Green belt development – do you think that some green belt land should be given up for housing development?

Economic strategy – should more land be designated for commercial/business use?

Infrastructure – what are the biggest infrastructure problems that face Guildford Borough (e.g. road congestion, insufficient school spaces, insufficient health care, inadequate car parking, inadequate public transport).

Town centre redevelopment – what improvements would you like to see in the town centre? Should preference be given to retail businesses, public spaces, or homes; what percentage should be given to each?

What architectural styles should be encouraged? Modern and contemporary or traditional. If a mixture explain what styles in what proportions you would like to see.

Culture – What do you think can be done to improve Guildford’s cultural offering? e.g should there be a new art gallery, a new library, should more be done to support the theatre and other live entertainment and tourism?

Is there a site near you about which you have concerns? If so, please identify the site and explain what your concerns are.

We are sure you can think of others.

Are they simplistic? Yes, of course they are. Most of us are grown up enough to know that the devil always lies in the detail but at least with these kind of questions most people might feel that they have a chance of expressing their views, their aspirations, their priorities.

We have heard that the response rate to the questionnaire has been slow to date – well what a surprise. If they are asking all respondents to have read from cover to cover: the Evidence Base, the Draft Local Plan: Strategy and Sites document; the National Planning Policy Guidance; the National Planning Policy Framework and; the Key Diagram, who is qualified to answer? We have lives to lead for goodness sake.

But the Dragon says this: do not allow yourself to be put off by this very poor questionnaire. It is still important that you have your say before September 22.

The council says it wants to hear them so make sure they do. You do not have to answer every question. Question 7 on the questionnaire allows for “any other comments” so at least you can use that to give your views and, if appropriate, state which particular site concerns you. We encourage everyone to do so. Click here to link to: The Draft Local Plan consultation questionnaire.

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Responses to The Dragon Says: Silly Questions? Don’t Worry – Tell the Council Your Views Anyway

  1. Lisa Wright Reply

    August 12, 2014 at 2:08 pm

    Here’s a handy link to write to your local councillor

  2. Jules Cranwell Reply

    August 12, 2014 at 4:22 pm

    I could not agree more with this opinion piece. I’ve been a management consultant for over 30 years, and am highly accustomed reading and writing studies on complex issues. However, I struggle to come to terms with the Local Plan consultation.

    Asking questions like, “What do you think of the evidence base?” can only be answered after many, many hours of diligent study of many and varied documents. Very few will be able to find the time required for this, let alone gain access to any supporting documentation they would need to analyse the accuracy.

    They will assume the evidence base is accurate and unbiased. They would be wrong on both counts. Numbers are interpreted and manipulated to give the required answers. They have used out-of-date ONS [Office for National Statistics] figures for population forecasts, of which they were informed well in advance of publication of this daft Local Plan.

    Most unforgivable, is the proposed wholesale destruction of the green belt, without any evidence, or definition of the “exceptional circumstances”, required by the NPPF [National Planning Policy Framework]. How is the man in the street to cope with an acronym-filled mass of documentation: SHLAA; SHMAA; GBCS etc… etc…

  3. Jim Allen Reply

    August 12, 2014 at 11:15 pm

    I was told, by inside sources, that their consultants suggested they re-word the questionnaire but council officials refused.

    And for those amongst you that like the measure of a task, to answer the questionnaire properly, with due diligence there are, to read, 194 digital files, of documents, most in excess of 100 pages, that form 2.93 gigabytes of information.

    And yes I have read most of them via a “pdf” [portable document format] reader with the search option set to ‘Burpham’. Several months of reading nonetheless, to make sure nothing has slipped past.

  4. Sue Fox Reply

    August 13, 2014 at 2:41 pm

    As the current council seems to be impervious to what the electors want, there is only one way to influence the decisions. But it requires a bit of effort from councillors who don’t seem to understand communication.

    Each ward has one councillor who is on the planning committee. He or she should go through the Draft Plan and issue either an ‘In Touch’, ‘Focus’ or some other newsletter to the electorate in their ward explaining, in plain English, the impact on their electorate, with’ do you agree or not’ to each point and collate the responses

    I am afraid it means calling on voters to collect them but I have “been there, got the t-shirt”. It would be good PR – before election day. That’s democracy.

  5. G Moore Reply

    August 21, 2014 at 11:13 am

    It is suggested that the “consultation” is not soundly based on a proper plan and it is questioned whether “the evidence used for the draft Local Plan (strategy and sites) is adequate, up-to-date and relevant?” In fact, the inadequacy of the planning documents is even more fundamental than you suggest.

    The claim that the plan is “evidence based” has an Orwellian ring to it. Not only is the evidence largely unspecified, it is also very selective. It is an elementary principle that a plan should start with a thorough analysis of the strengths and weaknesses, threats and opportunities, which govern the environment in which the plan has to function.

    Where is this analysis? Where is the “evidence base” of the congestion on our current road and rail system? What are the existing bottle-necks? How would they be affected by a 24 per cent increase in Guildford’s population? What will the effect be of the massive house building that is already in progress in neighbouring boroughs such as Woking and Bracknell? What affect will the new housing developments in Cranleigh, Dunsfold and towards Horsham, have on traffic in to Guildford? As these issues are not discussed, do the planners not think they are relevant to our Local Plan?

    Without an overview of the scale of the congestion problem, it is difficult to assess whether the projects listed in the Infrastructure Structure (schedule B of the draft plan) will be in any way sufficient. Nor is there any estimate of whether funds that might be generated by the Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) and other sources could be sufficient to pay for what is needed. Granting planning permission for house building in exchange for the provision of “affordable homes” and the resulting CIL is unlikely to pay for the infrastructure in the immediate neighbourhood, let alone solve the resulting congestion problems created elsewhere.

    Does the fact that 89 per cent of Guildford is in the green belt impose any limitation on the amount of building we can absorb? Where is the reference in the plan to the minister, Nick Boles’ written statement of March 3 2014 “re-affirming green belt protection, noting that unmet housing need is unlikely to outweigh harm to the green belt”?

    If these constraints are not thoroughly analysed in the Plan, we can hardly complain if the government planning inspector does not take them into account when judging the adequacy of our housing targets.

    According to GBC planning staff, G L Hearn were chosen to produce the draft plan, because they are very experienced in what will be acceptable to central government (Waverley’s Local Plan has been rejected for having too low a housing target). By raising the target from 322 homes per year to 652, the plan should, of course, be acceptable to the current government, even if it turns out to cause total traffic sclerosis in the future.

    What is the “evidence base” that produces this absurd target? It is certainly not the answer to the question: what is our objectively assessed housing need?

    Guildford does undoubtedly need some extra housing to enable our local businesses to thrive, and we do currently need more subsidised housing for existing residents’ families, for changing demographic trends and to attract key workers. But two thirds of the proposed growth is to accommodate people coming into the Borough.

    Do we need these extra people? Or is it just a forecast of demand from outside the borough, which will be created by the availability of subsidised housing? The demand for subsidised housing is of course inexhaustible: after seven years the tenant has the “right to buy” (and resell at a substantial profit), and the requirement for more subsidised is thus re-created. This is not our need, it is central government’s perceived need.

    Does the Government’s much vaunted “Localism” mean that the local government merely has to decide how to do what central government tells it to do? Back to 1984 “double-speak” à la George Orwell.

    I cannot but conclude that the draft plan is fundamentally flawed and “consultation” no more than a cynical PR exercise to cover up a sinister government plan hatched between Westminster and the property developers, with which Guildford Borough Council are cooperating, regardless of the protests of the local electorate.

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