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Comment: Effingham Doublespeak – Its Ignored Plan Is Really Respected

Published on: 28 Jan, 2021
Updated on: 31 Jan, 2021

By Chris Dick

What is the point of a Neighbourhood Plan?

They take a lot of determination, time, and hard work by those who really care about their community, but there is growing concern, at least here in Effingham, that borough planners simply discount them as inconvenient and make their recommendations regardless.

This seems to be the case once again if an application to build 17 houses off Church Street in Effingham is anything to go by as observed at last night’s (January 26) online parish council meeting, the second this year.

Some of those present at meeting January 26

Joining the Zoom meeting as a reporter was in itself an interesting experience.

As I became visible to the gallery of faces I felt as wanted as Wyatt Earp entering the saloon in Dodge City. The press had arrived.

The chattering immediately ceased, the usual greetings frozen on lips, replaced by downward glances.  But unlike Wyatt, I was only armed with a notebook and pencil.

Prospective development site of the former school playing field in Church Street, Effingham

Preamble over, the chairman appeared to reluctantly agree with one of the councillors that it was time to discuss the Church Street field planning application.

Word had come through that the Guildford planning officers were minded to recommend approval of the application to GBC’s planning committee.

Under Effingham’s adopted Neighbourhood Plan a total of around 50 homes was planned.

But as the examiner had warned, developers were able to ignore the number of units in our plan. Berkeley Homes had applied for permission to build 295. It was refused by GBC but won on appeal. Now even that number is deemed too low and to make their project viable they say they need to build 405.

That’s just the background.

The Church Street site is in the centre of the historic conservation area and, under the Neighbourhood Plan, was allocated “up to nine dwellings”.

The local borough councillor, Liz Hogger (Lib Dem), also a parish councillor, assured those present that the planners had given weight, in planning terms, to the Effingham Neighbourhood Plan.

A lengthy explanation ensued as to how the village had gained so many benefits from the “significant improvements” in the Church Street application but the catch was the number of dwellings had almost doubled from the original nine to 17.

Cllr Hogger had heard that some residents were despairing; if this new application was approved then Neighbourhood Plans would become meaningless. But she disagreed.

In truth, the situation was a pig and applying lipstick was not going to help. This was apparent to others. A voice of reason came through loud and clear. It was almost Sgt Wilson asking Capt Mainwaring, “Do you think that’s wise sir?

“So could I just ask”, asked Cllr Charles Thorne, “should we, bearing in mind what Liz has just said, should we see the Neighbourhood Plans not as what we would see as best for the village but merely an opening negotiating position for prospective developers?”

Cllr Hogger replied by saying that would be unfair because developers were obliged to comply with the Neighbourhood Plan.

Mr Thorne retorted: “Well obviously not.”

And so it went on. Others chipped in although the chairman and vice-chairman maintained a strange silence. Fence-sitting can take concentration.

But at least one other councillor Paula Moss agreed with Cllr Hogger and Cllr Bronwen Roscoe mumbled a suggestion that it might be a good thing for the future if the plan were to be approved but she did not expand.

I felt I was watching a horse bolting down the lane and hearing the stable hands congratulated each other that they’d managed to save the doors from further damage.

The arguments bounced back and forth as it became clear that some in the parish council were intent on distancing themselves from its most recent well-written five-page letter of objection against the very same planning application.

And Ms Hogger summed up: “…so please don’t regard this as a defeat for the Neighbourhood Plan, on the contrary, it’s a victory in many respects for the Neighbourhood Plan…um … whatever happens to it in the end.”

Was it 1984, all over again? Were defeats really victories?

The borough councillor was not finished: “And I can assure you that officers now take our Neighbourhood Plan extremely seriously as they have demonstrated in other applications.”

Really? Would fearful planners at Millmead as they picked up the next application marked “Effingham” require a valium to calm the nerves? I doubt it.

The chairman of the Effingham Residents Association (EFFRA), Vivien White gave some different medicine. She said: “I’m listening with some concern.

“EFFRA put in a very strong objection on this and I understood the parish council did.

“We understood [the situation] very clearly when the parish council and the village agreed to go down to nine houses on this site. This was in full knowledge that the Local Plan was going to happen and that the village was likely to be inset. And therefore the nine, and I thought the Examiner made it very clear, that the nine was the figure. [The Examiner said that] you had a choice. You either went for the nine or you waited [for the Local Plan to be adopted].

“And you went for the nine.

“And what I thought the planning officer really did not bring out in the report was that the Neighbourhood Plan Examiner made a comment about that site, about other factors, which seemed to be the conservation area, which he felt would [be sufficient to] keep the numbers down.

“Now I’m very concerned because I’m down to speak at the Planning Committee meeting. [Pause] And I’m concerned that the parish council is now backing off on this.

“I was hoping Ian [parish chairman Ian Symes] would also speak very strongly to the borough councillors saying that they should be supporting our Neighbourhood Plan and turn this application down.”

Sharon Dick said later: “Whatever the positive spin the parish council wishes to convey regarding the Neighbourhood Plan, as a resident of Effingham I think it has been an unmitigated disaster. It is not what we signed up for and the parish council should no longer congratulate themselves over it. It is dead in the water.

“If only they had heeded the warning signs. They were always there. Developers one, parish council nil.”

An unattributed post on Effingham Residents Association’s website stated: “It also makes a mockery of policy ENP-H1 for only 50 new houses in Effingham up to December 2030 ignored by planning officials. This despite the fact that the Neighbourhood Plan was constructed with the full knowledge of what the Local Plan policies would be. They also decided that they would be no significant harm to the Conservation Area, nor to the surrounding historic assets.

“As this is a major test for the Neighbourhood Plan policies, how borough councillors vote will be closely followed. Will they support the Neighbourhood Plan, or will they support developer profits?” Guildford borough councillors will decide the outcome of the Church Street application at their planning committee meeting on Wednesday 3 February at 7pm.”

The meeting can be watched at: https://guildford.public-i.tv/core/portal/home

Chris Dick lives close to the proposed development site.

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test 10 Responses to Comment: Effingham Doublespeak – Its Ignored Plan Is Really Respected

  1. Jim Allen Reply

    January 28, 2021 at 3:50 pm

    Neighbourhood Plans. It’s all in the wording and the intention.

    Currently, Burpham’s is working well-supported by planning inspectors at appeal. I haven’t read the wording of the Effingham plan, but it sounds to me that it was written with the advice of “experts” who liked loose words. If, for instance, the wording was “maximum” and not “approximate” these things should not be happening. Thank goodness Burpham did it alone without the advice of paid experts.

  2. Liz Hogger Reply

    January 28, 2021 at 9:45 pm

    In fact, Jim Allen is wrong in his assumption. Effingham did not use any paid experts; the Neighbourhood Plan was entirely the result of a huge amount of effort from parish councillors and community representatives, with very significant consultation and input from Effingham residents. Please visit https://www.effinghamparishcouncil.gov.uk/planning/effingham-neighbourhood-plan/ to see this for yourself.

    I do utterly refute Mr Dick’s assertion that borough planners have discounted the Neighbourhood Plan as ‘inconvenient’ and made their recommendations ‘regardless’. I am sure that members of the Planning Committee will read the officer report very carefully, judge this for themselves and make their decision at the Planning Committee with an open mind to all the representations made.

    As members of the Planning Committee, we all have a democratic duty to make planning decisions on the basis of planning policy and law, being mindful of our responsibility to all residents of our local community and the wider borough, and not just to those who shout the loudest.

    Liz Hogger is the Guildford Borough Councillor for Effingham

  3. Jim Allen Reply

    January 29, 2021 at 1:57 am

    I apologize for any error but having read through the plan I can see no mention of “maximum” within any specific sites and no way of restricting housing density by way of each home has 1/3rd building 2/3rd open space or similar. Which leaves the developers wide open to insert more properties than would be considered acceptable.

    I would also add the Burpham Neighbourhood Forum makes comment on every planning application which contravenes, in Burpham, the spirit if not the letter of our plan, thus aiding the planning officers in their work.

    • Liz Hogger Reply

      January 30, 2021 at 12:37 am

      In response to Jim Allen I would say it is not a simple matter of Neighbourhood Plan wording. In 2018 when the Effingham Neighbourhood Pan was adopted, this site was green belt outside the settlement area, and the maximum number of houses that could be accepted as “limited infilling” was nine.

      With the adoption of the Local Plan in 2019 the site was inset from the green belt, meaning it was no longer appropriate to apply a specific cap. It will be up to the Planning Committee to decide whether or not the increased number of homes proposed is acceptable.

      Everything else in the Neighbourhood Plan site allocation policy, apart from the cap on the number of houses, remains in force, and that is reflected in the officer’s report.

      Liz Hogger is the Lib Dem borough councillor for Effingham

  4. David James King Reply

    January 29, 2021 at 10:15 am

    As a resident of Effingham for over 50 years, I am utterly amazed at Liz Hogger’s comments. The Effingham Neighbourhood Plan (ENP) was evolved through careful drafting and consultation with the residents of Effingham who clearly have an intimate knowledge of their village. The Plan was adopted by GBC and, as I understand it, is encompassed in the GBC Local Plan.

    The planning application for Church Street, in the Conservation Area of the village, does not comply with several policies in the ENP, not least the maximum number of houses for this site. For this reason, both Effingham Parish Council and Effingham Residents Association submitted strong, logical objections to the application.

    It beggars belief that the GBC Planning Department have totally ignored both the ENP and the wisdom of the local residents in recommending approval of this application.

    I trust that the Effingham Borough Councillor will vigorously make these points at the Planning Committee and that the other members of the committee will recognise the folly of ignoring adopted Neighbourhood Plans.

  5. Jules Cranwell Reply

    January 30, 2021 at 7:49 am

    GBC has form on ignoring Neighbourhood Plans. They have certainly done so in the Horsleys, where they have run roughshod over it.

    Cllr Hogger’s claim that throwing in the towel to developers is a “victory” is indeed risible to an Orwellian extent.

    What is really concerning is the allowed uplift of 40% on the Berkeley homes number. This is, of course, a precedent set by Cllr Moseley, when chair of the Planning Committee, who I recall said that the Local Plan numbers are a guide, not a cap.

    The logical conclusion of this is that all sites will be allowed to similarly inflate the numbers. For example, this would result in 2,800 homes on the Wisley greenbelt, which is what the developer has planned all along.

  6. Liz Hogger Reply

    January 31, 2021 at 4:32 pm

    I find Jim Allen’s attitude to GBC very sad. In Effingham, GBC officers gave us a huge amount of support when preparing our Neighbourhood Plan, and of course we were aware of the insetting proposal in the emerging Local Plan.

    It’s shown on the map on page 13 of the Effingham Neighbourhood Plan. The Neighbourhood Plan Examiner was obliged to treat the Church Street Field as a green belt site in line with the 2003 Local Plan.

    The GBC Planning Committee has been robust in supporting Neighbourhood Plan policies as far as possible. The real problem in all this is government planning policy expressed in the NPPF, and imposed on all of us by the Planning Inspectorate.

    Liz Hogger is the Lib Dem borough councillor for Effingham

    • Jim Allen Reply

      January 31, 2021 at 8:15 pm

      Writing as the coordinator for the Burpham Neighbourhood Plan, the first in Guildford, the obstacles placed before us are clearly documented and yes, it was very sad that, while making our plan, obstacles were placed before us, including:

      1. objecting a single potential answer of the 300 possible questions asked,

      2. requiring us to re-write the constitution again and again over eight months; only when we threatened legal action did they accept our constitution,

      3. refusal to confirm, from 2011 through 2016, that Gosden Hill was to be taken out of the green belt, just months after our plan was completed,

      4. the strange removal of some local green spaces due to size and access, contrary to the acceptance of larger sites and the National Planning Policy Framework,

      5. wildlife corridors reinserted by Martin Grant’s proposal, and

      6. alteration of our parking and cycle standards only for them to appear in the Local Plan.

      All this is clearly documented.

      It is sad indeed, that two departed senior staff members felt it acceptable to place so many obstacles before the Burpham Forum which was carrying out a legal function which required cooperation, not obstruction from GBC as our local planning authority.

      I noted that our plan was made at a cost below £2,000. GBC claimed it would cost £20,000. I believe that was to put people off the process.

  7. John Perkins Reply

    January 31, 2021 at 8:28 pm

    Planning authorities throughout the country have robustly supported Neighbourhood Plans, but I doubt many have resulted in less development.

    My own, admittedly cynical, view is that they are an exercise in futility whose main use is to identify the juiciest spots for developers.

  8. Stuart Taylor Reply

    February 1, 2021 at 8:15 am

    It seems that part of the issue, according to Cllr Hogger’s comments, is that the Neighbourhood Plan was adopted when the previous plan was in force. If so, it may be a good idea to re-adopt it and reference the current Local Plan to give it more weight. Could that work in the future?

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