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Expert Barrister Gives Three Reasons to Review Guildford’s Local Plan

Published on: 4 Feb, 2022
Updated on: 4 Feb, 2022

Part of the former Wisley airfield site (also called Three Farms Meadows) which campaigners say should not be developed despite its inclusion in the Local Plan.

By Martin Giles

A residents group that has been campaigning for six years against development of the former Wisley Airfield have obtained fresh written opinion from an expert Queen’s Counsellor.

Wisley Action Group (WAG) claim that delays in the Junction 10, M25 improvements and doubts about the accuracy of housing need calculations have created uncertainty over the strategic sites, including Wisley, in Guildford’s Local Plan.

Three principal changes that have occurred since Guildford’s Local Plan was adopted in 2019 raise have affected and deliverability of the sites and should be reconsidered in any review.

Richard Harwood QC in 2017

That’s the opinion of barrister Richard Harwood QC in written advice he has given WAG on the scope for a review of the Local Plan.

He cites the high level of housing completions which are comfortably in excess of the 20/21 trajectory, an increasing basis for doubts about whether the housing need figures are too high, and the substantial delay [at best] or abandonment [at worst] of the A3 Guildford improvements and continuing delay in the M25 junction 10 decision.

He says: “There are two crucial developments which are due in May 2022: the M25 J10 decision and the ONS response on the Guildford and other housing figures. Both are vital components of any review – and may be delayed. It is not possible to review the Local Plan for the delay/abandonment of the A3 Guildford scheme in isolation.”

Tony Edwards

Tony Edwards a spokesperson for Wisley Action Group said today that the written advice from Richard Harwood QC should sound warning bells on the potential delivery of strategic sites in any review of Guildford’s Local Plan.

“The levels of uncertainty spotlighted by Mr Harwood cannot be ignored if Guildford hopes to produce a coherent and workable plan within a reasonable time frame. We need to see positive action, based on clear and established facts, rather than what appears to be ongoing navel-gazing and delay,” he says.

Guildford’s controversial Local Plan has already been called into doubt with specific reference to an over-estimate on housing need.

“We await comment from the Office of National Statistics [ONS] on probable over-estimates of population growth in the borough – as expected to be confirmed by the 2021 Census,” says Edwards. “The Office for Statistics and Regulation [OSR] has already found that estimates for Guildford ‘seem to be inconsistent with and potentially higher than local evidence would suggest’.

Cllr Joss Bigmore

Leader of the Council, Cllr Joss Bigmore responded: “I am grateful for Wisley Action Group sharing this advice much of which aligns with what we have already stated about the review of the Local Plan and the potential for subsequent update.

“Our review is not to be limited to simply assessing the transport impact of the A3 scheme being excluded from the Government’s Road Investment Strategy.  We have already said we will take all relevant factors into account when assessing which evidence to review including National Policy and guidance set out by the National Planning Practice Guidance.

“As the advice acknowledges, we do not yet have all the necessary information and evidence to undertake this review and there are a number of important uncertainties. This includes potential changes to National Policy, in particular how housing need is assessed following criticism by the Office for Statistics Regulation, and the results of the review of the transport evidence which we expect in the summer.

“We are aware that there are both potential risks and benefits associated with a review and update.

“In line with the council resolution from last year, we have sought our own expert independent advice on this matter which we are currently considering.  We will bring our strategy to progress the review and any subsequent update back to council on April 5.”

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