Fringe Box



Four Surrey Boroughs on Government’s Building Target Naughty Step – But Not Guildford

Published on: 12 Nov, 2021
Updated on: 15 Nov, 2021

By Julie Armstrong

local democracy reporter

Four Surrey boroughs are on the government’s naughty step for not building enough homes.

Epsom and Ewell, Spelthorne, Tandridge and Elmbridge are among 55 local authorities in the country to have significantly failed to meet their central government set housing targets but Guildford Borough Council, by building 90 per cent of its target, has escaped censure.

Cllr Joss Bigmore, leader of the council, said: “By meeting, or closely meeting the housing targets agreed in the Local Plan we have more power to refuse, what we would consider, inappropriate development.

“With a Housing Delivery Test score of 90 per cent, the power is firmly in our hands and we have been able to decide where development should go. We have developed an action plan to make sure that we continue to be in the driving seat so we can prevent inappropriate development.”

GBC graphic showing house building 2017-2020 against target (click on image to enlarge)

Spelthorne Borough councillors on Tuesday night (November 9) met to discuss its failure to build enough housing – and were greeted by scores of people protesting against high-rise housing.

Between 2017 and 2020, the number of homes built in the borough (786) was half the number said to be needed.

Tandridge also scored 50 per cent on the government’s housing delivery test while Elmbridge delivered 58 per cent.

Epsom and Ewell was the worst-performing, building just 34 per cent of its required housing.

As a result of falling below 75 per cent of expectations, all these local planning authorities are now required by government to have a “presumption in favour of sustainable development”.

This means planning applications for housing should be granted unless the harm significantly outweighs the benefits.

November 9 demonstration outside Spelthorne council offices against replacing Staines Debenhams with two tower blocks.  Photo: Howard Williams

At Tuesday’s meeting of Spelthorne Borough Council’s environment and sustainability committee, Councillor Tom Fidler (Lib Dem, Halliford and Sunbury West) warned: “A presumption in favour leads to community conflict.”

He anticipated more appeals as a result and, with them, increased costs for the council.

But he said councillors should not be willing to compromise over affordability and design standards.

Planning development manager Esmé Spinks said they have also been told to add an extra 20 per cent on to their annual housing requirement up to 2026 – meaning Spelthorne is now expected to deliver 733 homes a year rather than 611.

Cllr Michele Gibson (Con, Riverside and Laleham) said: “To me it just feels like mass hysteria – trying to meet a housing target regardless of quality of life, regardless of objections from residents.”

Members arriving at the meeting met with scores of demonstrators objecting to replacing the former four-storey Debenhams store with 226 flats in two tower blocks.

More than 2,400 people have signed an online petition to “Save Staines High Street from greedy developers”.

Howard Williams, who started the petition, said: “These will not be affordable homes for existing Spelthorne residents.

“These will not be family-friendly homes with any green space. Residents’ quality of life will suffer simply so that property developers can make more profits.”

As part of an action plan to address its housing under-delivery Spelthorne council expects to deliver 1,157 flats on land it owns in Staines town centre between 2020-2035, but these are still subject to planning approval.

This is 12.6 per cent of the 9,165 homes required to be built overall in the borough over the 15 years.

Cllr Sinead Mooney (Con, Staines South) had reservations, particularly about 650 dwellings proposed for Elmsleigh. She said: “Where on earth are they going to go?”

“It seems aspirational. It seems to be in conflict with what is being said very loudly and clearly by people in Staines.”

Cllr Kathy Grant (Lib Dem, Sunbury East) was also unhappy about the type of housing proposed for Staines. “It’s all flats, no diversity, which might be better for people going into the housing and better for people already here who do not want to see tower blocks.”

Committee chair Ian Beardsmore (Ind, Sunbury Common) responded: “And the question is, which green belt sites are you willing to release to provide that diversity?”

He said with an Inland Homes planning inquiry imminent, “We are stuck between a rock and a hard place”.


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