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GGG Alone Remains Against Delaying a Review of the Local Plan

Published on: 20 Apr, 2022
Updated on: 23 Apr, 2022

By Martin Giles

The leader of the Guildford Greenbelt Group says his party remains implacably against a delay in a review of the Local Plan. His party believes that it is worth taking the risk that a review could increase Guildford’s housing target.

Cllr Nagaty (Shalford) was responding to a council press release which said that its decision to delay a review was because a recalculation of the housing target using the government’s “Standard Method” may result in a much higher target number than is currently the case, a key point made by a leading planning barrister who was consulted by GBC.

Cllr Ramsey Nagaty

Explaining his position, Cllr Nagaty said: “There are exceptional circumstances which Guildford could apply regarding constraints to the housing requirement.”

He set out five reasons to back his party’s stance:

  1. Guildford has a low and declining birth rate;
  2. The housing number has been increased by the inclusion of foreign students who do not require a home within five years and would be expected to return to their native country;
  3. There is a climate emergency and our current local plan will not reduce car dependency as they are not allocated in sustainable locations;
  4. Guildford has evidenced air quality issues affecting our main routes through and across the borough;
  5. The expected infrastructure is not coming forward, and many sites may therefore not be deliverable within the plan period.

But GBC has decided to delay a formal review until 2024. In the meantime, the council will continue to look at the evidence base, an essential first step before the review. Activity will include:

  • work to understand retail, leisure and employment changes in the borough;
  • working with Surrey County Council and National Highways to review the transport evidence;
  • developing plans for the town centre through “Shaping Guildford’s Future”.

GBC will also continue to develop the second part of the Local Plan the “Development Management Policies” which, once adopted, will help support the council’s decision on planning applications and guide developers.

Cllr Joss Bigmore

Joss Bigmore (R4GV, Christchurch) who leads the R4GV/Lib Dem coalition at GBC, said: “The debate on when to review the Local Plan was very difficult, we could all see both sides of the argument. The legal advice that we received was difficult for many of us to hear. Our decision, whichever one we made, was going to have important consequences.

“However, I believe this is the right decision for the borough as a whole. Sadly there are some areas [of the borough] that are much more affected by the current Local Plan than others.

“There are a number of factors that could cause the balance of risk to change and we must be nimble to take advantage of any opportunity. The government proposals to change housing need calculations and changes to the plan-making system may cause us to revisit our approach. If there are significant changes before 2024, we must be able to respond swiftly.”

Howard Smith campaigning in 2017

Howard Smith, vice-chair of Guildford Labour, criticised the Residents for Guildford & Villages party for breaking its promises. He said: “This is what happens when rash and reckless election promises collide with reality.

“It’s a pity that the R4GV promise to voters, whether stated or implied, to throw out the Local Plan, or to review it, has taken an agonising three years to hit a dead end. Something Guildford Labour could have told them it would all along.

“Much like the Liberal Democrats’ promise to build 3,000 council homes in Guildford, it’s easy to magic up unworkable promises to win votes but they come back to haunt you eventually.

“It’s sad that so much council officer time and effort – not to mention public money – has been needlessly wasted. Thousands of pounds thrown away on legal advice now reluctantly accepted when the conclusions were already obvious to anyone but the current council leadership.

“While the administration infighting will doubtless continue over this plan our focus has to be on pressing for more good quality social homes, the provision of which seems to have ground to a halt since the last election.”

Bill Stokoe

Reluctantly accepting the need to delay a review, Bill Stokoe, chair of the Guildford Vision Group, laid blame on those who adopted the Local Plan in 2019.

He said: “The wholly inadequate town centre policy in the 2019 Local Plan means that initiatives like the emerging Masterplan, “Shaping Guildford’s Future”, can only achieve formal planning policy status following a review of the plan, including public consultations, to allow a more effective and comprehensive town centre policy.

“This is an unnecessary, even unforgivable, delay that is a direct consequence of the April 2019 Plan adoption, just days away from the dramatic local elections. The latest legal advice simply confirms that to try and roll back from the adopted Plan would be nigh impossible.

“With minimal, if any, chance of any sort of “win”, any challenge would be an injudicious use of constrained council funds. A challenge would inevitably further delay legitimising the Masterplan and other similar enhancements, especially in the case of infrastructure.

And the GVG chair ended on a more positive note: “We are now on the cusp of significant and progressive change in Guildford, after decades of inertia, procrastination and deterioration. The changes include the development of North Street, Guildford Park Avenue housing, the Debenhams application, the Plaza approval and a start on the Solum scheme at the station.

“Each scheme, they’re not all perfect by any means, nonetheless delivers much-needed homes, and will help reinvigorate the town economy while saving the green belt.”

Alastair Smith, chair of the Guildford Society agreed that the council had little option: “The Society believes the current Local Plan has serious flaws.  However, after appeals turned down in 2019 and the latest advice given to GBC, it appears better to concentrate on making the best of the current plan.

“Housing Numbers do seem to be suspect, especially with the desire of HMG to ‘Level Up’.

“The council needs energetically to be proposing plans and policies from the “Shaping Guildford Future Exercise” which will provide sustainable housing in the town and urban area.  Allocated strategic sites in the Local Plan, bordering the town, that can be sustainable, need to also be bought forward.

“Sorting out how to use the town and urban area to provide housing appears to be the only viable option to protect Guildford from yet more encroachment on the countryside.”

But Cllr Nagaty remained critical: “The National Policy on housing targets is fuelled by the development and housebuilders lobby who provide the Conservative Party with substantial political donations. Building more houses is not reducing prices to make them more affordable as new builds approved under the Local Plan will testify.”

The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) sets a requirement that each local authority produces a Local Plan to help govern decisions made on future planning applications and which types of development are suitable for each area.

The Local Plan: Strategy and Sites (2015 – 2034) was adopted in 2019. The second part, the Local Plan: Development Management Policies, sets out the detailed development management policies for the whole borough. Comments from our consultation that ended in February 2022 are being reviewed by the Planning Policy team. Part 2 of the plan will be submitted to the Secretary of State for consideration by a planning inspector as part of the Local Plan examination.

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