Fringe Box



GBC Committed to Exploring Possible Return of Development Sites to the Green Belt

Published on: 20 Feb, 2023
Updated on: 20 Feb, 2023

Part of the development site at Wisley. Could it be returned to the green belt?

By Martin Giles

Guildford Borough Council is to investigate whether sites currently earmarked for housing developments can have their green belt status reinstated.

It is also to consider whether the “housing need figure” can be reduced in light of evidence that has emerged since the adoption of Guildford’s Local Plan in 2019 that the population forecasts used were exaggerated as evidenced by Office of National Statistics (ONS) projections based on 2021 census data. Most significantly, he said, the numbers of students who would remain after their studies had been inflated.

Cllr Ramsey Nagaty

A motion tying the council to the two courses of action was proposed by the leader of the Guildford Greenbelt Group, Ramsay Nagaty. It was passed with a large majority at the February 8 GBC full council meeting. But the debate was not concluded without strong voices of opposition raised.

Following the meeting Cllr Nagaty said: “GGG were not alone in raising concerns over the impact on the environment, the green belt, the lack of affordable housing and supporting infrastructure and the justification for it all, but the ‘presumption in favour’ of development meant little appetite from councils to challenge the process.

“Authorities who resisted the temptation to approve an unpopular Local Plan are now pausing progress to see the results of the consultation, which, if approved will implement some significant changes this year, probably resulting in lower housing targets for many but higher targets for the largest 20 cities.

Cllr Paul Spooner

During the February 8 debate the Conservative group leader, Cllr Spooner (South Ash & Tongham) considered the motion, seconded by Cllr Tim Anderson of R4GV, a pre-election, political tactic.

He said that it was unnecessary as it was the actions proposed were part of the council’s policy to minimise development anyway and a review of the Local Plan was a legal requirement.

Cllr Spooner agreed with an earlier written response from lead councillor Joss Bigmore (R4GV, Christchurch) who had said “a significantly greater evidence base will be required to support any updated or new Local Plan”. This, he felt, was at odds with the proposed motion.

He concluded: “I cannot see how this helps this council by tying us up, so I do not support the motion.”

Cllr Jan Harwood

It was left for Cllr Jan Harwood (Independent, Merrow), former Lib Dem, former deputy council leader, and former Conservative, to show real anger and provide some entertainment: he could afford to, he is not seeking re-election and this was, he said, his last speech as a GBC councillor.

He first used sarcasm: “I’d like to congratulate Cllr Nagaty on learning how to write completely useless motions, probably learned from the Liberal Democrats. This motion actually achieves absolutely nothing.”

Turning to plain rhetoric he accused the GGG leader of “misrepresentation of the planning system as a whole” adding “this assertion that we don’t need housing or we have too much housing is demonstratively false”.

Having criticised both his erstwhile political parties, Cllr Harwood showed off his confusing harlequin political colours by defending the Local Plan, saying: “those locations [of the strategic development sites] were correct, ultimately”.

His finale was to accuse the GGG leader of arguing: “…actually, students are somehow the problem” in an attempt to “scapegoat them as some sort of evil villains who are taking over our town. It is I think, actually, not just outrageous, but downright insulting to our student population,” before ending, “So if we could please, for once in Guildford, admit what’s happening for real and just say, thank you for the Nimby’s comments, but not today.”

The speech was met with laughter, probably more because of the barnstorming style of delivery than the content.

Cllr Joss Bigmore

After the meeting, Cllr Bigmore said he thought it would be very difficult for sites to have their green belt status restored: “But we must try.

“I think the recent announcements by the Tories indicating a U-turn in planning are a cynical election ploy, and little if anything will make it into legislation.”

Along with Libe Dems Cllr Bigmore’s R4GV party colleagues had supported the motion unanimously and agreed that the evidence supporting the current housing number was incorrect. This was he said: “supported by the statistical regulator.  The data is stale and the methodology flawed, when looking at areas with large student populations.  The government must address the faults in the Standard Method of calculating housing needs.”

In a press release on their adopted motion GGG said: “Evidence of the need for unjustifiable levels of housing development began to fall apart as significant changes and real evidence emerged that did not sit comfortably alongside the theories and algorithms used to justify Local Plans.

“All across the country, people ask:

  • Where is all the affordable housing we were promised?
  • Why did it take a financial crash to reduce the cost of housing when we were told that increasing the supply would lower prices?
  • Who are we building all this housing for when Brexit saw an exodus, and many can barely afford to keep their heads above water yet alone buy a house?
  • We are an ageing population but where is the provision for this age group?
  • Why do we have to use public money to go to court to challenge exceptional circumstances and other vagaries, when they could be better stated?
  • What is acceptable height and density?
  • Does the opinion of existing residents matter at all?”

Sue Hackman

Sue Hackman speaking for Guildford Labour said: “The issue of how many houses we need here is perhaps easier than GGG thinks. We have around 2,000 on the housing list and we need 2,000 homes for them.  We need affordable rents and purchases because prices here are keeping too many people off the housing ladder and in permanent hock to landlords.

“It’s always good to review core policies, now and again. The problem in Guildford is that we spend more years arguing about policy than we do in implementing it.

“There is something seriously wrong with council consultation processes; they change very little and put people’s backs up. The current council is struggling to make headway on housing. It is always fighting off expensive appeals. On balance, we think the Local Plan is workable – it’s the council that needs changing, and the processes made more responsive.

“At the last election, the Liberal Democrats promised 3,000 council homes but delivered just 36, and sold off even more.  The GGG group itself has been pretty consistently anti-development but not pro anything we can see. That’s an abysmal track record. Time for a change.”

Asked byThe Dragon whether it was considered likely that sites like theirs at Wisley would ever again be given green belt status, Taylor Wimpey failed to answer the question saying: “Our proposals are the result of extensive engagement, and will deliver the homes and community that local families want.”

The Liberal Democrat and Conservative parties were also invited to comment.

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Responses to GBC Committed to Exploring Possible Return of Development Sites to the Green Belt

  1. Jim Allen Reply

    February 21, 2023 at 12:00 am

    The text in the NPPF simply put does not allow it. The removal of land from the Green Belt has to be for a time period greater than the life of one plan.

    The housing numbers can be forwarded or rolled over into the next plan. But returning land to the Green Belt will require changes to the NPPF. That was the true evil of the Local Plan!

    Much better to campaign to re-infrastructureing Guildford.

  2. Stuart Barnes Reply

    February 21, 2023 at 9:31 am

    At first glance this seems not only a sensible idea but brings up the question of why this does not happen automatically.

    The amount of building over our green land seems unstoppable. As an example I have just heard that the College of Law/University land is now being considered for development.

    Is there ANY party which will stand on a policy of no more development on the green belt at least?

  3. Ramsey Nagaty Reply

    February 22, 2023 at 11:32 am

    Just to correct Labour spokesperson Sue Hackman and Cllr Harwood’s puerile contribution to this debate, Guildford Greenbelt Group (GGG) has worked extensively to promote the right types of homes that Guildford needs in the right place, across Guildford Borough.

    Our priority remains sustainable sites preferably brownfield where there is supporting infrastructure existing or provided first and less dependence on cars.

    GGG is active on a number of GBC Housing task groups and committees where GGG GBC councillors advocate and emphasise the need for truly affordable homes for rent and purchase.

    GGG has consistently voted for development that is truly sustainable even voting in favour on difficult sites where the viability enables developers to minimise supply of so-called affordable homes (defined as 80 per cent of market rent or valuation).

    GGG supports and has worked on committees for the Weyside Urban Village and Guildford Park Road schemes funded by GBC to ensure they include 40 per cent affordable homes with a mix of rent or purchase, Housing Association and social housing.

    Ramsey Nagaty is the leader of GGG and the borough councillor for Shalford

  4. Jules Cranwell Reply

    February 23, 2023 at 5:19 am

    Now that GBC has accepted that the removal of green belt status was wrong, can we have an apology from the Tories who caused this mess with their ruinous and flawed Local Plan?

  5. Ben Paton Reply

    February 23, 2023 at 4:52 pm

    It appears that Cllr Harwood does not subscribe to the Rule of Law.

    The law requires councils to set a Housing Target. It prescribes how they must do it. The process includes making a “Strategic Housing Market Assessment” [SHMA] that covers housing need and constraints. It states that the starting point is the Office for National Statistics’ projections for population growth.

    Many people think that the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) is inadequate and imperfect. But unless you want anarchy and chaos you have to work with the rules as best you can.

    Cllr Harwood’s scorn for anyone who has the temerity to try to hold the Lib Dems or the Conservatives to account for not following the Rules/NPPF/Law in their disastrous Local Plan is just destructive.

    Elected representatives have a duty to try to improve matters not subvert the Rule of Law.

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