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Guildford Greenbelt Group Announces Plans For Candidates At Next Year’s Local Elections

Published on: 23 Nov, 2014
Updated on: 23 Nov, 2014

The Guildford Green Belt Group (GGG) has announced that it plans to field candidates in most rural wards and some urban ones at next year’s borough council elections.

GGG logoThe announcement was made at a joint meeting of GGG and the Save Send Action Group to discuss Guildford Borough Council’s proposed Local Plan.

Held at Send Social Club on Tuesday, November 18, the speakers included Andrew Proctor, spokesperson for the Send group and a committee member of GGG.

He said: “Our mission is to preserve Send’s green belt and prevent alterations to its size or boundaries by ensuring that any development in Send parish and its surrounds is appropriate and proportionate and sustains the amenity of village life.

“Our campaign so far has been very effective and this is thanks to all of you who have objected, written in, delivered leaflets, displayed posters and protested at and attended the GBC meeting.

“Sadly this is just the beginning. The plan has been delayed while GBC considers its next steps and employs yet more consultants at taxpayers expense to counter the objections we have raised. We cannot win this battle in isolation. The Local Plan is borough wide and I believe we simply cannot do an effective job of defeating the Local Plan on our own. Development in all the surrounding villages will impact on us just as ours will impact on them. We need to take a wider approach which includes all parts and all villages of the borough.

Speaking on behalf of GGG, Mike Bruton, a former Tory county councillor representing Burpham and Merrow, said: “Having observed Guildford Borough Council in action I am disappointed by what I have seen.

“Councils can operate via a committee system where all councillors are involved in decision making and many councils operate in that manner. The last Government changed the law to introduce an optional executive system and that is the system within Guildford.

“In an executive system the elected leader picks a cabinet of around nine people . His/her choice. Those nine people make most of the decisions. In fact GBC needs only a quorum of three cabinet members to make decisions. So power is fairly narrowly controlled in such councils.

“The Executive can ignore what other councillors say and in fact have done so. Guildford Council has for example a scrutiny committee which naturally scrutinises. That committee can have its views totally ignored by the Executive.

“This is what GGG’s petition is all about. We are calling for a referendum of all GBC electors. If a majority who vote do so in favour of our petition then GBC will revert to a committee system. We need 5% of GBC’s registered electors to sign the petition and the council will be compelled by law to hold a referendum.”

Susan Parker

Susan Parker

Susan Parker, who chairs the GGG, urged those present to get behind its campaign. She said: “Send has done amazingly well in terms of getting your community aware of the problems in the draft local plan. It’s really encouraging driving through Send and seeing the strength of feeling evidenced by so many posters.

“We know that the first draft local plan has been withdrawn, and will be redrafted. We know it will be reissued in June 2015. That may feel like a victory –but it is a battle not the war.

“The new local plan next June may not change that much from what you have seen. And as you probably know, some development –for example on clearing the woodland on the new Vision Engineering site – is under way.

“A questionnaire on housing need published on November 3 by Guildford Borough Council is still quoting 650-780 as Guildford’s objectively assessed housing need, even though the draft combined SHMA has not yet been issued. So the number that was so discredited in the strategic housing market assessment is still in place.

“A new plan in June 2015 seems just to be a way of avoiding the impact of this plan at the ballot box. Who is really responsible for where we are?

“Guildford Borough Council blames the National Planning Policy Framework and historic government policies –with some fairness. But note over the last six months, government spokesmen– particularly Eric Pickles and George Osborne – have radically changed their emphasis. GBC blames planning inspectors – we have been repeatedly told that we have to have aggressive housing development in Guildford because our plan has to be sustainable – which is defined as meaning profitable – and inspectors will push for high housing numbers. But Government controls the planning inspectorate. And we are told repeatedly about perceived need.

“Government, in its turn, blames local decisions on local councils. We are told by our MPs and ministers that the Localism Act means it is only local government which has the power to make decisions on behalf of local people. Government spokesmen tell us building is dependent on only objectively assessed housing need, but that there is a housing crisis.

“So if both local and national government are passing the buck – who is making the decisions? Perhaps it is the housebuilding lobby?

“In practice, our local decisions are heavily influenced by the Local Enterprise Partnership, a government quango set up to make regional policy. Our LEP – the M3 LEP – has two housebuilders out of four on the planning committee.  National government is also influenced by the economic influence and -donations from – the housebuilding lobby.

“But is it really needed – and is it inevitable? No. Government statistics indicate that there are one million empty homes currently in the country. Apologists for the housebuilding lobby will tell you that those empty homes may be in the wrong place. But 70% of new homes in London are sold to non-resident investors, and those homes are currently sitting empty. There are thousands of empty luxury flats owned by overseas investors. If these were immediately released for sale or rent there would be a drop in house prices (good for affordability) and a rush of supply to the market. There is enough brownfield land in the UK for another 1.5 million homes – that’s a government statistic – not that housebuilders need it (Persimmon – for example – has a 10 year land bank, which it will develop gradually as it becomes profitable to do so). All housebuilders are sitting on undeveloped planning permissions, some of which are anticipated to be rolled out over the next 15 years. Solving any housing crisis starts with them.

“Is the brownfield that we do have in the wrong place? No. In a ranking of nine English regions, the South East ranks first and London fourth in the available brownfield hectares suitable for housing. In Guildford, we have an estimated 60 hectares next to the station suitable for homes. Stephen Mansbridge [the leader of GBC] has said that Berkeley Homes estimate that this has the capacity to take 15,000 homes. I don’t want 15,000 homes in central Guildford – but if this is the capacity of the town, why are we considering any green belt development at all?”

Speaking about GGG’s plans to field councillors in next year’s borough council elections, Susan said: “We plan to field candidates in most rural wards and some urban ones – we are planning to field two candidates in Send as councillors.

“We won’t be opposing existing councillors that have an established track record of protecting the countryside, supporting and listening to their local community. But we will oppose councillors that have suddenly grown a conscience and started to listen. We think if we couldn’t trust them before we threatened their cosy status quo, we won’t be able to trust them in the future.

“This isn’t just a concern for rural residents. We think we are speaking for all the residents of Guildford. After all, it is the existence of the countryside that means that our town is a town. If the local plan goes ahead, then the tentacles of London will stretch from Leatherhead – through Bookham, the Horsleys, Send, Ripley, Ockham and Clandon, through Gosden Hill, Blackwell Farm, Normandy, Fairlands and Ash to Aldershot.”

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Responses to Guildford Greenbelt Group Announces Plans For Candidates At Next Year’s Local Elections

  1. Stuart Thompson Reply

    November 23, 2014 at 3:30 pm

    If Susan Parker thinks that she is speaking for all the the residents of Guilford then she is deluding herself. I have lived in central Guildford for many years, I do not agree with her and I object to her claiming to know what I think.
    This seems to be an example of a trend in the Guildford Dragon; self-appointed groups with grandiose titles claiming, or otherwise purporting, to speak for the wider public. Your recent headline coverage of the views of The Guildford Society on the station redevelopment is another example of this genre.
    It is clearly right for you to publish such views, but surely you owe it to your readers, and to the general level of public debate, to put them in context. May I suggest that, in future, you also publish the number of current members of the group concerned, perhaps expressed as a percentage of the total population of Guildford. Readers will then be able to judge for themselves with what authority the group speaks.

    [Editor: That’s a good point Stuart. Our aims are always to be as balanced as possible and we welcome comment from all people, for or against the issues as reported. As part of our coverage on such debates we also publish interviews from time to time with people from pressure groups as well as councillors, and so on.
    However, to add data on numbers of current members of groups aligned to each story is not normally the practice of local media – print, radio, TV or on-line. It is something perhaps worth considering, but where would it stop? At every occasion should we give details of the population of the borough of Guildford, data based on the most recent census, and so on?
    We hope that readers, if interested, would seek that information themselves. We do, as far as possible, add links to various groups’ or organisations’ websites, so that readers can quickly find more details about them to help them form their own opinions.
    We accept that groups such as GGG and The Guildford Society are always upbeat on the issues they are campaigning about and that is, of course, reflected in their comments. We hope that readers accept that.
    To ensure balance and fairness of the debates about these important issues, it is important to hear that there are people who do not support the aims of, what we and most media refer to as ‘pressure’ or ‘campaign’ groups. (There was a time when they were often referred to as ‘rebels’).
    All views are welcome here. It would be interesting to gauge how many have no fears over proposed development and the expansion of housing and other building projects across the borough.
    Would there be enough support, for example, for an ‘anti save the green belt group’ to get itself up and running? Are people with such views interested enough to do just that, or willing to stand up and make a stand?
    Perhaps this debate could continue in the first instance with our ‘pressure’ groups stating the level of support they have.]

  2. Jim Allen Reply

    November 24, 2014 at 9:09 am

    While I applaud the base principle of GGG, one must remember that the Wey valley flood plain (Slyfield link road) and Gosden Hill are also in the green belt.

    If GGG is going to be serious about its core principle of protecting the green belt, it must be as vocal against the above named sites, as it is about Send, the Horsleys and Blackwell Farm.

    Selective use of its core principle is unacceptable to those who will suffer by its weighty application of ‘wallet and knowledge’

    We await GGG’s actions after the elections.

  3. Jules Cranwell Reply

    November 24, 2014 at 9:37 am

    Groups such as the GGG are needed when we have councillors purporting to reflect the views of the ‘silent majority’.

    As a member of GGG, I can attest that the number of supporters is sufficient that over 19,000 objections, largely reflecting the views of GGG, were recorded by GBC in response to the Daft Local Plan.

  4. Lisa Wright Reply

    November 24, 2014 at 7:25 pm

    It seems that everyone will get their chance to have a say at election time.

  5. Peter Knight Reply

    November 24, 2014 at 9:18 pm

    Stuart Thompson – I completely agree – why should people in the town be forced to live in increased densities whilst the likes of Susan Parker (who may I add lives in the green belt) refuse development.

    Furthermore, it’s interesting that these groups who said they supported mass housing in Walnut Tree Close (a brownfield site) as an alternative to building on green belt start to complain about the latest station plans (being too tall) – hopefully this lot are a dying breed as it’s not the younger generations that agree with this nonsense.

  6. Garry Walton Reply

    November 28, 2014 at 3:05 pm

    The Green Belt was designated so as such to prevent a concrete sprawl across the whole country, and a blur between town and country, it is a benefit to all. A place to escape the city or town. Both have a function and are used by all.
    The real housing requirement for Guildford is actually much smaller if the figures are not based, as they are now, on uncontrolled immigration projections.
    Before we concrete over agricultural land is it not worth exploiting all the possible brownfield sites first?
    I would like the next generation to have both not just one.

  7. Garry Walton Reply

    November 28, 2014 at 3:46 pm

    If you once forfeit the confidence of your fellow citizens, you can never regain their respect and esteem. It is true that you may fool all the people some of the time; you can even fool some of the people all of the time; but you can’t fool all of the people all the time.
    Abraham Lincoln,

    5.5. 2011 Conservative Manifesto. Leader Stephen Mansbridge.
    Housing. Continue to protect The Green Belt.
    To preserve gardens and The Green Belt we will continue to work on finding brown field sites that can support housing instead.

    Jan 2013 Council Leader Stephen Mansbridge said: ‘Some parts of the Green Belt are not great and could be used for building’. Cllr Juneja has said ‘There are some areas of the green belt which are not very nice and maybe we could roll back the boundaries.’”

    13.1.2013 Councillor Stephen Mansbridge said he wanted to warn people that ‘green belt land may have to be used’.

    25.11.14 Cllr Stephen Mansbridge.
    “I can state categorically that no site will come forward for development within the green belt, any Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty or area of flood risk unless it has been fully reassessed against the planning practice guidance as amended in October,” said Conservative council leader Stephen Mansbridge.

    I will be voting GGG

  8. Peter Shaw Reply

    November 30, 2014 at 7:58 pm

    Great comment by Garry Walton, sums up the antics of Cllr Stephen Mansbridge and the ‘Executive’ quite well I feel.

    The Local Plan is (and should be) politically subjective, however the evidence based documents that support the Local Plan should be based on credible and factual data. Something which was lacking in the last draft and consultation… how are we (the citizens of the borough) supposed to make informed decisions if we are misled with subjectively based evidence documents, which was the case with the last draft of the SHMA (the document that recommends the annual build rate of new homes).

    At the moment citizens are worried about the number of new homes, be they from rural communities or from urban areas, but the housing data used in the SHMA in the Local Plan (and from all reports the joint SHMA to be released soon), is still based on office of National Statistic Data 10-30 year forecast data which was miscalculated. Which ONS has recognised and informed GBC about. Yet the consultants used by GBC to create the SHMA (GL Hearn) have so far ignored this and by design or by sloppy work have so far refused to update their models to correct for the inaccurate demographic forecast model for Guildford. It is this lack of action by GL Hearn and instruction/management by GBC that has caused so much worry/confusion and anger borough wide.

    GL Hearn churn out SHMAs for many other boroughs and their models do not take into account that Guildford is a University town with a spike in demographic of the student population age. It is this spike that is propagated through ONS forecast data, GL Hearn models and GBC Local Plan consultations…

    We have no idea if the new housing number should be 322 (as was battled for in the High Courts) or 800+ new homes per year (initially peddled by GBC in the first revision of the Draft SHMA earlier this year).

    Now that Cllr Stephen Mansbridge has decided to kick this whole affair into the long grass, local citizens are left in limbo and the worry and fears will only grow, being whipped up into a fury over the ballot boxes. Where town will be pitched against countryside, East pitched against West, over inflated housing numbers that may never be actually required. For all we know the actual housing number need may be in fact low and existing brownfield sites and planning permissions may fill the need. But unless GBC get a move on and release updated accurate figures, this election in May will be fought on inflated fears, prejudices and party lines and we as citizens of the borough will be worse of. I would like to see all the facts on the table before the election and let people of the borough decide how they want their Guildford to look like over the next 30 years.

    In my opinion Guildford needs;
    1. Existing planning permissions need to be built on or GBC should claw them back. Letting developers sit on land banks with planning permission and inflate prices is unfair to most of us.
    2. A SHMA with reliable data needs to be put in the public domain for scrutiny and comment.
    3. The University should build Halls of residence at a greater rate than the rate of growth of the student base. This would ultimately free up housing stock (currently used by student housing) for the rest of the borough.

    Exactly for Garry Waltons comments I will not be voting Conservatives and because I’ve been inspired by GGGs dedication to the public cause with there due diligence, research into the subject and their presence in the Council Chamber, willing to step up and speak out I will be voting for them in the May 2015 Elections. I hope others will do the same…

    • Adrian Atkinson Reply

      December 3, 2014 at 9:05 am

      By the sounds of it the “new” draft joint SHMA may see a higher housing number for Guildford (and Waverley) when it is published on December 18.

      But it seems like the councillors wanted the “presentation” and “readability” improved when it was presented to them this week.

      What’s that saying about sow’s ear and a purse?

      Let’s hope they publish the raw data, the model and the logic of any conclusions rather than a Coles Notes version glossing over the detail.

  9. Ngaire Wadman Reply

    December 2, 2014 at 6:04 pm

    This was an excellent meeting by a very promising group. I agree strongly with the aims and ambitions of GGG – community representatives as councillors, working for the direct benefit of each ward without fear or favour of political party lines.
    Guildford UKIP supports very much the same aims as GGG, especially the restoration of direct democracy at GBC, and we’re happy to work alongside them in whatever capacity they may wish. People, not party, should govern our lives.
    ‘Government OF the people, BY the people, FOR the people’ – John Wycliffe’s goal from 1384 has never been more apt.

  10. Susan Parker Reply

    December 3, 2014 at 11:53 am

    Without any disrespect to any party or individual, it’s important to stress that GGG is not affiliated to any existing party. We have no links whatever to any other party or political group.

    • Ngaire Wadman Reply

      December 4, 2014 at 11:10 pm

      Absolutely. No links were intended to be inferred – merely agreement with the common principles.

  11. Annie Cross Reply

    December 6, 2014 at 12:57 am

    Surely the common sense answer is for proportional housing development between urban and rural areas. Shouldn’t we work together rather than develop a “them and us” scenarios.

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