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Letter: A Tale of Two Thursdays

Published on: 24 Apr, 2019
Updated on: 24 Apr, 2019

From David Roberts

I feel a little sorry for Bob Hughes that his recent opinion piece The Local Plan is Vital for Guildford – Vote Conservative has not provoked a greater reaction from Dragon readers.  To judge by the temper tantrum which one of my neighbours reports her local MP threw on her doorstep recently, perhaps this is also the response his party is currently getting while out canvassing.

But Mr Hughes’s arguments deserve a response since they are made by a powerful local figure and are not all wrong.

He is right, for instance, to say that the Local Plan involved a “significant cost to taxpayers”.  He is right too that the Plan has been around, on exactly the same track, for eight years.  Indeed, the Tory idea of flogging off the green belt for development has its roots in the financial crash and George Osborne’s efforts to re-boot the economy through indiscriminate growth.

As early as 2011, a local green belt study proposed the removal of protection from two-thirds of our villages.  Two years later, the unfortunate Cllr Monika Juneja incorporated this in her “Issues and Options” proto-plan.  And despite her disgrace and (literally) tens of thousands of public objections since then, that is exactly where we remain six years later.  No-one can accuse our Tory council of inconsistency.

If the Conservatives were still credibly promising “strong and stable” leadership, this might even be admired.  But now?  To me, it starts to look more like the bunker mentality of a party time forgot.

In fact, I find it hard to accept any of Mr Hughes’s arguments in favour of the utter inevitability of the current Local Plan.  Taking these in order –

  • It is comic to suggest that this Plan “will ensure that the infrastructure we need to tackle the issues we face today is in place”.  A striking feature of the Plan, throughout its iterations, has been the lack of adequate provision for infrastructure of all sorts that 14,000 new houses will require.
  • In one breath he says that even a few days’ delay to approving the Plan would be “dangerous to Guildford”. In the next, he claims that “whether the plan is approved before or after the elections (on 2 May) does not change the decision that has to be made”.  So unless the Tories have developed an electoral death-wish, why not avoid obloquy and postpone it a week or two?
  • He says it is untrue that changes can still be made to the Plan but advances no convincing reasons.  Those of us who are not members of the “School of Tony Blair” will not be taken in by his reliance on unpublished, in-house legal advice, which might or might not prove right if tested in law, as no doubt it will be.  Even if it is proved right, politicians should not be hiding behind their lawyers.  Many things, including this Plan, may be perfectly legal but still unethical and politically stupid.
  • Mr Hughes concludes that this “is the only plan available” and should, therefore, be approved, promising “toxic consequences” for disobedience.  Now, where have we heard that argument recently, and how did it fly?  Our tired Conservative councillors are plainly suffering a collective imagination lapse since, as the inspector made clear, this is not the only Plan possible.  All I would observe is that, to date, delaying the Plan has caused far less damage than its implementation would, new versions of ‘TINA’ or ‘Project Fear’ notwithstanding.

So if the vote takes place, let’s see how many councillors vote sheep-like for this detested Plan on Thursday (April 25) – and then take our revenge coolly at the ballot box next week.

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