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Letter: Are Councillors Apologists for Developers or Advocates for Residents and Voters?

Published on: 1 Sep, 2022
Updated on: 1 Sep, 2022

A CGI of proposed plans for “The Friary Quarter” at North Street

From: Ben Paton

Here’s the problem with Mr Rigg’s statements in his opinion piece Our Economy Needs the North Street Project and People Need Homes:

He says: “I agree we should have a height restriction.”
So what is the borough council doing about it?

He says: “…the proposed heights are not universally resented by the community”
Use of the passive voice (… resented by the community) and the negative (not universally resented) say it all.
Why not an active statement like “most of the community support this proposal”? Presumably because of the usual tacit acceptance that the council is going against the majority and is forcing this down its throats – just like the Local Plan.

He says: “I also agree that the planning appeal system makes it very expensive for councils to turn down applications.”
So why not revise the Local Plan to put in place standards to which the council can hold developers accountable?
Cllr Rigg has been in office for several years. Has he made any statement about the core policy on which he ran for election, ie revising the Local Plan?

He says: “It would not hurt the developer to indulge us to a degree.”
Why must the council beg developers for “indulgences” instead of putting in place standards which it can enforce?

He says: “Any scheme must be viable.”
So? Isn’t this a non-sequitur? The sales value of the project is £231.12 million. This sales figure is the result of multiplying out the number of units against the sales values in the table in The Dragon article 15 Storeys High But People At North Street Exhibition Say It’s ‘Good For Guildford’
What evidence is there to support the innuendo that a  more modest scheme would not be “viable” or anywhere close to “not viable”?
Presumably if one storey was removed the sales value would reduce by one fifteenth or about 6.7 per cent. Margins might not be affected at all. Would that move the viability needle at all? Building group pretax profits are around 30 per cent, among the highest of any industry in the country.

He says: “Developers already have to cope with volumes of planning rules and regulations.” Of course! They don’t do this for charity. They are amply rewarded for it. (And the Grenfell Tower victims still have not been compensated for the failure to implement building regulations.)

He says: “The North Street site was allocated in the 2019 Local Plan for up to 40,000 sq m (400,000 sq ft) of retail space.”
So? Why hasn’t the Local Plan been revised?

He says: “Storey heights may appear high but the developer has been pushed hard.” What is the concrete evidence for this statement? How hard?

He says: “This scheme has to cover the cost, among others, of underground car parking.”
Why? Parking facilities are a development choice. How many parking spaces are to be provided? How is this consistent with the implicit policy choice to reduce car dependency?

He says: “Homes for 1,000 people in a location vacant for 30 years is important and whether under a pitched roof or a flat roof I doubt the occupiers will mind too much, they want a home.”
Occupiers are in fact value-conscious. Some of them might well prefer to pay £50,000 less and not have a parking space in an underground car park. Some may even sell off their car parking spaces to non-residents. Does the council have a policy for this? Why conflate all these different and unrelated issues? (The vacancy of the site for 30 years, the importance of building homes, and the type of roof.)

He says: “Guildford’s economy desperately needs schemes like this and people need homes.” Guildford needs vacant brownfield sites developed. But the imputation that Guildford’s economy will benefit from the developer’s profits (c. £46 million) has no basis in fact. If the developer makes the usual 20 per cent post-tax margin it is a fair guess that not a penny of it will be re-invested in Guildford. The developer will just move on to develop a vacant site with the next highest net present value for it.

If the developer has a £6 million budget for PR it hardly needs a councillor to promote its project.

Are councillors apologists for developers or advocates for residents and voters?

The thing Guildford really “desperately needs” is a new and fit-for-purpose Local Plan.

Will it ever get one?

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test 2 Responses to Letter: Are Councillors Apologists for Developers or Advocates for Residents and Voters?

  1. J Holt Reply

    September 4, 2022 at 2:07 pm

    The same could be said for the head of the Environment Agency after his extraordinary recent comments about drinking sewage.

    He seems to be an apologist for the water companies’ appalling performances rather than the head of an agency protecting the rights of the population.

    It would be interesting to know more of his background. According to Wikipedia he has been a diplomat.

    There is no indication that he understands science.

  2. David Roberts Reply

    September 9, 2022 at 9:16 pm

    We know the answer to the question in the title. Cllr Rigg is the controlling mind of R4GV and the council Executive, including its wishy-washy leader.

    While willing to make excuses for future plans for the town centre, he could not be less interested in the orgy of over-development already destroying Guildford’s villages. By refusing to revise the discredited Local Plan, R4GV is just letting it happen.

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