Fringe Box



Letter: Budget Hole Suggestion Based on Incorrect Assumptions

Published on: 11 Sep, 2014
Updated on: 11 Sep, 2014

This is a response to an open letter: How The Council Can Fill Its Budget Hole written by Dragon NEWS reader, Neville Bryan following the announcement of a £6.5 million budget shortfall. Here Cllr Nigel Manning (Con, Ash Vale), lead councillor for asset management and finance, provides an open reply… 

openletter1From Cllr Nigel Manning

Dear Mr Bryan,

I set out below my response to your recent open letter published in The Guildford Dragon NEWS.

The projected budget deficit of approximately £6.5 million during the period 2015 -2019 is mainly as a result of the reduction in the Revenue Support Grant (RSG) which Guildford receives from Central Government.  The reduction figure for next year is known but  it has been anticipated that similar cuts will take place in the following 3 years.  It is sensible and prudent to look in advance at measures to reduce the effect of this anticipated reduction in (RSG) and how it may affect future budgets.

As I have been led to believe, the University of Surrey has approximately 2121 unbuilt student accommodation places from the 2003 planning permission.  This Planning permission has until 2020 before it expires.  No council can force those who hold planning permissions to build them out.  Even if Guildford Borough Council (GBC) could, on the basis that on average there are 3.15 students occupying a house (Government figures), only 673 houses would become available at best, as students do not have to, and cannot be forced to reside on the University campus.

You allude to students occupying between 1300 and 1800 houses in Guildford.  I am not sure as to the correctness of your figures.  However, using these figures and taking the same average of 3.15 students per house, this would suggest that if you could force students to reside on campus, which you cannot, this would amount to a requirement of between 4095 – 5670 additional student accommodation on the University’s campus which would require, after taking into account the existing unbuilt accommodation figure of 2121, accommodation for an additional 1974 to 3549 students for which no planning permission is held.

In addition, your calculation of the additional income of £1 -£2 million per annum, from which you suggest GBC would benefit if your suggestion was followed, would appear to be based on an incorrect assumption that the whole of the Council Tax paid by GBC residents is the income of GBC.  This is totally incorrect as only £149.58, based on an average Band D Council Tax, actually comes to GBC, the remainder goes to Surrey County Council, Surrey Police and Parish Councils. Even taking your wholly  estimated maximum figure of 1800 additional Council Tax paying homes, only around £260,000 per annum additional income is created and NOT the £1-£2 million that you suggest would be received by GBC if your suggestions were correct and able to be implemented.

Your ideas would appear based on numerous incorrect assumptions, but I hope the above clarifies the position.  Thank you, however, for your suggestions.

Nigel Manning

Guildford Borough Councillor

Ash Vale ward &

Lead Member for Asset Management and Finance

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Responses to Letter: Budget Hole Suggestion Based on Incorrect Assumptions

  1. Bernard Parke Reply

    September 11, 2014 at 11:46 am

    If this is of assistance may I mention that when I rang the GBC in 2012 I was told that there where 1300 or so student occupied properties on which no council tax is paid.

    Earlier this year I was given the figure of 1800 such properties.

    The figure given could have been incorrect. I have no way to verify them and took them in good faith.

    I was told that the shortfall was made up from the rate support grant, but I was also told that it was not possible to establish how much of this sum could be compared with the loss of tax.

    Many of these student lets are advertised by the number of beds and signs have quoted a much higher figure than the stated average of 3.15.

    Of course the lion’s share of our council tax burden is snapped up by Surrey County Council but the tax is still a burden which residents have to pay as a result of these lets.

    Again the cost to our borough is due to the failure of tenants to adhere to the basic requirement of such things as the disposal of rubbish etc.

    If the above figures are correct it absorbs our affordable housing stock. Homes which would be better suited to family life.

  2. Robert Burch Reply

    September 11, 2014 at 1:39 pm

    It is good to have clarification from Cllr Manning, as the debates around the local plan have often been devoid of facts. To help the debate, here are some more details on student accommodation.

    The 2003 Master Plan for Manor Park shows 4,790 student residences can be created of which (from studying the University’s accommodation website), 1,665 have been built so far, leaving 3,125 to go.

    Using the same 3.15 average occupancy figure as Cllr Manning, this is 992 homes potentially freed up if the university fulfilled its commitments. Whether the answer is this or Cllr Manning’s 672, this is a significant dent in whatever housing target is finally decided and should be taken seriously.

    Cllr Manning is right that Guildford Borough Council (GBC) cannot forbid students from living private rented accommodation, but they can do a better job of providing alternatives than has been the case to date.

    Oxford City Council have had a policy for over ten years that places a fixed cap on the number of students not accommodated in university controlled residences and it is encouraging that the draft Local Plan will take a lead from this (Policy 3 will require 60 per cent of university students to be on-campus. This policy needs to have real teeth, as Oxford’s does, by denying planning permission for new academic floor space unless the accommodation will be built and would be better as an absolute cap).

    Whilst, currently, GBC cannot compel the University of Surrey to build accommodation, it could have denied permission to build the new vet school on land with full, detailed planning permission for student residences. Instead permission for the vet school was given without a debate at the Planning Committee.

    As the saying goes, “where there’s a will there’s a way” – I hope that this example of very poor process by GBC will spur councillors to be willing to manage the development of the university in line with the needs of its permanent residents.

  3. Neville Bryan Reply

    September 11, 2014 at 5:57 pm

    I thank Cllr Manning for his reply and for clarifying the position. His answer however is somewhat disappointing.

    Mr Burch has already done a quick overview showing approximately how I arrived at the lower 1300, number with 992 adding to 270 staff residences which have not been built.

    If you go the other way, there are around 11,500 full time students, with 5,100 on campus, leaving 6,400 students living off university campus. At an average of 3.15 per house that is 2032 houses. Allowing for gap year students, and those living out of borough (and commuting in), Mr Parke’s number of 1,800 [given to him by the council reportedly] is very reasonable, and may also be low.

    My real concern here is that there is a very poor and lax attitude being taken by Guildford Borough Council (GBC) to this very serious problem. Taking the lower figure, 1,300 houses represents at least £1.5 million that could be collected in tax – wherever it goes. Given your reply, I wonder how Surrey County Council, and the police will view this loss of revenue?

    The revenue loss is only one part of the problem, of course.

    Commuting – To my knowledge this has never been measured, and the university has made commitments to restrict traffic growth to 5 per cent from the base line measured in 2003. The only survey done on Manor Farm, is done out of term time (June), which for all practical purposes is useless, and not fit for purpose.

    This was referred to in the recent planning meeting (August 20th), and remains unresolved. Will Guildford Borough undertake to do this survey for Surrey County Council Highways and GBC on a week day in November and March?

    Communities – The impact on local communities is also significant. You can easily judge this by the numbers of “To Let” and “For Sale” boards which go up in Park Barn, Onslow Village, and the rest. Adding in the 22 weeks unoccupied, there is no chance of these being the good vibrant communities Cllr Manning and his GBC colleagues talk about.

    Social Houses – The council Executive has repeatedly stated the need for social houses. Freeing these houses would also make Cllr Cready’s job significantly easier, as many would become available to the market for rent. I would welcome her view on this too. As a short term side effect, such an availability of rented property, would probably temporarily reduce the rental prices in the “to let” sector (not long term).

    Guildford needs these houses. The University of Surrey has 3,125 permissions on Manor Farm – and delivering them by 2020 was not the deal it promised in 2003. It promised to build them as needed, and it has grown 5,850 full time students since then, only building 1,665 residences the same period.

    Availability is not a problem. It has nearly 17 hectares of car park which could be built over (on stilts if needed to keep the car parks).

    The university will not do this when it thinks it can “land-bank” existing permissions on Manor Farm (as it has) and persuade GBC to keep supporting it (as it has) by allowing the veterinary school and helping to make a lot of money by taking the university owned Blackwell Farm out of the green belt in the local plan (and these 3,125 residences are not listed in the local plan either).

    Cllr Manning and the remaining councillors represent the people who elected them. I request that they apply immediate maximum pressure on to the university to correct this position.

    Mr Burch has given some idea’s. I am sure if there was a “will” there would be many others.

    The removal of support of university projects, like the vet school, is a start.

    Removal of Blackwell Farm from the Local Plan is essential anyway.

  4. Robert Burch Reply

    September 12, 2014 at 8:35 am

    To add to Mr Bryan’s comments, if we look back at the 2003 Manor Park Masterplan, the “indicative phasing” for building residences was for 3,300 to be in place by 2010. This was under a long-term plan to grow to 12,500 Full Time Equivalent (FTE) students.

    The current situation is that there are 13,576 FTE (full time equivalent) students (2011/12 figures – the University of Surrey has not published more up-to-date FTE figures). So we have more students, but less campus accommodation than planned.

    The result of this is that despite the new Manor Park Residences that have been built, the percentage of students living on campus has remained static at below 40 per cent, way off the 60 per cent envisioned in the Masterplan. However, as the total number of students has risen, the number not on campus has also increased, leading to the pressure on local communities and rented housing that Mr Bryan describes.

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