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Letter: Not Building on the Green Belt Is Like Saying Don’t Have Children

Published on: 2 Sep, 2014
Updated on: 2 Sep, 2014

Guildford Cathedral from the air 1950sFrom Pete Knight

Is the picture of the cathedral in the 1950s really that shocking? [see – Letter: How Much More Expansion of Guildford Will There Be?] The two fields to the south, as I recall, form the cathedral grounds and still remain empty while the remaining fields form the University of Surrey which is situated in ‘open park like grounds’. Let’s not forget the benefits the university has brought to Guildford in terms of jobs and commerce.

Not building on the green belt is like saying don’t have children (unless you want them to live at opposite sides of the country). We cannot satisfy our housing demand by just building flats on brown field – with a number of these sites in the Walnut Tree Close floodplain.

Green belt development is the only option but only in the right circumstances and locations. Leading experts including the RICS [Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors], Guildford Borough Council and the government has recognised this. It’s a shame that the unelected Nimbys, many of whom live in former green belt expansions that are now accepted, seem to feel they are better placed to decide.

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Responses to Letter: Not Building on the Green Belt Is Like Saying Don’t Have Children

  1. Adrian Atkinson Reply

    September 2, 2014 at 3:47 pm

    But the rise in the projected population is not based up on having children (birth rate) less death rate. The majority of the population growth seems to be from migration into the borough much of it international. The university growth is 50% of the growth in the population with the majority from outside of the area. ONS data:

    2001 Students = 7004 Population =129,800
    2011 Students = 10727 Population = 137,200

    Student Growth = 3723 or 50.3% of Population growth of 7400 over the same period. This is not birth and death related.

    The university wants to expand by at least another 3300 students in the next three years (SHMA Appendix C). Where are these students going to live? It will not be on the campus as the university promised.

    If you take the majority of these students out of future population projections (they move elsewhere like the majority of students) and existing students are housed on campus (60% of them) then the housing need is dramatically different.

    No-one is saying no growth for the borough especially for affordable housing or offering radios for only having one child.

    Re. the brownfield v. green belt development, 80% of the proposed houses are planned for the green belt as far I can see. I believe we need to get the numbers right first, then we should see that the need reduces. We should not propose a flawed, over inflated population/housing number to justify such massive green belt development.

    Rather than see the green belt as an opportunity it should be seen as a restriction as laid down in law and the NPPF [National Planning Policy Framework], in paragraph 14, where “specific policies in this Framework indicate development should be restricted”. These policies include green belt and AONB [Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty].

    Ben Paton (Conservative Candidate for Lovelace Ward) recently posted this on this site which explains his take on the your point about growth from births [and deaths]

    “The facts and assumptions behind the projected housing ‘need’ have not been properly disclosed. The GL Hearn report is inadequate in this respect. Figure 9 in the draft SHMA, for example, shows the changes in the borough’s population between 2001 and 2011.

    A substantial proportion of the change is described as ‘unattributable’. About half of the increase is described as ‘net international migration’. Much about these figures is a mystery. The ONS [Office of National Statistics] does not have any category called ‘unattributable’ and GL Hearn’s figures are impossible to reconcile back to official statistics.

    I suspect that everyone in the borough would expect that local need for housing should be planned for – in other words the increase driven by the net excess of births over deaths. Many however will have reservations about building houses for people who, it is conjectured on the basis of undisclosed figures and assumptions, might migrate here from within or from outside the UK.

    The age profile of the population of Guildford has a pronounced ‘bulge’ in the 18-24 year age range. Ordinarily a statistician would expect the need for housing to grow as this section of the population ages. This is exactly what the housing need projections assumed.

    However it is now known that this population bulge is not the harbinger of future population growth – just the reflection of the fact that there is a university in Guildford. The ONS has confirmed in writing that it would be wrong to project population growth on the back of this bulge”

    Get the numbers right and we can all have another look at what is needed.

  2. Lisa Wright Reply

    September 2, 2014 at 5:05 pm

    The picture also shows Stag Hill in all its glory, the last remaining corner of the Royal Deer Park which stretched all the way to Windsor. The cathedral was an excellent monument to celebrate this historical place and with such beauty of the Hog’s Back towards the south west all the way to Farnham would have had outstanding scenery.

    I think you’ll find that most of the people involved in objecting to the Local Plan are in fact, well educated professionals with an eye for detail. Some of whom are standing for election in Lovelace ward.

    There are no demonstrable exceptional circumstances evident to show that it is necessary to build on green belt and whilst other NIMBY’s are hailing ‘not in my road’ there is significant evidence to show that development can be attained on brownfield sites within urban boundaries (subject to the university building it’s student housing on Manor Park).

    Without a SHMA [Strategic Housing Market Assessment] and housing number, who can say what’s best for the residents of Guildford?

  3. Neville Bryan Reply

    September 2, 2014 at 6:20 pm

    Right now Nimby seems to be a word used when a developer wants to hide something. I keep hearing about the wonderful things the University of Surrey brings to our local economy, but all I see are broken promises and a town of ever increasing students numbers.

    Over the last 10 years 3700 more students have been forced to take houses which should be available for local people, as highlighted by Mr Atkinson.

    Its not the fault of the students. They are trying to make their way in life. Its not the fault of the landlords, they are only reacting to the market to make a return.

    In 2003 the university had a big gift from the people of Guildford by releasing Manor Farm from the green belt to deliver that expansion. The university therefore has the land and ability to provide the accommodation as outlined in the 2003 “Manor Farm Development Brief” – the document agreed at length with the people of Guildford in return for allowing expansion.

    In 2014 they have not even included a contribution from Manor Farm to the Local Plan, which has at the last count c3000+ outstanding accommodation units and staff accommodation remaining to be built. In the new Local Plan SHLAA (Strategic Housing Land Availability Assessment) 1-5 and 6-10 year period there is nothing, repeat nothing contributed by the university owned Manor Farm.

    It appears to me the university has roundly betrayed that gift.

    All we have left is the developer community and Guildford Borough Council saying “well lets build on the green belt anyway”.

    Once a field is gone, it is gone forever. Our children will never forgive us if we do not get this right. We should look to the brownfield sites first: the station, Walnut Tree Close, and the rest, which includes the notably absent university Manor Farm site.

    I say “No More university growth” until the university meets its past Manor Farm commitments, and provides a watertight guarantee of how it will support 100 per cent of any future growth.

    If that makes me a Nimby so be it; to me it making the most of what we have.

  4. Bernard Parke Reply

    September 2, 2014 at 10:09 pm

    Your picture certainly reminds me of life as it was in the fifties, here in Guildford, when a decision was taken, without reference by the Guildford Borough Council, to site what was then The Batersea College of Technology on Stag Hill.

    The promoters were then the Ministry of Education and Surrey County Council.Local opinion was not canvassed then or even considered.

    It was said at that time what good is Stag Hill? There were only a few cows grazing on it slopes. I do not remember too much about the cows but I do remember it as a cornfield.

    I also remember only it too well as a student at Guildford Technical College desperately trying to raise funds to pay for a week’s holiday at Filey.

    We were paid the princely sum of 1/6p per hour to harvest wheat from dawn to dusk. It sounds hard in these days but we took pride in our work which believe or not we enjoyed,

    So much has changed. It is difficult to imagine corn growing on the slopes of Stag hill to-day and indeed perhaps in future years it will be difficult to imagine what the south slopes looked like at all if the 175 or so houses are built on the south side on what was once a fitting settings for our cathedral.

    Perhaps we will also look back with nostalgia if the three thousand or so housing are built in the Hog’s Back area?

  5. Jules Cranwell Reply

    September 2, 2014 at 10:34 pm

    Time for another acronym. How about NIMGB? Not in My Green Belt. This applies equally to the whole borough, irrespective of east or west.

  6. Robert Burch Reply

    September 2, 2014 at 10:43 pm

    “Not building on the Green Belt is like saying don’t have children”. This is a great analogy, but Mr Knight is looking at things from the wrong direction.

    We have had lots of children, and we’ve invited plenty of friends and relatives to stay with us as well, in the form of migration into Guildford. Unfortunately, things are getting rather crowded now.

    As a nation we have rapidly grown our population in the last 10-20 years, much of it through international migration under policies that those in power at the time openly admit were badly misjudged (Jack Straw has publicly said as much).

    We are now left to deal with the consequences of this, especially in the over-crowded South-East. We are faced with a choice of simply building more to satisfy projections (that many have analysed in detail and seriously question) or standing up and fighting government pressure.

    Our council have been largely unwilling to do this, so the gap is being filled by the “unelected Nimbys”.

    I find this reference offensive. There are plenty of residents, including me, who have spent many hours analysing the evidence base and commenting with factual arguments where we see errors or omissions.

    The “experts” at Guildford Borough Council (GBC) have largely completely ignored this work and press on regardless as Adrian Atkinson and many other Dragon commentators demonstrate. If Mr Knight knows better, then publish some analysis of the situation instead of cheap remarks. One can find my analysis in the consultation on the SHMA, together with the bland, uninformative responses from GBC.

    This leaves those who want to see things done properly, including building the affordable housing required to fulfil our borough’s housing needs with little choice but to fight hard for what we believe in.

    If anyone wants an example of what can be achieved when the “unelected Nimbys” choose to disagree with experts, take a look at what the Guildford Vision Group have achieved. Some years ago, they were pariahs as far as GBC were concerned, but by fighting ill thought out plans for our town centre, including resorting to the law, we are in a position now where we have a genuine vision for how the heart of our town can be redeveloped into something really special.

    GBC are all in favour of the Town Centre vision now, but they had to be dragged kicking and screaming to get there.

    We must do the same with the Local Plan and the protection of our countryside. The draft Local Plan is not right for Guildford, as it does nothing to resolve our infrastructure issues, whilst adding to the pressure by fulfilling largely illusory population growth figures.

    No one will look back in twenty years time and thank us for building more housing estates and business parks on the outskirts of Guildford. We must fight to get our town centre and transport infrastructure right before we can consider further expansion.

  7. Peta Malthouse Reply

    September 4, 2014 at 5:33 pm

    I am afraid I have issues with the stance of the University of Surrey. In the 2003 Local Plan they were given the go ahead to use Manor Farm, then in the green belt, to develop their university and provide student accommodation. There was a development plan to achieve this but no work started. It was not ‘saved’ for the 2007 review of the plan, but the site seems to be being developed anyway although not with student accommodation which is now so ‘desperately needed’.

    If it was needed in 2003 why did they not just get on and build it? Why do they now also need Blackwell Farm?

    In olden days there was ‘town’ versus ‘gown’ in many university towns because the resources of the town were used up by the rich students who inhabited the town. Don’t let it get like that for other reasons.

    The students utilize all the available accommodation in Guildford Park and Westborough. That accommodation is needed by our young people. Perhaps the university can tell us why they are not taking advantage of the planning permissions they were given? And why this time round it is so different?

  8. Adrian Atkinson Reply

    September 4, 2014 at 11:48 pm

    I agree with Peta Malthouse. Why indeed?

    I suspect the answer is landbanking to release more green belt/green fields rather than build on what they have and promised to do last time they got green belt for expansion. As Ms Malthouse said, the university has not built the accommodation that is required but they have “maxed out” on the car parks they have allowed to build or reinstate.

    The figure is based upon them making maximim use of the permissions they have been granted to build more accommodation. The council agreed to them building more car parks last week knowing full well they haven’t built the accommodation that number was based upon.

    Yet the university is refusing to build over the car parks as “it’s in the wrong place on campus for our plan”. Great, but the green belt and AONB are protected by law; it is an even worse place to build. The university should just knuckle down and build over the car parks rather than green fields in the green belt.

    Why isn’t anybody in the GBC Executive waking up and smelling the coffee to really understand what is going on. You don’t have to be a science research student to realise that. Perhaps the Executive and the university has been spending too much time in the high-tech world of Guildford’s virtual reality gaming sector?

  9. Bob Panton Reply

    September 6, 2014 at 11:54 am

    I agree wholeheartedly with Robert Burch and would also like to respond to Mr Knight.

    Sadly, our children are forced out of Guildford now as house prices are too high and they will be in the future. This will not change. Guildford Borough Council (GBC) are giving developers a get out clause for providing affordable housing on new developments by adding the “if it is viable” condition to the draft plan.

    How many voracious developers will build 45 per cent affordable housing on green belt when they can make so much more money from lovely executive homes nestling in the beautiful countryside of Guildford?

    The Metropolitan Green Belt is the back-yard for us all. It is the lungs of London and many Londoners abandon their homes at the weekend to come and enjoy the fresh air and green spaces. We cannot undo lost green belt of the past, but this doesn’t mean we should roll over and give up the fight to save what is left.

    The fact that Guildford is 89 per cent green belt is not a good reason for Guildford Borough Council to come up with as high a yearly housing number as possible, the majority of new homes to be developed on the green belt. In fact it is good reason to lower the number of homes per year, yet GBC ignore this.

    I would ask Mr Knight to ask himself a couple of questions. Does he really believe that a majority of our children will all be enjoying life in Guildford bringing up their children as we have had the pleasure of doing and does he believe that Guildford will remain the great place it is now if GBC have their way and this draft plan becomes reality?

  10. Ross Connell Reply

    September 10, 2014 at 11:18 am

    On a recent walk through Send village I was confronted with many posters by houses saying “Send says No”. The irony is that I suspect that these houses were built on green belt land. Is this hypocrisy?

    As to the cathedral, how many cities have cathedrals so remote from the town centre. The cathedral was first initiated in 1936 due, I believe, to the diocese of Guildford being created separate from Winchester [the diocese of which it did form part].

    In 1936 the church-going public was much larger than it is today. Eventually the cathedral was built. Now it has been discovered that it has an asbestos issue that requires funding. I doubt that this cathedral would be built today. So we now have a white elephant.

  11. Bernard Parke Reply

    September 10, 2014 at 6:53 pm

    The diocese was formed in 1927 and building of the cathedral started in 1935.

    For two whole years 778 piles were driven 70 feet into the unstable clay hill .

    It was unstable then, and it certainly is now and that will be a major problem for all new builds as the residents in that region will be more than ready to tell you.

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