Fringe Box



Letter: Building Thousands of Houses Will Not Serve the Local Need

Published on: 25 May, 2017
Updated on: 25 May, 2017

From Ben Paton

In response to: Letter: We Need to Strike A Balance Between Preservation and Meeting Social Need

Gordon Bridger rightly points out that a large proportion of this borough is green belt, a larger proportion than many other boroughs. But instead of drawing the conclusion from this that new houses ought to be put in less sensitive and expensive places, he argues that only a small proportion of the green belt is required.

However, it is not merely a matter of proportions. It is a matter of absolute numbers and sustainability.

The proportions may look small but the numbers are very large indeed. What is proposed is not to spread houses evenly across the whole of the green belt. It is to dump them in extraordinarily dense numbers in a very small number of locations, some of them completely unsustainable and chosen for no better reason than that a speculative developer has acquired some land.

While Mr Bridger seeks to argue that the effect is innocuous, in reality it is devastating for some of those few locations that have been chosen.

Mr Bridger goes on to infer that this is a simple choice of building on the green belt or not on the green belt. It is not that simple.

Some of the areas selected in the draft Local Plan are not sustainable locations for multiple reasons quite apart from their green belt designation.

The site proposed for the third largest town in the borough in Ockham happens to be next to Special Protection Area and a Site of Special Scientific Interest.

Unfortunately, Mr Bridger has expressed the view in The Dragon that some of the endangered birds are ‘rather boring’ – implying that he does not care if they are made extinct. The site is also immediately beside one of the two worst congestion and accident black spots along the whole length of the A3. Commuters do care if their average journey takes an extra ten or twenty minutes each way.

Mr Bridger goes further and plays the habitual advocates for building game of inferring that objections to the Local Plan are motivated purely by self-interest and the desire to live among green fields. This does not address the facts or advance the arguments. Given that some promoters of the Plan do not want further building in Guildford town, it is also hypocritical.

He rehearses a number of other arguments that have been raised and refuted many times in these columns. He implies that house prices are driven by new house building – when in fact there is little or no causation or correlation between the two variables.

And he repeats that land values drive house prices – when interest rates, bank lending and international investment flows are greater influences.

For the record, the cost of the land per dwelling in Ockham is some £3,333 per dwelling. Converting “Best & Most Versatile Agricultural Land” into new towns is very profitable. The lure of a £500m profit is the real motivation – not any real concern for people on the housing waiting list.

Some of Mr Bridger’s ritual arguments in favour of economic growth might make sense in other parts of the country. But in a borough where there is already full employment and where congestion on our roads is already very serious, it is misguided to encourage additional immigration to this area. There are plenty of places that need the jobs and houses far more.

The population of the country may have been rising by 500,000 per annum. But the ONS statistics show that the population of this borough is expected to fall over the plan period if net immigration is disregarded.

Such over-building as is proposed does not serve a local need – just the ambitions of local politicians.

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Responses to Letter: Building Thousands of Houses Will Not Serve the Local Need

  1. Colin Cross Reply

    May 25, 2017 at 1:34 pm

    Further to Ben Paton’s comprehensive and irrefutable demolition of Gordon Bridger’s
    misplaced justifications for eroding the green belt there is not much too be added.

    One point to think about is the disproportionate effect of the Local Plan on population distribution in the borough. Over the next decade or two our town centre can expect to expand from 69,000 to 73,000, ie 6% or so, whilst Lovelace ward during the same time can expect to expand from 2,400 to 6,000 souls, ie an increase of 240%.

    Given that anyone who even vaguely knows this ward already acknowledges it has significant infrastructure problems, many seemingly unmitigatable. What will it turn into by 2030 when Cllrs Spooner and Furniss are gone to the House of Commons?

    The answer will be that we will be merged with the Southern suburbs of London, just like Kingston before us. Our green belt will be a distant memory and we’ll have the painful job of explaining to our offspring how we let this happen on our watch.

    We have precious little time left to stop this but forever to live with its repercussions.

    Colin Cross is the Lib Dem borough councillor for Lovelace ward.

  2. Michael Aaronson Reply

    May 25, 2017 at 2:11 pm

    Well done, Ben Paton, for setting out the arguments so clearly and for demolishing some of the prevailing myths around house building.

    I, too, am baffled by those who refer to the fact that 89% of our borough is green belt as if this were an argument for building on it.

    Surely it means that we are custodians of an extremely important part of our country’s natural heritage, and that we ought to be looking after it properly?

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