Fringe Box



Letter: Chilcot Report and The Local Plan – There Are Parallels

Published on: 9 Jul, 2016
Updated on: 10 Jul, 2016

Chilcot & Local PlanFrom Ben Paton

Should the business of government to be conducted on the basis of sincere conviction or on the basis of evidence? Usually there’s a mix of the two. Trouble occurs when the politicians decide to pursue dogma and make the means serve their ends.

This is what Blair and Bush are now criticised for in the Chilcot Report. From the start they believed that getting rid of Saddam Hussein was a ‘good thing’. The question is: did Blair and Bush set out to distort the evidence i.e. the Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) that were the casus belli? The Chilcot Report criticises the Blair administration for not challenging the evidence of WMD.

Surely the leadership of Guildford Borough Council (GBC) should be criticised for the same failures in relation to evidence which forms the basis for the local plan? It is GBC dogma that building more houses than fewer is a ‘good thing’. It has commissioned its own ‘intelligence reports’ and accepted their conclusions without any questioning or challenge.

emails letterNot only does GBC claim never to have even received the demographic housing model on which the housing projections are based, the Scrutiny Committee voted not to Scrutinise the Strategic Housing Market Assessment (SHMA). The only councillor who voted in favour Scrutiny was Susan Parker.

Why wasn’t the SHMA scrutinised? Was it because the interim director of development, Mr Neil Taylor told the Scrutiny Committee on 15 March: “The problem is that we cannot start tampering with the Objectively Assessed Need [OAN] evidence base….

“The Objectively Assessed Need  has already been signed off as an evidence base document. I don’t think the SHMA is a matter for scrutiny. It’s too late. And the opportunity is long, long gone.”

He later told the committee: “The Objectively Assessed Need, the Housing Target, the local plan the allocation, the whole lot is subject to market forces.

“If those houses are not needed and they are not going to sell the developers won’t build them. And that’s the way it is.

“They won’t over build so that house prices come tumbling down. The won’t build houses that won’t sell, they’re in the profit making business.

“If the whole thing turned out to be completely wrong and there was a property crash tomorrow they just wouldn’t be built. The market will always dictate.” (His comments can be seen on the GBC webcast of the debate at 2hours and 7mins into the webcast.)

Isn’t that just an abdication of responsibility? If the market does it all why do we need civil servants or councillors? Not even Margaret Thatcher believed the market was that perfect. It is ironic that Mr Taylor has now left GBC and so will never be held to account for the Local Plan which he promoted.

We, the public, are now asked to express an opinion on a Local Plan which does not even explicitly set out the Housing Requirement, or the arithmetic showing how it is derived from the Objectively Assessed Need. And the OAN itself has never been scrutinised by the Scrutiny Committee.

No one in the council has ever seen, let alone critically examined, the housing projections model. The council is supposed to be subject to the rule of law – and part of the role of the civil service is to make sure that the politicians are not a law unto themselves.

The leadership of GBC is pursuing its own dogmatic opinions about the Local Plan and presenting evidence that serves its own ends in the same way that Bush and Blair presented the evidence which served their end.  The leadership of GBC has gone a step further – it has commissioned its own evidence in the form of a SHMA and ensured that no one has been able to challenge it.

In 2003 Robin Cook had the courage to resign from the cabinet. In 2016 the Conservative leadership of GBC has stood by its politically motivated Local Plan. Which of the two has done the public a better service?


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Responses to Letter: Chilcot Report and The Local Plan – There Are Parallels

  1. Andrew Whitby-Collins Reply

    July 10, 2016 at 4:10 pm

    Notwithstanding the strongly held views about the local plan this praying in aid of the Chilcot report and grotesque comparisons with British involvement in the second Gulf War is a grave disservice to the 179 members of the British armed forces who gave their lives in the service of their country, not to mention the tens of thousands of innocent Iraqi civilians. Mr Paton should be ashamed that in his desperation to score cheap points against the council he disrespects the memory of honourable men and women.

    There was absolutely no intention on our behalf nor, we believe, on Mr Paton’s, to dishonour the memory of those killed in the Iraqi conflict. Ed

    • Ben Paton Reply

      July 12, 2016 at 10:23 pm

      My reasoned and evidenced criticism of the local plan is not seeking “to score cheap points”.

      Public money has been spent by the council to assess the demographic housing need over the next 15 years. The council claims not to have received a copy of the model prepared by its consultants and so will not disclose it. Over a thousand people have signed a petition asking to see that model.

      Given that the regulations state that the model should not be a black box and should be capable of replication by third parties that request is far from being a “cheap point”.

      Failure to disclose the workings is a serious matter and it is, prima facie, contrary to the Nolan Principles of Openness and Transparency. The council is creating policy on the basis of evidence which has not been properly disclosed or scrutinised.

      It is not blasphemous to point out the parallel with the decision to go to war in 2003 on the basis of evidence of Weapons of Mass Destruction which was not properly challenged and which subsequently prove to be completely false. The comparison is legitimate, not grotesque.

      The many people who have given their lives in the service of this country over the centuries have not done so so that we should meekly accept paltry evidence handed out by local government to us without daring to ask for more. They fought to create and defend an open society in which government was accountable to the people.

      We fought a Civil War and the American colonies seceded from the Crown for the principle of no taxation without representation. Far from doing anyone a disservice (and least of all, the armed forces) I am arguing to maintain our rights as citizens to make local government accountable to the people who elect it.

      In an open and free society competition among ideas is fostered so that we may all benefit from the best ideas. In closed societies the State and the Party monopolise thought and policy.

      Attempts by Guildford Borough Council and its supporters to belittle those who seek to make it accountable by accusing them of disrespect to anyone are profoundly mistaken. Guildford Borough Council is obliged by law to consult the public and members of the public are not to be disparaged for giving their opinions or to be censured for imaginary slights.

      The real disrespect is the use of ridicule and shame in lieu of evidence and rational argument.

  2. Paul Stevenson Reply

    July 17, 2016 at 8:52 am

    Isn’t it great to live in a house build on land that was once green, so that you can be in a position to screw things up for those people who dared to be born later than you with spurious arguments about protecting green field sites?

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