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Letter: Council Leadership Will Be Ultimately Responsible For Local Plan

Published on: 17 May, 2014
Updated on: 17 May, 2014

From County Councillor Fiona White (Lib Dem), Guildford West Division

I have noticed a number of comments about the role of Guildford Borough Council’s planning officers in drawing up the Local Plan Consultation logoLocal Plan.

I was a borough councillor for 20 years and spent some of that time as chair of the former housing and health committee and then as council leader under a cabinet system when the 2003 Local Plan was put in place. Therefore, I think I can claim to have some knowledge of how the system works.

It is important for all of us to remember is that the job of officers when putting together any policy or plan is to give professional advice to the council and particularly the leader and executive members on what the responsibilities of the council are and to give options on how those responsibilities can be carried out.

In my last term as a borough councillor I sat in on some of the Local Plan panel meetings and I know from that experience that the executive member at the time was advised that they had to get on with drawing up a local plan. That advice was not acted on in good time which is why Guildford is in the very difficult position we all face now.

It is not the planning department or even individual officers in the planning department who will decide what goes in the Local Plan. It will be the council, led by Cllr Mansbridge.

As the lead member, Cllr Juneja will be involved in the more detailed process. Ultimately, it will be the Conservative-run council who will make the decision.

The officers are not fair game in this process. I reiterate, they are there to give advice based on their professional expertise and experience. It is the political leadership of the council who will ultimately be responsible for the decisions made.

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Responses to Letter: Council Leadership Will Be Ultimately Responsible For Local Plan

  1. Susan Parker Reply

    May 18, 2014 at 10:13 am

    I completely agree with Fiona White’s view that of course decisions should be taken by full council as representatives of their voters.

    In theory no decision should be made directly on our behalf either by the Executive or by the planning officers who are indeed there to give advice and not take decisions.

    It was enormously heartening at the scrutiny committee on Thursday to see that most of the councillors expressed concern at the very high housing numbers.

    At the scrutiny committee the councillors voted – unopposed – to require the planning officers to review the housing numbers. They want to reduce them and for the planning department to amend the Local Plan accordingly.

    They want the plan to have the minimum number of houses required by Government, not the current very comfortable margin, and they were not happy that there are no constraints currently applied to that housing number.

    Councillors must ensure that their decision in the scrutiny committee is heeded by the planning officials, and the Executive, and that this review is not just tokenism of the kind we have seen before.

    I think it is essential that the planning officers always give accurate and impartial advice, and where that advice is not accurate, or where they have not been as careful as they should have been, that the planning department too is held to account.

    Both councillors and the public have a right to accurate and complete information.

    Planning officers and other council officials must indeed recognise that their role is only to advise the council on a neutral basis. We have not always seen neutrality, and there have been several attempts by employed council officials to gag members of the public, to censor the press, and indeed also to gag councillors or aldermen.

    This is completely unacceptable and is not what they are required or indeed permitted to do. Some have also expressed a view about the desired courses of action, which is also not their remit. More neutrality and indeed more representation is required in the process is required, I think.

    I am sure that all the members of the public will look forward to the imminent revisions of the housing number.

  2. Jules Cranwell Reply

    May 22, 2014 at 4:40 pm

    It is true that the planning officers are only there to advise. However, when they do, it is important that they get the facts right, and the advice given is in keeping with national planning guidance, and not constructed to support councillor’s hunger for growth at the expense of our green belt.

    Having been appraised of the many inaccuracies during the consultation, the draft Local Plan is still shot through with important inaccuracies.

    I find, as an example, that I now live in Silkworm Avenue, rather than Silkmore.

    The council’s officers have now informed us that they will not provide analysis of the comments on the issues and options consultation, as they did for the 2007 consultation. In which case, how are either the public or the officers supposed to make sense of the feedback, read in detail all 20,500 submissions? Let’s be reasonable.

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