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Letter: Councillors Deserve Credit for Draft Local Plan

Published on: 2 Jul, 2014
Updated on: 2 Jul, 2014

Local Plan Letters imageFrom Gordon Bridger

It is to the credit of our councillors that the debate on whether the new Draft Plan should go out for consultation continued till nearly midnight last Thursday, and despite flaws which many found in it, a majority agreed that it should. Quite right, these flaws can be corrected.

Over the last four decades during which I have been an observer or participant in local government I never came across such a high level of consultation but the acrimony level it has sometimes generated does little credit to our community .

Those in charge, Cllrs Mansbridge and Juneja, in particular, have acted responsibly in extending consultation as far as possible. Housing numbers have dominated the debate and too little emphasis has been placed on the type of economy and society for which we need to plan. The government insists, rightly, that we need more houses, and that “sustainable economic development” is a requirement .

We need to question whether 89% of Guildford being in the green belt is still justifiable? Around two-thirds of the cost of a house is the cost of the land. By releasing as little as 2% we can provide  affordable houses which developers can fund with profits from market housing. Unfortunately, many of those so ardently anxious to preserve the green belt  did not seem to be aware what a small area might be involved.

A very welcome appearance has been the masterplan by Allies and Morrison which is an admirable attempt to visualize a town centre which future generations will cherish. It needs to be exhibited widely.

Regretably the comprehensive draft Local Plan, just approved for consultation, fails to set out an economic and social vision for the Borough which should complement the Master Plan. It  fails to explain how Guildford has changed and what policies and priorities are required for sustainable development. What should be our economic and social vision of the future ?

By failing to identify growth sectors and their future needs there are no policies or priorities which enable us to rationally assess the hundreds of possible development sites and projects which are identified in the  plan.

Had this analysis been carried out it would have identified our “knowledge led economy” which is the key to our economic success  as this now accounts for around one third of our GVA (gross value added) and comes from a cluster of activities around the university and hospital.

This is important in planning terms as it entails a shift away from an overcrowded town centre. It also prioritizes economic activities which need much less employment land, and can be in locations away from congested areas as well as indicating optimum housing areas.

The draft plan also requires serious reconsideration for its claim that we “need 50,000 sq m of retail development in the town centre”– a massive increase on an estimated existing 100.000 sq m.

This has been justified on the basis of a retail consultants report whose data is clearly out of date, which is based on national forecasts of need (not Guildford’s) on a dubious methodology based on “under trading”, and by ignoring that it is up to planners and councillors, not retail consultants, to plan our town.

Town centre development should give priority to housing, primarily for our ageing population – it is not suitable for families.

Finally, there is no mention in the draft Local Plan of the importance of our educational and health systems and how these need to be helped in future. These play a critical part in making us a successful community.

Having produced a welcome physical vision of what the town centre could look like for future generations the Council now needs to match this with an economic and  social vision for the whole borough. Maybe Allies and Morrison could be engaged to do this ? It could be done quite rapidly and economically as all the information is readily available.

I would urge all those assessing the Draft Local Plan to ask for these improvements.

Hon Alderman Gordon Bridger is a former Lib Dem Borough Councillor and Mayor of Guildford

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Responses to Letter: Councillors Deserve Credit for Draft Local Plan

  1. Jules Cranwell Reply

    July 2, 2014 at 4:19 pm

    I’m sorry but Mr. Bridger misses the point. There is absolutely no need to build on the green belt, as there is sufficient capacity on brownfield sites to meet even the inflated figures espoused by GBC. They are now planning 14,055 new homes, at the rate 827 per annum, most of which are on greenbelt. To make these numbers work, they have significantly extended the settlement boundaries of villages in the green belt.

    And no, they have given little or no consideration as to how the already failing infrastructure, schools, roads, medical etc. will support this level of development.

    Finally, your own local Lib Dem party has condemned this daft Local Plan as being unfit for purpose.

  2. Karen Stevens Reply

    July 2, 2014 at 6:06 pm

    We’ve all heard Mr Bridger’s argument that Guildford has a lot of green belt and releasing just one or two per cent of it won’t matter.
    But the land area proposed for development across the borough is vast; for example, the important farmland that the University of Surrey has put forward on the Hog’s Back is almost 20% of the footprint of Guildford town.
    To put this 1% in context, Surrey represents 1.3% of the area of England. If we apply the situation Guildford Borough Council faces to the whole country, would anyone consider it acceptable to cover an entire county with built development in order to satisfy the supposed housing demand of the country as a whole?

  3. Ben Paton Reply

    July 2, 2014 at 11:42 pm

    Spare us the adulation. The draft local plan is a pig’s ear. Lib Dems have spent too long sucking up to the Executive in the belief that the ‘imperative’ of a Local Plan justified cutting corners.

    Mr Bridger praises the Council for its ‘consultation’ but it has been a sham. The Executive and Mr Bridger, confuse quantity with quality. Anyone can hog the airtime, bury the public with irrelevant detail, and then claim in good soviet style to have ‘engaged’ with the public. That’s just a pretence, a farce, an exercise in going through the motions.

    There is an alternative narrative which some Lib Dems are now waking up to. It is that the draft local plan and the ‘consultation’ have been an elaborate exercise in window dressing, in seeking to justify a strategy which the Executive decided it wished to pursue at the outset.

    What’s so marvellous about sending a plan out for consultation when critical elements are missing? How can you decide on planning policy without first deciding the housing requirement? How can you decide the housing requirement without applying any constraints for the Green Belt?

    Planning regulations limits the freedom of citizens to use their property as they see fit. Citizens accept this curtailment of their freedom because they subscribe to the concept of the ‘rule of law’ and because they consider they have been consulted and have participated in the process of forming the law.

    This Conservative Executive has not respected the rule of law. It has ridden roughshod over green belt boundaries which have been in place for some forty or fifty years. Citizens have a right to plan their economic decisions in the knowledge that the goal posts will not be moved capriciously.

    It is for this reason that the law requires that green belt boundaries should be treated as ‘permanent’ and not be moved unless necessitated by ‘exceptional circumstances’. This Conservative Executive has defined exceptional circumstances as circumstances which are ‘not commonplace’. This is not the legal definition. It is a test which is far less stringent. It allows the Executive to play around with green belt boundaries and hence with the property rights of its citizens at its whim.

    The fury of the citizenry is increased when it is told that it has been consulted and that its views have been reflected in the draft plan. This is a not true. Multiple speakers on behalf of multiple petitions have made the point in council that the housing number is not justified by a) the alleged under delivery of houses in the past five years b) the demographic projections and c) should be constrained by factors mentioned in the National Planning Policy Framework such as the green belt. All these points and others were made in response to the issues and options paper. Nothing has changed.

  4. Michael Bruton Reply

    July 3, 2014 at 10:28 am

    I agree with the comments from Mr Cranwell and Ms Stevens. I did wonder whether Me Bridger had gone to sleep and woken up in another world when I read his letter.

    He writes that “Cllrs Mansbridge and Juneja in particular have acted responsibly in extending consultation as far as possible”. How risible.

    The first Consultation was a sham. More than nineteen thousand responded and the majority were opposed to what Guildford’ Tory council wanted. Its solution was to ignore the responses and to search around for others who might support its proposed vandalism. ‘Hard to reach’ groups they call them.

    They could not even bother to analyse the nineteen thousand results and publish any analysis. The reasons are obvious. As in third world countries or the old soviet block – if you don’t like what people say you ignore the results and accuse anyone of being a troublemaker, unrepresentative of the silent majority or worse.

    At the last council meeting pride of place was given to pro developers like the University of Surrey. Soft ball questions were asked of developers by Cllr Mansbridge and councillors acted like a pack of hyenas towards one young lady who spoke in favour of the green belt and who was quite relaxed about renting. The chairman of the meeting acted in, what I felt was, an autocratic and unpleasant manner and failed to protect the young lady from the baying Councillors. Who said the ‘Nasty Party’ was dead?

    I am not sure where Mr Bridger gets some of his ideas from. Most of which have been disowned by his own Lib Dem party. Perhaps he should join the Mansbridge/Juneja camp?

    I would recommend he visits Norwich where the Council are redeveloping the brownfield areas along the River Wensum with a mixture of restaurants and all age use town houses, all built above flood level. That is certainly a sound option for the blighted brownfield area of Walnut Tree Close. But we know that the Tories’ developer friends prefer to build on green fields. Why? Because they are more profitable. And no remediation costs either.

    But it is important that we do respond to the new sham consultation from GBC. Because if we do not, they will claim we think that their proposed “Croydonisation” of Guildford and the green belt is acceptable. It is not. And the Tories will be shown that, and before the Local Plan is completed, in the Borough/General Election results of May 2015.

  5. Roland McKinney Reply

    July 4, 2014 at 12:48 pm

    So Mr Bridger thinks Guildford Borough Council (GBC) could pick growth sectors and assess their future needs? Successive national governments have been unable to do this, and so I wonder how Mr Bridger thinks GBC could succeed where central government have failed.

    What GBC are supposed to do is provide the infrastructure needed to support the local economy and in this they have failed, dismally. Witness the daily traffic jams – and then picture them with traffic increased by more than a third. Welcome to the future, as outlined in the draft (or should it be daft) Local Plan.

    There is one point on which I do agree with Mr Bridger. The council are marching off a signposted cliff with their plans for a massive expansion of traditional retail. Evidence for its decline is all around us, and the internet shopping revolution will run for many more years.

    Click and collect has become very successful and provides an example of what could be done to plan for future shopping needs – provide click and collect locker rooms in park and ride car parks, so that buyers don’t have to enter the town centre.

    It is risible of the council to say they plan to grow the knowledge based high value added sectors, whilst planning for growth in traditional retail, which has some of the lowest paid workers in any sector, many on zero hours contracts.

    How exactly would this expand the knowledge based economy? Many of these low paid workers would need low cost and social housing, exacerbating current problems.

    It would be much more beneficial to all if areas ear-marked for expanded retail were instead given a mixed use, primarily residential but with some commercial. Put associated car parking underground, with the space freed up being used to create new green spaces and play areas for children from the new residential developments. Let them play ball.

    Guildford Borough Council need to embrace the future, not cling to the past. There is little evidence in this “daft” Local Plan that they are capable of doing so.

  6. Caroline Reeves Reply

    July 5, 2014 at 6:09 pm

    As I have frequently said at public meetings, our town centre ward of Friary & St Nicolas has over 1700 potential homes in the draft Local Plan, all on brownfield sites. Only Ash and South Tongham have a higher number, and their sites are not all brownfield. These numbers do not include the strategic development sites.

    More homes in the town would benefit the many who would choose to live here, but along with that number of homes will come the need for school places, doctors surgeries, community places and there is as yet no space allocated for these.

    I agree a new riverside development along Walnut Tree Close would be welcome, but we also need some mixed use sites, green spaces and amenity areas to ensure that we can maintain a good quality of life for those of us who want to live and work in the town.

    Whatever housing number we end up with, we need homes across the borough, and the provision of adequate infrastructure everywhere. Ensuring it is at the core of every development will be the key to making the plan work.

  7. Gordon Bridger Reply

    July 5, 2014 at 6:34 pm

    I will respond to the several interesting issues raised in the comments but at this stage I wish to emphasize that I am not writing for or on behalf of any political party.

    I do not think that national political labels help in debating what is best for the wards that councillors represent.

  8. Lisa Wright Reply

    July 7, 2014 at 11:54 am

    As far as I’m aware, building costs are roughly £1000 per sq metre. So a largish 250 sq metre house would cost around £250,000 to build.

    I have no idea what the university paid for Blackwell Farm back in the 1980’s, although it probably would have been agricultural price at a few thousands an acre.

    Now, the approximate land value at Blackwell Farm is around £200 million (the uni valued it at £127M a few years ago). Considering the Local Plan has suggested 2000 houses are built that makes each plot worth around £100,000. Does that sounds a bit cheap for a plot in Guildford?

    A big 4/5 bed house with a generous garden in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, Area of Great Landscape Value and green belt with glorious hedgerows, bordered by ancient woodland with undulating fields and a historical past would surely cost upwards of £800,000. So that would mean a profit of around £450,000 per house.

    £450,000 times 2000 houses is £900 million (I checked the maths a few times as the numbers looked so huge).

    Given they will need to spend a bit on infrastructure and pay Guildford Borough Council a levy, it would still be a cracking return on their investment. It’s no surprise the uni are doing everything possible to get planning permission on Blackwell Farm and that the are keen to help them.

  9. Jim Allen Reply

    July 9, 2014 at 9:52 am

    Have your heard? While preparing the Burpham Neighbourhood Plan, now out to public consultation in the ward, new ‘country life-style’ low cost homes were forced through the planning process. Five will be in the back gardens of existing houses in Burpham. They are being sold at the ‘low’ starting cost of £1.15 million. Not sure the price of the other twelve.

    The ‘get out the car onto bikes’ policies are not exactly being avidly enforced by the council. There is only one cycle storage space for each five bedroomed house. The other five occupants will have to walk. And car parking spaces are still limited to 1.5 cars to each property. Try getting 0.5 of a car through an MOT. 🙂

    But don’t worry folks, perhaps the GBC officers have their sights on being the most featured local council on Have I Got News For You, Mock the Week and in Private Eye in the coming month?

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