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Letter: Does the White Paper Contain Local Threats or Opportunities?

Published on: 11 Aug, 2020
Updated on: 11 Aug, 2020

From: Alan Young

In response to: Who Can Be Trusted To Choose the Way We Plan and Are Governed? Is It All Rubbish?

Martin Giles has written another thought-provoking editorial. He asks how we can best choose those who govern us, given expressed views on unpopular policies issued by the government.

Policy is devised by ministers, advised by civil servants. They must produce a one-size-fits-all approach to apply at national level. Inevitably, there will be aspects of policy that do not suit a particular region or set of circumstances. So what is to be done?

Guildford residents are not without political influence. They have a member of parliament who should be their first port of call. That MP can lobby ministers to shape legislation to specific constituency needs. National legislation is drafted frequently in broad terms (to accommodate regional variation or interpretation), so there is often significant scope to reflect local priorities.

A shrewd and adequately resourced local authority with councillors and officers who understand and reflect the needs and priorities of local people is critical. Under the right leadership, our council could provide the inspiration and direction to its officers who can help deliver the positive outcomes the people of Guildford seek.

But only if all the participants in our democracy are willing to work together for the benefit of local people can this happen. And my plea to our politicians, given the challenges Guildford faces is, set party politics aside in the interests of your local community.

So what might our politicians do to make the most of Guildford’s biggest policy challenge, the consultation on the planning White Paper? They need to work collaboratively to speak with a single voice for Guildford.

Areas on which to focus:

  • The White Paper proposes the housing number for Guildford (as well as for all local council areas) could be centrally set. Guildford borough council needs to discuss how this will be done to ensure residents’ views are understood by ministers and civil servants before the decision is finalised.
  • A period of 30 months in which to write a new-style Local Plan is suggested and a stipulated time should be statutory on local authorities. But is this long enough? Does Guildford borough council have the planning policy resources? Is there now an opportunity to redesign the Local Plan focusing on regeneration of the town centre? These questions all need to be addressed with Guildford-specific issues quickly flagged to ministers.
  • Above all, are the opportunities in this White Paper greater than the potential threats to Guildford? If so, could Guildford be an early adopter of White Paper proposals and possibly secure much-needed government support?

Guildford has everything to play for now. I am confident our elected representatives will rise to the challenge of getting the very best for our town and its countryside, and I look forward to seeing them do so.

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