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Letter: Explain Legal Ways to Change the Local Plan and the Council Will Consider Them

Published on: 7 Jul, 2020
Updated on: 6 Jul, 2020

From George Potter

Lib Dem borough councillor for Burpham

In response to: Cllr Potter Ignores the Truths and Prefers to Shoot the Messenger

To respond to the “facts” in the letter from Karen Stevens:

1) The A3 widening scheme has not been included in the Government’s latest Road Investment Strategy;

Correct.

2) The memorandum of understanding between GBC and Highways England states that if the widening scheme does not go ahead, the Local Plan can be reviewed. Note the word “can”, not “must”. The council is reviewing the transport needs for the Local Plan following cancellation of the A3 improvements.

If this review indicates there is a fundamental inability to meet those transport needs then a formal review of the Local Plan may then be the only viable option. But this initial review of transport options is the only way to tell whether a Local Plan review is necessary or not.

3) The Local Plan provides 40 per cent housing land supply above the objectively assessed need, meaning Blackwell Farm could be dropped and deliver still more than housing need.

Correct, but the law does not allow you to chop and change Local Plans like that. The Local Plan needed only to provide 25 per cent more housing land supply than the projected need but, having been passed with the 40 per cent figure baked in, it cannot now be altered without having to rewrite the entire Local Plan.

And such a rewriting may show there were other designated sites that made more sense to remove than Blackwell Farm.

4) The Tesco roundabout near the hospital risks breakdown if just 150 houses are built at Blackwell Farm (without the A3 scheme going ahead).

This may well be the case. But this will be confirmed or disproved as a result of the GBC review of the implications of the A3 improvements cancellation.

5) The Liberal Democrats promised to review the Local Plan. Their press release dated May 16, 2019, states clearly: “Our top priorities as we begin our leadership of Guildford Borough Council will be to review the Local Plan…”

The Liberal Democrats have never promised to hold a formal review into the Local Plan. Our entire election manifesto was very clearly based around making the best of the Local Plan and ensuring no development without the necessary infrastructure.

The press release referred to, issued a fortnight after the election, can a) hardly be considered to be an election promise and b) is obviously sloppy wording but which actually refers to reviewing the legality of the Local Plan, given that this was what had been talked about in the council chamber and in the press at the time.

The “bones” of my reply to Ms Stevens is that planning law, and the legal processes around a Local Plan, are what they are, not as we might wish them to be.

At the last election, residents had a choice of a party that was enthusiastically in favour of the Local Plan (the Conservatives), a party that regretted the Local Plan but accepted that it was now in place and wanted to move on to making the best of it (the Liberal Democrats), a party that wanted to investigate the legality of the Local Plan and make the best of it if it turned out to be legally sound (Residents for Guildford and Villages), and a party that wanted the Local Plan overturned by any means necessary (the Guildford Greenbelt Group).

The electorate made clear they either didn’t agree with the GGG position or simply didn’t care about the Local Plan enough for it to be the primary issue on which they voted.

Ms Stevens says she and her supporters want the Local Plan reviewed and the housing numbers massively reduced to allow for the removal of the strategic site closest to home. Fair enough, that’s a perfectly valid opinion.

But I, and most councillors, recognise the legal options to change a Local Plan after it’s in place are limited and the chances of the government allowing us to reduce our housing target are even lower.

We’d rather get on with strengthening planning policy to require options such as low CO2-emission houses, renewable energy installation, good pedestrian and cycle links, baked-in public transport options, reducing car dependency, wildlife protection, et cetera instead of wasting a fortune in taxpayer money on more delay and legal battles likely to result in no change to the status quo.

And although elections may be an imperfect way to measure public opinion, I think they have demonstrated clearly that the desire to review the entire Local Plan on any excuse, regardless of its legality and without confirming whether a reason for doing so has merit, is a desire held by only a minority of the borough’s residents.

There’s nothing wrong with advocating for a minority viewpoint on the Local Plan. But those advocates should be trying to persuade others of the merits of their viewpoint and why they think the obvious counter-arguments are wrong. They should not be claiming to speak for a silent majority.

So please, explain why we shouldn’t wait to review the transport implications of the cancellation before making a bigger decision. Explain why a Local Plan review would successfully lower housing numbers and how the legal process would allow this.

Find relevant examples of other councils managing to successfully lower their housing numbers through a similar process.

Explain how the possibility of success outweighs the risks of failure and if not, why time should be wasted which could be better spent fleshing out planning policy to ensure higher-quality development and housing.

With convincing arguments based upon fact and law, I think many of us would be willing to change our minds if our concerns were proved to be baseless.

But please don’t claim we are ignoring the silent majority or breaking our election promises when neither of these is true.

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test 2 Responses to Letter: Explain Legal Ways to Change the Local Plan and the Council Will Consider Them

  1. Ramsey Nagaty Reply

    July 7, 2020 at 3:30 pm

    GGG won four out of the five seats they contested.

    Ramsay Nagaty is a GGG borough councillor for Shalford.

  2. Colin Cross Reply

    July 10, 2020 at 12:23 am

    As is often said, “When in hole, stop digging.”

    Most of what is stated above, ref reviewing the Guildford Local Plan is erroneous or misleading.

    As for, “when we promised to review the Local Plan, we didn’t actually mean that” words fail me but I am reminded of: “We said what we meant but do not mean what we say”.

    Hopefully Cllr Potter will now cease writing the longest suicide note in political history.

    This is written in my private capacity.

    Colin Cross is the R4GV borough councillor for Lovelace (Ripley, Wisley and Ockham).

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