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Letter: GBC’s Planning Officers Work Professionally in a Hostile Environment

Published on: 1 Dec, 2021
Updated on: 1 Dec, 2021

Surrey Hills at Dorking

From: Joss Bigmore

leader of Guildford Borough Council

In response to: Cllr Ramsey Nagaty’s comment in the article – ‘Once in a Lifetime’ Chance to Extend Surrey’s AONB Leaves GBC Councillor Feeling Excluded

Cllr Nagaty’s passion for our countryside is commendable, he is a consistent and strong advocate for the preservation and improvement of our environment. However in his comments about the AONB boundary review he openly suggests GBC Officers have had secret influence over this process. This frankly is ill-informed nonsense.

Since the Surrey Hills boundary review was formally announced in June, there have been two meetings of the Technical Advisory Group (TAG). The membership of this group includes Natural England, the Surrey Hills Planning Officers Working Group (OWG) and the consultants.

The OWG is comprised of the Surrey Hills AONB Board and officers from the six local authorities with land in the AONB. The process for undertaking the AONB review, including the role of the TAG group, was presented to the Surrey Hills AONB Board at its meeting on June 22 2021 (which I believe was attended by Cllr Parker).

At the first TAG meeting on July  222021, procurement of Natural England’s consultants was underway. The draft “Area of Search” was presented, however it was stated that it would not be finalised until the consultants were in place and had had the opportunity to consider it.

The second meeting of the TAG was held on October 14 2021 at which the consultants and their engagement team were introduced and a presentation was given on the various stages of the process including the launch of the public engagement which was scheduled to start in November.

Also at this meeting, the amended Area of Search was presented. I can confirm that Planning Officers from GBC were not involved in any decisions to amend the draft Area of Search. Furthermore, it was confirmed at the meeting that the process would be open to consider areas outside of the Area of Search.

A third TAG meeting is scheduled for 6 December 6 where the focus will be on coordinating the comms in order to highlight the public engagement exercise that is currently underway. I would encourage everybody with an interest to engage with the consultation.

I completely understand that the Guildford Local Plan has caused a breakdown in trust between GBC and the community. However, we must be mindful to apportion blame where it is due.

GBC planning officers do not adopt policy, nor are they responsible for National Planning Policy, nor do they determine Housing Targets, that is the role of politicians and those responsible should shoulder the blame.

In my experience, our officers carry out their work professionally and without complaint despite the hostile environment and without the ability to publicly defend themselves.

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Responses to Letter: GBC’s Planning Officers Work Professionally in a Hostile Environment

  1. Jim Allen Reply

    December 1, 2021 at 7:32 pm

    I understood planning officers are the professional advisors to the elected representatives. They also put the words on the documents. Ergo they are the policy translators and wordsmiths of the Local Plan.

    They had no excuse for ignoring 80,000 observations and no excuses for the excess land supply, inventing the traffic light system, or recommending the Wey Urban Village (WUV) with such an infrastructure shortfall.

    And claiming just they are just following orders, even when policy is not statute, is reminiscent of times past.

    • Harry Eve Reply

      December 2, 2021 at 1:28 pm

      I believe there are two separate departments. Those responsible for the appalling Local Plan and those responsible for working with developers to ensure that under our Plan the only applications that reach the committee are likely to succeed: that aspect is clearly not working.

      I suspect that even our planning officers (applications department) are appalled by the underhand tactics that we see from some developers adept at playing the broken system. Sadly for the officers, they have to work with developers while merely dealing with letters (no photos) from objectors and accepting “advice” from authorities who are either hellbent on enabling development regardless or can only afford to take the easy way out and write, “We see no problems here.”

  2. David Roberts Reply

    December 1, 2021 at 8:43 pm

    Hostile environment? Come off it, Cllr Bigmore.

    Guildford is hardly Minsk or Pyongyang, where British officials really do suffer hostility. Instead of reinforcing this apparent feeling of beleaguerment and paranoia among local planning officers, he’d do well to encourage them to take a more pro-public and less pro-developer attitude to their job. Unfortunately, they’ve become pawns of the building lobby.

  3. Mick Arthur Reply

    December 2, 2021 at 7:47 pm

    Good grief! If a “hostile atmosphere” can be fostered by unresponsiveness to calls and emails, processes shrouded in secrecy, an absence of transparency and a general lack of engagement, then a degree of introspection would serve GBC well.

    But Cllr Bigmore is right of course, responsibility and accountability for these type of behaviours lies with leadership – and that now is his role.

    I remember Mr Bigmore’s articulate and impassioned opposition to the Local Plan at the time it was being debated. “He’ll do for me,” I thought and clearly so did many others. Thirty months later and GBC and developers continue to ride roughshod through our village with scant regard for its residents and environment. To say there is anticlimactic disappointment doesn’t come close.

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