Fringe Box



Letter: Guildford and Housing – We Must Act

Published on: 10 Jul, 2024
Updated on: 10 Jul, 2024

From John Rigg

chair Guildford Vision Group

So Labour is in power for five years, we have a Liberal Democrat MP representing Guildford and the borough council is Lib Dem-led.

What does this mean for Guildford? What will we have to contend with under a Labour government with its huge majority? Home county constituencies, on most measures, may end up at the back of the queue under a Labour Government keen to show up the failures of the previous government’s levelling-up proposals.

The national government will introduce changes across swathes of public services from health, education, employment, environment plus defence. We and our elected representatives will likely have little influence on the outcomes.

Crucially for Guildford, planning is the one key area where we might and where there will be a major impact with Labour’s clear intention to free up land for housing notably on green belt.

We know that both Labour and the Liberal Democrats have stated their intention to materially increase mandatory housing numbers. This can mean a repeat of the traumatic issues facing Guildford in the run-up to the 2019 Conservative Local Plan, when villages were removed from green belt protection and large strategic sites were allocated on green fields at Wisley, Merrow and Blackwell Farm. This was considered by the then Conservative council as necessary to deliver 10-14,000 homes.

Now we will have to come up with even more housing, as the situation will be exacerbated by Labour, quite probably with Lib Dem backing. It’s more than likely many more green fields and villages will need to be plundered for development. We must meet our fair allocation of housing but there is and always has been an alternative at least to mitigate green field losses.

The local authorities, both Guildford Borough Council and Surrey County Council, now need to decide yet again where they stand. Is there any appetite to protect the environment by using previously-developed, brownfield sites in the town? Or will they, as last time, take a laisser-faire approach, and just go for green belt sites, despite the inadequate infrastructure there and serious lack of road space available.

The Guildford Vision Group, since 2011, has consistently stated the best option to minimise green belt incursions is brownfield, sustainable development in the town centre. Many sites can be unlocked by the relatively simple process (assuming real commitment) of finalising the flood alleviation scheme (FAS). This can remove planning blight from sites otherwise deemed at risk from flooding, with developers willing to take on elements of the flood remediation necessary once a plan is approved.

The previous Conservative council had over a decade to bring forward proposals to deal with flooding and to allow regeneration of riverside sites in the town centre. However, those involved took the lazy way out and dumped the housing in the greenbelt and on previously protected villages.

Today a FAS should be a major priority for Guildford, firstly to address our history of dangerous flooding now exacerbated by updated climate change forecasts. But it should also be an urgent priority to benefit from removing the blight on 30-50 sites in the borough excluded in the last Local Plan because of flood risk. The town could deliver 2-3,000 homes on these sites, many of which are merely surface carparks, and help save both green belt and environment.

Guildford Borough Council both historically and now controlled by the Liberal Democrats, has shown little appetite to make real progress with the Environment Agency or Surrey County Council to get a FAS urgently agreed. That’s a great shame when a FAS is already included in the Masterplan called ‘Shaping Guildford’s Future’.

Already £2.5 million has been incurred to date in drawing up the Masterplan, including a FAS, but now there appears to be a lot of ‘sitting on hands’ rather than removing mostly planning obstacles to delivery.

The council does not need to undertake the flood works itself, nor incur the cost, as there are both government grants available (£7 billion on last check) and developers, who will implement and contribute if the planning door is but opened.

The council merely needs to endorse the Masterplan (in general, if not specific terms) and agree the FAS with the Environment Agency and Surrey County Council for the sites to be included in housing numbers to save greenbelt and villages currently surrounded by green belt. The clock is now ticking.

This needs strategic planning, with a holistic approach, to deliver the quality benefits of an open Riverside with parks, walkways, cycleways and employment space as shown in ‘Shaping Guildford’s Future’. Sadly, in this regard, there has been an abject failure of the council to plan, especially in the town centre, to meet the needs of Guildford , the economy and the community. Maybe that will change, now we have a Lib Dem MP.

Do the residents of Guildford care enough? Is there appetite enough to demand a FAS? On that, the jury is still out

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Responses to Letter: Guildford and Housing – We Must Act

  1. Jim Allen Reply

    July 10, 2024 at 5:21 pm

    If only Guildford Vision Group had written a Neighbourhood Plan for the town centre.

    If only the Environment Agency would reinstate the upstream flood controls on the River Wey in Godalming.

    If only they had listened to me in 2010 re the need of a capacity increase of the existing sewage treatment plant.

    If only sewage licence was PE [population Equivalent] not DWF [the flow in the sewer over 24 hours when no rain has fallen for several days].

    If only developers built out their permissions.

    Of course, “we are where we are”, as they say, but there are a lot of politicians and council officers not listening to the practical side of things as observed by engineers.

  2. Nigel Keane Reply

    July 11, 2024 at 2:03 am

    Unfortunately, as far as planning in Guildford goes, it is a case of the tail wagging the dog. The Lib Dems seem to think that whatever a council planning officer says must be obeyed by councillors. We recently had the head of planning for Waverley stating that she had no objection to a proposed plan in Guildford’s area. She is also the Head of Planning for Guildford under the very strange system for sharing senior officers arranged by both Lib-Dem councils. She should have redacted herself and allowed an actual employee of Waverley to answer instead.

  3. Tom Hunt Reply

    July 11, 2024 at 8:32 am

    I don’t understand the purpose of John Rigg’s letter. He knows very well that GBC is working closely with the Environment Agency to progress the flood alleviation scheme, which will unlock development sites in the town centre. Perhaps Mr Rigg missed the EA’s recent public information event about the FAS scheme, held in the Yvonne Arnaud on 18th April?

    Tom Hunt is the Lib Dem deputy leader of Guildford Borough Council

  4. David Roberts Reply

    July 11, 2024 at 8:55 pm

    I’m not convinced Guildford, unlike many other councils, should come under pressure to increase its already inflated housing target under the Local Plan.

    The press is reporting that Labour’s mandatory target of 1.5 million new homes over five years will be met by councils on a population basis. Guildford’s population is 148,000, nearly 0.0022 of the UK population. On that basis, our quota would be 3,300 homes over 5 years. The 2019 Tory Local Plan, based on exaggerated population projections, sets a target of 14,000 new homes over 15 years, an average of 4,667 over 5 years. That’s 41 per cent above Labour’s target and they are already being built.

    I have repeatedly suggested in The Dragon that the Local Plan target should have been about 9,000 over 15 years, which would be consistent with Labour’s target.

    Remember that Guildford is a student town and that students, who are temporary residents, don’t need one housing unit each. To meet national requirements, the council should be adjusting the plan down, not up. Scrap the so-called strategic sites and the job is done.

  5. Bibhas Neogi Reply

    July 15, 2024 at 3:03 pm

    I met John Rigg among others at Yvonne Arnaud where the EA held their exhibition. Cllr Hunt was probably there at a different time.

    Public information by the EA had sketches of flood-affected areas in the town and showed barriers away from the river to let floodwater inundate the shores. I think there is also the proposal to use flood plains downstream to let retained water to spill out.

    In my view the above approach is not an efficient management of floodwater. The areas that would be lost for development would be substantial compared with upstream storage with the river running full brim retained by barriers either permanent or temporary much closer to the river in conjunction with upstream reservoirs.

    My suggestion of creating upstream reservoirs would not require sacrificing valuable land along the river banks and serve the management of flood better. And as a bonus recreational facilities in and around these reservoirs would enhance the whole area and also bring in revenue to supplement or even fully fund the running costs.

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