Fringe Box



Letter: Guildford Can Be Saved From Becoming Part of the London Conurbation

Published on: 11 Dec, 2014
Updated on: 3 Jan, 2015

Hogs Back LetterFrom Susan Parker

Guildford Greenbelt Group Organiser

I would like to clarify my remarks which, I feel, have been taken out of context by Gordon Bridger in his letter: ‘I Approve Appointment Of Planning Forum Chairman’.

As noted in the press, I’ve said that I don’t think Julian Lyon is a suitable chairman for the planning forum.

This is not a personal criticism in any sense – I have a very high regard indeed for Julian’s professional expertise and I like him very much personally. He should certainly be a participant in the forum. I have merely stated that he is not impartial, because he has a particular vision for Guildford, and indeed, as Chair of the Guildford Society and part of the central committee of the Guildford Vision Group, he has put forward his own “vision” for Guildford both in publications and in public meetings.

I respect that, and I respect him. But I made my comments because I felt the chairman of such a forum should ideally be independent and not have a particular viewpoint.

Gordon Bridger is a member of The Guildford Society, and possibly the Guildford Vision Group, and is therefore not an independent commentator. He has made it clear in previous comments, and above, that he is very willing to sacrifice countryside for housing. I believe he has made it clear elsewhere that he can’t see that the views of the Hog’s Back are beautiful. Many residents of Guildford – and many people elsewhere – would say that he was wrong.

Gordon says that we should not “exclude” greenbelt on the basis, that this is “premature” – and that if the housing numbers are high we should build on green belt (rather than apply constraints as the government allows us to do).

Premature? We have spent at least the last year and a half reviewing the Issues and Options consultation, and the first (abortive) Draft Local Plan – which suggested putting 70% of a very high new housing number on green belt land. That was emphatically rejected by many respondents.

The responses to the consultation were a high number in the context of local consultation – people are angry. We do care about the countryside – not because we live in it, but because it is beautiful. Is it really premature for the planners and politicians to start listening to the people?

Guildford Greenbelt Group (GGG) has formed a political party. We have been campaigning for about a year, and found that the politicians who are in power are very slow to appreciate how strongly people care about their environment. Perhaps our councillors, too, consider that it is premature to form a view.

We have been told that Guildford Borough Council (GBC) is planning to put out a revised plan in June, after the next election. Unless there is a clear change of direction in terms of the plan – which is certainly not evident so far – we have to assume that the revised plan will be very similar to the plan that we have seen before. So we formed the party to give the voters of Guildford a genuine choice next May.

Members of GGG think that the countryside matters, and that it is the countryside that makes our town distinctive. If there is no countryside – or it is eroded, piecemeal, as Gordon Bridger wants – then, before very many years pass, the town of Guildford will be swallowed up by London. Not now, and not in the lifetime of the plan (only 15 years), but perhaps in 100 years, or less.

It is the green belt that has preserved our hills and fields. London’s conurbation has already reached Ashstead. Those who have lived all their lives in Guildford are perhaps unaware of what an oasis we live in – and how very fragile it is. EM Forster (a resident of Abinger Hammer) wrote – roughly 100 years ago in “Howards’ End” about the “creeping red rust of London”.

Together with Ralph Vaughan Williams he campaigned to protect our Surrey Hills and helped to establish the green belt protection that we now enjoy. Forster said: “If you want to ruin our Surrey fields and woodlands it is easy to do, very easy, and if you want to save them they can be saved.”

It is, after all, up to us.

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Responses to Letter: Guildford Can Be Saved From Becoming Part of the London Conurbation

  1. Chris Hartley Reply

    December 11, 2014 at 6:11 pm

    Susan Parker is a dreamer. She dreams there is 60 hectares of land around Walnut Tree Close available for development. There is not.

    She dreams that there are brownfield sites all over the place that are available and viable to take the necessary housing. There are not.

    She dreams that if she says the housing number is too high enough times it will drop. It will not.

    The problem with Susan Parker and the Greenbelt Guardians is that they are great at saying no, no, no, but they are unable to come up with any real solutions other than tower blocks in the centre of Guildford. Well Susan, my children don’t want to bring up their children on the 13th floor!

    Green belt has always been rezoned when local plans have been prepared. This is not a new thing. I don’t know if Susan Parker has lived in the borough long enough but much of Burpham was rezoned in the 1980s and rezoning is going on across the country.

    We have been told that the proposed development sites across the borough amount to just 1.5% of green belt, but the GGG would have you think it is 99.5%. It is not.

    Dreamers the lot of them.

  2. Jules Cranwell Reply

    December 12, 2014 at 9:48 am

    The forum cannot be regarded as independent from GBC, if the executive appoints the person to chair it. If the forum is to remain impartial, in the interests of democracy, it must elect its own chairman.

  3. Ben Paton Reply

    December 12, 2014 at 1:48 pm

    Many people have always had dreams. Think of Martin Luther King and his famous, ‘I have a dream’ speech. Think of John Lennon and his song ‘Imagine’. If to be a dreamer is a term of disparagement it says more about the cynicism of the commentator than about the so-called dreamers.

    Members of GGG are reasonable professional people who have a basic requirement: that the rule of law and objective facts should be respected.

    The NPPF, as with previous planning guidance, is clear and unambiguous that the green belt boundaries cannot be changed except in exceptional circumstances. There is a presumption (aka the ‘sequential test’) that brown field land will be developed first. Despite this Guildford Borough Council issued a draft local plan which is demonstrably unsound. It fails to recognise the limitations of the existing school and road infrastructure. It fails to take full and proper account of the requirements of the Wildlife Habitats Directive or of the requirements to protect heritage. And it fails completely to put forward so much as one ‘exceptional circumstance’. It promotes, for example, one site as a whole new town without showing any objective requirement for a new town or any rational ranking of potential sites. The draft local plan fails to comply with the rules or with common sense. Given the credentials and motivations of the people in charge perhaps that was not surprising.

    As for the demographic ‘need’ which supposedly justifies the proposed building boom, we now know that it is premised on ONS statistics which are wrong and an analysis which has not been been transparently set out.

    Yes of course some building is needed. But the size of the need and the proposed development have not been properly scrutinised – as the scrutiny committee of GBC itself recognised.

    GGG members are to be commended for not accepting the trite promotional propaganda of the development lobby rather than disparaged as dreamers. They stand in a long English tradition of sticking to their guns and doing the right thing despite the economic incentives to just ‘go along’ with the proposed changes. The underdog in this debate is the countryside. First of all because it is by definition less populated its defenders are often in a minority. Second, the economic deck of cards is staked against it. Agricultural land worth say £10,000 an acre is worth £10 million or 100 times more if turned into a new town. No wonder vested interests are eager to see development.

    The stakeholders in this debate who have been dreaming are the property developers and the politicians who fondly imagine that the rules and the electorate are just pawns for them to manipulate in the interests of greater profits.

    • Chris Hartley Reply

      December 18, 2014 at 11:48 pm

      In reply to Ben Paton’s comment, he writes: “The NPPF, as with previous planning guidance, is clear and unambiguous that the green belt boundaries cannot be changed except in exceptional circumstances.” But he fails to include the all important bit at the end: ‘Through the preparation or review of the local plan.’

      And that is exactly what Guildford Borough Council are currently undertaking “the preparation of their Local Plan”.

      It is major omissions like this that does the GGG no credit at all.

      He also writes: “Agricultural land worth say £10,000 an acre is worth £10 million or 100 times more if turned into a new town.”

      Firstly, I say that his figures are wrong, if he is saying that one acre of agricultural land on the edge of Guildford or Wisley will become worth £10m. More like 1.2-1.4m per acre. Secondly I think it is wrong bringing up the subject of money when trying to support his green belt arguments. What I am trying to say is that it is a pathetic planning argument.

      I do agree with him that Wisley, particularly now it has been reduced in size, and because of its close proximity to the Thames Basin Special Protection area, is not large enough to create a sustainable community, and I hope the planners at Guildford reach the same conclusions.

      • Adrian Atkinson Reply

        December 20, 2014 at 1:07 pm

        Exceptional circumstances still have to be proved through the plan process and that is the important bit.

        Housing need is not an exceptional circumstance. The point is none have been shown in the draft to date and it is only reasonable for these circumstances be shown before any changes to the green belt are included in the next version.

        Otherwise councillors will be voting for or the public consulted on a plan which by definition is unsound and any proposed changes to the green belt shouldn’t be taken any further.

  4. Martin Elliott Reply

    December 12, 2014 at 6:14 pm

    “London’s conurbation has already reached Ashstead.”
    What exactly does that mean and what is its significance?

    Is it a continuous band of development? If so, what about the commonland that separates Ashtead from Epsom?

    If that is wrong, why stop at Ashtead? Surely that extends through Leatherhead, Bookham and Effingham.

    What about tracking (literally) through Addlestone to Woking.

    Seems to me we don’t have to cherry pick for London conurbation, it’s already deep into Surrey.

  5. Peter Wilson Reply

    December 12, 2014 at 11:28 pm

    Yes as long as you are OK in your large house in the country then forget about the young people who are unable get on the housing ladder in Surrey at all due to rocketing house prices caused by a lack of supply, buy to let greed and little affordable housing.

    There are not enough brownfield sites to meet this demand. Perhaps you would rather this generation simply moved out of the area?

    Clearly areas of outstanding natural beauty should be protected, but keeping all green belt land from potential development means you arbitrarily remove suitable land which could be used to help those who cannot buy a house in this beautiful county and help us avoid building tower blocks in guildford town centre. But then yours is typical of the attitude of the ‘not in my back yard’ brigade.

  6. Julian Lyon Reply

    December 13, 2014 at 1:51 pm

    I am grateful for the comments from Susan Parker and Gordon Bridger. They each have very different views of how Guildford and its surrounding borough should be developed or not.

    Susan, I completely understand the scepticism as to my motives or preconceived notions and I take these thoughts on board but I want to reassure you that my approach to the Local Plan is very much evidence-based – and we have all had our criticisms of key parts of the evidence base! – rather than pre-determined.

    Gordon, I do understand your cogent arguments for a focus on GVA (gross value added) and for Guildford not being able to stand still in the face of change and external competition.

    It is clear to me that we need a good local plan and I take at face value the efforts of the council to reach out and try to get to a position of understanding (two-way) as to the planning issues on the one hand, and the differing views expressed in the community at large on the other. They have configured this as a sounding board rather than a decision-making group in order to foster dialogue and because, democratically, that is entirely appropriate. I hope we can have good-mannered, informed debate about the issues, impacts and appropriateness or otherwise of potential policy ideas, which, in turn, leads to a sound plan for the borough.

    I do not intend to make comments on any discussions we have had or will have, but I would note that my starting point is to recognise that there is a triangle of powerful forces at play in Guildford (housing, economy and infrastructure) which act on each other positively or negatively. Around the triangle, probably restricting the size of it, are a variety of legal, environmental and geopolitical constraints (AONB, SPA, green belt, SSSI, flood plains, cross boundary issues, etc.,). And hanging over this, as if it were not already challenging enough, is the requirement of NPPF for us to ‘plan positively’.

    I do not know the answer and, whilst I have some professional views, these are a very small piece of the jigsaw. To Chris and Susan, I am not sure the debate of ‘out versus up’ is particularly sophisticated if it fails to comprehend all of the issues and constraints of each approach, but I do recognise from the data available that the Borough has some of its biggest deprivation in areas where the development density is actually quite low. The focus must, therefore, be on creating and maintaining great environments in which to live, work and play, and on having the quality of education and healthcare to support them. Experience tells us these are easier to provide in urban areas but the answer is by no means one-dimensional.

    Finally, to Jules, I firmly believe that it is only by working together that we can come up with a defensible position which can win over the inspectors. I applaud the council’s initiative (councillors and officers) in setting up the Forum – whether I am the right chairperson or not – and I assure you that I am ready to act impartially for the benefit of the borough as a whole – even if it means I actually have less opportunity to set out my thoughts as chair than might have been the case if I were a sounding board member. I thought long and hard about the invitation from GBC’s managing director to chair the forum, and I am pleased to be able to help the officers to bounce thoughts and ideas off as wide a range of individuals as they could identify. If they or the panel wish to select someone else, I would have no qualms in making way for him or her.

  7. Lisa Wright Reply

    December 13, 2014 at 9:25 pm

    Are we still to assume that GBC will be providing affordable homes (those that can be bought for a couple earning a combined £40,000 pa) amongst the high yielding executive homes proposed on our green belt?

  8. Terry Stevenson Reply

    December 13, 2014 at 11:17 pm

    Wisley Airfield. That former home of aircraft manufacturing is a brownfield site. Therefore, I imagine GGG would support development there. Surely anything is better than 7,500ft of delapidated concrete. I cannot imagine anyone could consider that a beauty spot, particularly when the bikers and dog-foulers are doing their thing.

  9. Peter Shaw Reply

    December 14, 2014 at 5:11 pm

    If you want to tackle rising house prices in Guildford, than building on the green belt may seem like a good idea. However, most of the houses that have been offered to be built by developers are the types of housing that ‘young couples’ would never be able to afford as their first home and merely serve as homes for London employees who wish to escape the rat race.

    A significant issue is the 70% to 80% of new builds, built in London that are bought by investment companies and remain tenant free. This is done so property can be bought and sold quickly as a commodity, in the financial investment markets than as a means to house people.

    This activity is one of many reasons why house prices are inflating rapidly in London in a viscous circle, which enforces the building of more new builds (with no tenants), all in the name of profit.

    Why is it that we (citizens of Guildford) have to sacrifice our green belt because of what is occurring in London?

    Why is it that we (both town and urban citizens alike) are being pitched against each other?

    Why is it that we hard working people are yet again indirectly paying a premium and price for the activities of some people/organisations in London?

    We need to highlight the mess and stress that the London property boom is having on our town.

    We need to protect our green belt.

    We need to ensure the new housing figures in the SHMA are accurate and accountable, otherwise the town and urban areas will be pitched against each other on potentially unfounded and unnecessary grounds.

    • Adrian Atkinson Reply

      December 17, 2014 at 9:50 am

      I think Terry must be thinking of another place. There was never manufacturing at Wisley.

      It was merely a place for planes to be flown to from Vickers at Weybridge for testing.

      The government reneged on its promise to re-instate it to 100% agricultural land following its requisition by the Government during World War II in 1942 and building of the hard runway in 1952.

      I doubt that the tenants and landowners would have agreed if they knew it would not be returned back to the state it was in 1942 as promised.

      I understand land was contributed to the war effort mainly by the Ockham Park Estate, Stratford and Corsair farms – with land contributed by other tenants. I also understand that farm tenants vacated their houses to comply with the government’s requirements.

      As far as a beauty spot I’m not sure of the definition of that but wildlife is certainly flourishing. I understand it is a Site of Nature Conservation Importance – SNCI. The area is home to badgers, bats, adders, and other protected species. It is also home to three species of RSPB Red List birds “at risk”. Not quite as bleak as it is portrayed.

      Perhaps the areas of hard standing could be used as housing – possibly 10 to 50 houses in keeping with the hamlet of Ockham with the rest of the land remaining for farming, recreation and wildlife?

      But I’m sure the chairman of Rab Capital, land owners and Cayman Island tax haven setup who donates money to conservatives clearly have different plans and their hundreds of millions of profits will be neatly pilled up off-shore, tax free.

  10. Garry Walton Reply

    December 17, 2014 at 12:41 am

    In reply to Terry Stevenson. Wisley ‘Airfield’ is not an airfield. It is many acres agricultural land within the green belt.

    It has an airstrip which was commandeered for war use on the understanding it would be returned after hostilities ceased.

    Wisley is ploughed by a good friend of mine who tells me it can produce enough wheat to make a million loaves of bread per annum…some airfield.

    With the help of GGG we can remove the concrete and more food will be grown.

  11. Neville Bryan Reply

    December 17, 2014 at 11:39 am

    Once again some commentators pitch this as greenfield verses town argument – much as the existing local government and commentators above would like us to do this, this is not correct.

    Good design, brownfield sites, and the University of Surrey (which did not even merit a part of the previous draft local plan despite now being one in seven of the Guildford town population), all need to be brought to the fore.

    While we keep reading propaganda that the only way to house our young families is build on our green fields, none of us should forget that Guildford has 1,400 homes (or more) many being exactly the type needed effectively under student occupation because the university still has not met its pledges from 2003, to house its growth on its own sites.

    Our politicians and council should be working measures to ensure all 4,200 (that’s what the university owes now to the people of Guildford) student places are built on Manor Park, as the university promised to do in return for it being removed from the green belt.

    Had this been done in the local plan, a large slide of the local need would be met with zero green field risk. The gift the people of Guildford gave to the university 11 years ago must be honoured.

    Instead of pushing for more greenfield development, our elected officials need to start sorting the university out, and focusing on sites which are available. I look forward to the council and Mr Lyon ensuring options like this are the major part of the solution.

    For me, it is organisations like GGG and Save Hogs Back which are standing up for the people of Guildford, rather than the politicians we (and I) voted for to do it in 2011.

    Dreamers? If dreaming of trust in local government is a dream, then yes… dreamers. Roll on May 2015, as I believe the reality now, is that after that the dreamers will be there having a say.

  12. Colin Cross Reply

    December 21, 2014 at 2:04 am

    Thanks to the latest two contributors to this debate we are, at last, getting somewhere.

    Yes, the University of Surrey has a lot to answer for and then some.

    Yes, our GBC Executve seem to be willing to overlook the university’s failings, why?

    Yes, we need affordable housing for our local growth but not to try and satisfy the
    appetite of our insatiable near neighbours just up the A3.

    No, Wisley is not the answer. We need proportionality in any plan we can buy into.
    Brownfield sites and limited borough-wide developments are the way forward.

    All our wards must take a share of the burden but that figure has to be subject to the
    full range of constraints that really do limit what is a realistic limit over the next 20 years.

    One can only hope that both our urban and rural wards will see that we are all on the same side in trying to protect our heritage for those to follow and not be divided.

    Come May there has to be a fundamental change and that is up to our electorate.

    We are dangerously close to a point of no return, let’s hope everyone sees that now.

    Colin Cross is a Guildford borough councillor for the Lovelace Ward.

  13. Ray Briggs Reply

    December 23, 2014 at 7:46 pm

    I also have a sceptical view of dreamers, but green belt is not a dream.

    It was a reasoned solution to the problem of urban over expansion and has worked well for many years.

    If we lose it we will not get it back, and when it is gone the economy of West Surrey will be wrecked.

    Who will want to live and work here when we have concreted from Aldershot to Croydon and from Kingston to Horsham?

    It makes me laugh when we talk about increasing the population. How? We can’t move here now, let alone when this proposed mass influx occurs. Guildford will be permanently gridlocked.

    • Peter Wilson Reply

      December 24, 2014 at 7:46 pm

      How exactly then do you propose we deal the the national housing crisis and lack of affordable housing in the south east in particular?

      We need to improve the transport infrastructure as we build the housing that the next generation desperately need. The green belt does not need to be removed, its boundaries need to be changed to protect areas of natural beauty while giving young people the opportunity to buy and live here. There quite simply are not enough brownfield sites to do this and i for one do not want to see tower blocks in guildford centre.

      You are correct, the green belt WAS a good solution, but that was decades ago when we had a far smaller population. The GGG do not speak for all of us as is obvious from the varied comments here, burying your head in the sand is not a solution to a problem. We need to be prepared to compromise to build more affordable housing in Surrey.

      • Claire Walker Reply

        December 28, 2014 at 11:04 pm

        I totally agree with Peter Wilson’s comment. Tower blocks in Guildford town are not the answer.

        I have lived in the borough all my life and seen so many changes over the last 50 years.

        The borough used to be a lot quieter, the roads safe to cycle on and life a lot slower, but things change over time.

        I have witnessed villages and hamlets that used to be full of young families now turned into hamlets and villages full of OAPs. The very people who have the time now to campaign hardest against any alteration to their village boundaries.

        Shame on them forcing their carers and gardeners to travel so far to serve them!

        Yes we need to make sure the infrastructure, such as school places and medical facilities are in place, but the villages should accept change and expansion and see the release of a tiny proportion 1.5% of green belt land as a sacrifice worth making and not armageddon!

      • Adrian Atkinson Reply

        December 29, 2014 at 12:58 pm

        Surrey can’t solve the national housing crisis. An 80% off the market rate in Guildford borough is not really affordable for young families. But the population growth figures banded around don’t actually live in the borough with a significant proportion not currently in the UK.

        There is a balance, but the general narrative for the whole of the last year has been either lots of development or people thinking those against excessive development want no development. The plan has to be “positive” but that doesn’t mean it has to wreck what we have.

        The current infrastructure is not adequate for current needs. So for me, putting more concrete next to excessive development and concrete isn’t the answer.

        There are too few places for water to drain away as it is in the borough without removing more green fields which act as flood meadows and much needed drainage.

        The answer is to have moderate growth in Guildford around 300 homes per annum to cater for a sustainable local population growth and divert the excessive growth away from the most populated county in the most populated major country (England) in Europe to the areas of capacity and economic need.

        • Stephen Jones Reply

          January 1, 2015 at 9:04 am

          Excuse me if I have got this wrong, but Adrian Atksinson’s solution is to have “moderate growth in Guildford around 300 homes per acre” (that is 720 dwellings per hectare).

          Have he any idea how dense that is?

          His tower blocks will be in the clouds! He then goes on to suggest diverting excessive growth away to more deprived areas.

          Have you actually stopped to think about how that might be engineered? Maybe checkpoints on the A3 north and south?

          What he proposes is totally unrealistic. Is he a member of the GGG by any chance?

          • Adrian Atkinson

            January 3, 2015 at 12:36 pm

            I think that was edited/spelling issue – meant 300 per annum. I will ask for it to be corrected.

            [Ed: Thanks for pointing that out. It has now been amended in your earlier reply.]

  14. Mary Bedforth Reply

    December 29, 2014 at 4:42 pm

    Guildford was grid-locked this afternoon when I came home from Farnham on the A31.

  15. Stuart Barnes Reply

    December 31, 2014 at 4:40 pm

    It is pointless to pretend to tackle the consequences of idiotic policies (unrestricted and unwanted immigration), what is necessary is to stop those policies.

    There would be no need for house building on the scale envisaged if the next government get’s a grip on immigration and sends back as many as possible of those here already illegally.

    Obviously it will be necessary to get out of the EU as well. We need to vote for any party that has those objectives in its manifesto. We all need to decide which party that is.

  16. Jo Moore Reply

    January 3, 2015 at 1:54 pm

    Please correct me if I am wrong.

    I understand from Guildford Borough Council officers that unless affordable houses are owned by a housing association, those who rent such houses are entitled to buy them after five years, at a substantial discount.

    They are then free to sell them on the open market and make a considerable profit, at which point those houses will no longer be “affordable”.

    How will this help?

    Will the council ensure that all affordable houses will remain affordable?

    • Jim Allen Reply

      January 4, 2015 at 9:52 am

      Excellent point – no point in having (demanding) low cost housing if it is immediately transferred to commercial organisations who then profit..

  17. Colin Cross Reply

    January 5, 2015 at 1:16 am

    Obvious answer: use housing associations like everyone else.

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