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Letter: Guildford Faces a Planning Policy Two-edged Sword

Published on: 15 Nov, 2021
Updated on: 15 Nov, 2021

From Ramsey Nagaty

Leader of the Guildford Greenbelt Group at GBC

In response to: Four Surrey Boroughs on Government’s Building Target Naughty Step – But Not Guildford

Guildford borough faces a two-edged sword under current government planning policy. If there is more development, some of it very unpopular, it will help us to meet our housing targets and might reduce unwanted developments but there is still an incredible amount of development, categorised as “infilling” and “windfall”, from areas now without green belt protection.

If a local authority fails to meet their five-year housing land supply target this can enable developments to be accepted due to the presumption in favour of development. The consequence of not having a five-year housing land supply is therefore that councils start to lose control over where new homes are built.

If a developer submits an application to build homes on a site that is in a sustainable location, councils often have to approve that application even if it isn’t a site they would have chosen.

Guildford has demonstrated we currently have a 7.4-year housing supply. This should protect Guildford and the villages from unwanted additional development.

The problem for our borough is that should the housing figure requirement be reduced developments will have already been built, approved or in the pipeline, thus more difficult to remove. And the land that has already been taken out of the green belt under the Local Plan will be difficult, perhaps impossible, to re-instate.

The Guildford Greenbelt Group (GGG) were instrumental in establishing that the ONS population data and figures for housing need are incorrect. GGG ensured, working with the Office for Statistical Regulation, that the Office for National Statistics (ONS) confirmed in writing to GBC that the population data and 2014 housing numbers for Guildford had errors.

In further meetings, GGG was advised that ONS recognised errors and were working on their algorithm but would not finalise this till next year (2022). They stated that in the meantime their figures should be used as a starting point and adjusted according to local factors supported by evidence.

GGG calculated that GBC housing figures based on 2014 population data, approved by the Local Plan’s examining inspector, are overstated by at least 5,000, mainly due to incorporating 17 to 25-year-olds as requiring a home within five years, because this includes students.

Surrey University comprises 40 per cent overseas students who leave the UK after completing their course. Furthermore, Guildford has a low birth rate (1.36) amongst women of typical childbearing age, so Guildford would appear to have a declining population.

There are examples where planning inspectors have adjudged the departure from 2014 housing projections is permissible and accepted the evidence submitted to support the reduced figure.

Whilst GGG have argued that the threat of higher figures has been used to maintain the Local Plan high housing requirement, with the move of Cllr Harwood to the Conservatives, there might now be less resistance on the council Executive to revising the figures now removed it is hoped progress can be made.

Ministers are now finally making statements about the housing numbers being incorrect and trying to get political advantage in headline speeches. But it is just “Blah, blah, blah” propaganda until the government legislate and change the planning rules to enable local authorities to have the correct housing figures accepted initially so they can work and base plans on more realistic figures rather than the discredited 2014 figures.

Residents are frustrated at the lack of progress with a review of the Local Plan 2019. GGG has pushed for a review and the appointment of a specialist planning expert to lead GBC through the myriad processes so as to get a more sustainable, environmentally greener Local Plan that will regenerate the town centre and minimise further increases in congestion.

Meanwhile, GBC is meeting the government dictated housing numbers but the government has not, in turn, provided the necessary infrastructure.  There is a buffer of 4,000 in the Local Plan for sites not being deliverable for one reason or another.

Without the infrastructure and with increasing problems relating to air pollution and climate change, an urgent rethink is required. There is a strong case that allocated and windfall sites should not proceed when the required new infrastructure is not provided, where they create cumulative infrastructure stress and when they add unsustainably to congestion and our carbon footprint.

 

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test One Response to Letter: Guildford Faces a Planning Policy Two-edged Sword

  1. Jules Cranwell Reply

    November 15, 2021 at 10:29 pm

    But this can’t be right. Cllr Spooner has gone on record that he has saved our green belt by taking 13 villages out of it. Surely we can believe him.

  2. Linda Parker Picken Reply

    November 22, 2021 at 3:21 pm

    This is a very clear explanation of the status quo in Guildford Borough.

    All the time that the Local Plan review fails to make headway, Cllr Ramsey Nagaty is quite correct to point out that development continues apace, a lot of it windfall sites are not allocated in the Plan, but often on land which was green belt before so many villages were inset.

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