Fringe Box



Letter: I Did Not Mislead

Published on: 8 Dec, 2018
Updated on: 8 Dec, 2018

From Susan Parker

leader of the Guildford Greenbelt Group

In response to: Cllr Parker’s Interview Responses Were Misleading

Not for the first time, the leader of the council has engaged in a personal attack, playing the man, not the ball. We may have different political views, but the fact that my views are different from those of Cllr Spooner doesn’t make my statements misleading. Since I’ve been accused of making misleading statements I wish to respond.

1. My words were “the housing number is still very much up for grabs”. Which it is.  The inspector has written, “There are many modifications that are required for soundness that do not relate to the housing requirement,” and “In the interests of fairness I intend to hold a further hearing to discuss the housing requirement arising from the latest household projections, the implications for the additional sites that were included in the main modifications, and the way forward.”

Those main modifications have been subject to a public consultation, and we don’t yet know what the Inspector will propose. We do know that there will be public hearings on the new housing number, likely to be in mid-February. The response to much lower Office of National Statistics projections has not yet been agreed by government, and this too will have a bearing on our plan.  Any revised main modifications would need consultation and submission to the Inspector again, all of which takes time.  As a result, when the new council is elected in May, it is very probable that the current plan will not have been fully ratified. At that stage, it will be possible for a new council to engage in a rapid review and reconsideration of the issues, and to amend our draft Local Plan, if they so wish.

2. I apologise for an oversimplification.  Of course, our local authority does a lot of work in relation to rubbish collection, maintenance of parks, and providing supportive care services (not most social care though, which is provided by Surrey County Council at present). Licensing, to which I referred, includes making sure our taxis and food outlets are safe.  Our sports, leisure and entertainment are extremely important (GGG fought hard to keep the Electric Theatre as a public theatre supported by the Council rather than a venue under the control of ACM), and of course, we care passionately about our parks and countryside.

However, the most controversial and contentious aspect of local government at present is the impact of our Local Plan, and there is a consequential impact on all our services.  This is why it is hugely important. If we increase the number of houses in the borough by 25% over 15 years – proposed by this council – then the impact on our infrastructure, our parks, our social care and our rubbish collection will be enormous (and on our roads, which aren’t administered at borough level but which will be affected). That’s why it is the biggest issue facing our borough.  IF we can reduce the increased housing number – and my contention is we should – then we will have fewer problems in the future.

3 and 4.  Cllr Spooner has himself suggested that the council could withdraw support from the plan. The inspector notes “you say you will not be recommending the new plan will be adopted with main modifications”.   Inspector Jonathan Bore, commented frequently through the Examination in Public that this plan was not his plan, nor was he confirming that this was the best possible plan; it was Guildford’s plan. He stressed throughout that he was only seeking to examine this plan for soundness. Cllr Spooner has himself raised the possibility that the council could amend the plan; this option, therefore, remains open to the council.

As a borough, we could decide that the Office of National Statistics estimate that population growth will result in 301 homes per year over the next 15 years should be the basis for our future planning.  We could then submit a revised plan for approval, with an emphasis on a lower number of homes, with emphasis on brownfield regeneration.  There would be a small delay, but this would be worthwhile.  Since the calculations underlying the proposed number of 562 have been kept firmly under wraps (with Guildford Borough Council resisting all freedom of information requests to show the calculations or the assumptions) there is no clear justification for this inflated number of proposed homes, particularly in such an environmentally sensitive area (we have 44% Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and 89% green belt).

Do note (re Cllr Spooner’s point 8) that the Local Plan can’t constrain developers to build affordable homes (which can be avoided on the grounds of “viability”) nor homes of particular sizes.

5. When it comes to using Brownfield (previously developed) land, I am not misleading. In fact, it is Cllr Spooner who is factually wrong when he states, as he has done in a council meeting, that,  “It was acknowledged by all participants during the previous hearing sessions that there were no additional brownfield sites that could be delivered within the first five years of the plan”. I’m sorry, but this is not true. I questioned why brownfield should not be developed at the Examination in Public. I also formally queried whether the plan could, in fact, be considered sound since the Brownfield Register (required as a matter of law) was only cobbled together over the Christmas period in late 2017. This was after the borough council had approved submission to the Inspector, probably following my challenge at the council meeting noting that it did not exist.

Both previously and during the Examination in Public we have raised the question of developing many of the derelict areas within Guildford. Some of these are owned by Guildford Borough Council and some by Surrey County Council, and we think many would be capable of development within five years. Some of these areas have been neglected and in need of regeneration for many years and I am sure many residents of the town centre would like to see some of the semi-derelict car park areas or areas behind hoardings redeveloped into high-quality, medium-rise decent housing.  Why do we have to wait?

When we take into account available brownfield, existing planning permissions, and student homes, we think that we could reduce the amount of countryside that is proposed for development. We stand for protecting our environment (countryside and town), for everyone.  We don’t think our position is misleading.

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