Fringe Box



Letter: Local Plan Review Requires Fresh Thinking

Published on: 26 Nov, 2023
Updated on: 26 Nov, 2023

From: David Roberts

In response to: Scope of Mandatory Local Plan Review To Be Considered

I am sorry to see the R4GV leader trot out the old canard (repeated so often by the Tories and Lib Dem Cllr George Potter) that a meaningful review of the Local Plan risks producing a higher, rather than lower, housebuilding target [Scope of Mandatory Local Plan To Be Considered].  The so-called “Standard Method” for calculating housing is not mandatory and should not spook anyone.

More broadly, it would be better it if all party leaders could make clear what, ideally, they want the outcome of a Local Plan review to be.  Otherwise, it’s going to be the usual whitewash.

If a party went into a national election pledging only to review existing policy, and not to change it, they would never get elected.  The Local Plan review is not a technical exercise and councillors are not elected to be led by the nose by council officers and lawyers.  They are there to make up-front political choices and set clear directions.

Everyone agrees that the Tory Local Plan is defective – even, finally, the Tories.  But no-one (except I hope the Guildford Greenbelt Group) seems prepared to say what changes they want.

The Tories argue implausibly that their perfect creation has been undermined by unforeseen factors.  But The Dragon’s archives show that all these factors – including the lack of infrastructure provision and the inflated population projections and housing need figures – have been explained in painful detail to them ever since they foisted the first draft of the plan on us in 2013.

Since the plan, almost unaltered from that first draft, was adopted in 2019, Brexit, Covid, Ukraine and the cost-of-living crisis have merely compounded its founding flaws.

The Tories didn’t listen, and now seem to be nursing a forlorn hope that we’ve all forgotten who introduced the plan and the undemocratic way it was rammed through.

The Lib Dems (whose then leader shamefully voted with the Tories to adopt the Plan) are scarcely better.  They have no known policy on local planning and would much rather the whole thing go away.  There is perhaps a [Cllr] Potter policy, but we don’t know its status since the council and Lib Dem leader appears to have taken Trappist vows on anything relating to council business.

For five years in office, the Lib Dems have prevaricated about reviewing the plan and would not review it now were this not mandatory.  They would much prefer to carry on as we are, hiding behind whatever technical evidence the bureaucrats choose to spoon-feed them and the excuse (which gets thinner as a general election approaches) that the council is bound and gagged by an unfeeling government.

The Lib Dem group may have persuaded itself that the public don’t care about the plan, even though many of the gripes they hear on the doorstep – about traffic congestion, the lack of affordable housing, poor public transport, and overstretched social and physical infrastructure – are often the plan’s fault.

This should worry both the LibDem and Tory parliamentary candidates since, in recent local elections, over-development in the north-east of the borough has seen about 10,000 votes desert their parties in favour of local ones. The threat of an extra 2,200 houses on green fields at Wisley is just one local issue here.

So please let’s see some party manifestos for the Local Plan review that frees planning in Guildford from the dismal nexus of big housebuilders, professional consultants and planning officers. For inspiration, I suggest:

Scrapping the Plan’s controversial “strategic” development sites, which were always overblown, unsustainable and clearly not needed;
Reducing the housing target from 14,000 to, say, 9,000 in line with revised ONS population projections and compelling studies going back six years;
Prioritising denser, higher, urban, brownfield sites for housing, where jobs and infrastructure already exists and where most people want to live;
Increasing council resources for processing small, routine planning applications, putting tax-paying residents ahead of non-paying, free-riding developers in the queue for local planning services;
Cutting resources for processing large applications relating to green belt and greenfield sites (as well as large windfall sites not in the plan), in order to protect the countryside, address the climate emergency and push developers towards regenerating our badly run-down town instead;
Robustly defending these administrative measures against any legal or government challenge on efficiency, public-interest and value-for-money grounds.

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