Fringe Box



Letter: My Views on the ‘Should We Review the Local Plan’ Question

Published on: 4 Jun, 2021
Updated on: 4 Jun, 2021

From: Jan Harwood

Lead councillor for Planning and Lib Dem borough councillor for Merrow

In response to: Cllr Harwood Appears Spectacularly Misinformed on Planning Policy

A reasonable position has always been far harder to justify and defend than an unreasonable one.

By its very definition, it requires a careful consideration of both advantages and disadvantages. Unfortunately, Liberal Democrats are often accused of “scaremongering” when highlighting the disadvantages and rather absurdly, “dreaming” when highlighting the advantages, sometimes at the same time!

Let’s put aside the personal remarks for now; I have already accepted that this is a part of the job. It is entirely possible that I am both incredibly incompetent and uninformed on all things planning and so incredibly deft at political manoeuvring that somehow I remain the lead member for planning policy at GBC, in a coalition administration, with a coalition partner whose entire reason for creation revolved around the perceived injustices of the Local Plan and who currently hold the leadership of the council.

However, it is also possible that as a “fresh face” unhindered by history or political baggage (previously uninvolved in politics) I was tasked with getting to grips with the rather complex planning system and formulate a path forward that is in the best interest of residents.

Not just the current landlords and landowners, in the interest of all residents, present and future. That is my objective. I believe the best route forward is robust Development Management Policies, which are some of the most ambitious and progressive policies in the entire UK. They are due for final public consultation in October.

The various assertions regarding the “green belt” are a distraction and largely irrelevant. For the record, cherry picking sympathetic case law to prop up a particular argument is something I would consider dishonest. Similarly, the word “review” implies that the result is not predetermined. Anyone claiming to already have all the answers is either pushing a personal agenda or ill informed.

Let me break political norms and actually answer some questions directly:

Can the allocated sites be returned to green belt? In theory and law, almost anything is possible. The Secretary of State has pretty much ultimate power for example.

Do I think it is achievable given the circumstances? No I don’t. Having taken them out and accepted (through legal challenge) the principle of development there, any reversal would be challenged.

What has changed? Timetables may have shifted but there is no fundamental change in circumstances beyond what a planning inspector has already considered. If infrastructure is delayed then it is delayed. This just means development might need to come later and not that development is no longer acceptable! NPPF Paragraphs 135 and 139 are a good starting point to understanding just how high the barrier for “new” green belt designation is. Some may remember GBC’s failed attempt at creating green belt around Ash and Tongham during the present Local Plan process, only to be shot down by the inspector.

Will a Local Plan review reduce housing targets? It depends. If done right this minute, the numbers would go up based on current national planning policy. In the future, with a different set of government policies, I don’t know. It would depend on the national planning changes, on whether the government listens to the pushback regarding population growth estimates and whether the whitepaper solidifies into something more.

Are we still going to review the Local Plan? Yes, because we are always looking for opportunities for improvement. But a “review” doesn’t mean an instant change or a complete rewrite of the entire plan. On top of that we have a legal duty to review every five years anyway. Our duty is to deliver housing that meets the needs of the borough. If the needs change so must our plan.

Why do I support a “disastrous Conservative Local Plan”? I don’t like the current planning system. However, I don’t think either Jenrick nor Boris are struggling to sleep at night because Cllr Harwood is unhappy with their planning system. On that basis, I play the hand we are dealt. Under the current system it is better to have a functional Local Plan as opposed to no plan. Simple as that.

Why won’t you at least try? Because “trying” isn’t free. Time and resources are not free. It would be a negligent of this administration, given our current financial situation, to pursue options which we do not in good faith believe to be achievable.

And here is the real kicker; it is very obvious what the “right thing to say” in Guildford is. Even the Conservatives get on board the “Local Plan bashing wagon” near elections, and it is their own plan!

But I am entirely uninterested in playing political games on this topic, it is too important and too impactful on the future prosperity of our borough. Therefore, I will continue to advocate for a reasonable way forward, with all the risks and benefits carefully being considered.

But aren’t we are building too many homes! No. Over the last century, as a nation, we have failed to provide suitable and affordable housing for a large portion of our society. Ironically, I do not believe the current government agenda of “build build build” will actually address the issue.

As long as international demand and lack of rent controls remain unaddressed, a lot of new homes will continue to simply pad out the investment portfolios of the wealthy. On the other hand, providing affordable housing (however farcical calling 80% of Guildford market value “affordable” is) does at least allow some of the population to enter the housing market and escape the reality of being a wage slave that my entire generation faces.

I do not think turning off the faucet is a viable solution to the trickle down economics we endure. Easy to suggest if you already own a house though.

I appreciate that the subject of planning and development management is emotive. However, good decision making requires a hard-lined approach to the facts. That is my role and I am committed to it.

Share This Post

Responses to Letter: My Views on the ‘Should We Review the Local Plan’ Question

  1. David Roberts Reply

    June 4, 2021 at 6:59 pm

    Not a word about what is happening right here and now in villages like West Horsley, or any sign that Cllr Harwood cares to do anything about the devastating impacts of insetting while a Local Plan review proceeds at a leisurely pace over the next couple of years. A splurge of affordable housebuilding won’t stop the destruction already happening on his watch.

    No sign either that Cllr Bigmore or his party are willing to give the review the strong political steer it requires in order to be meaningful. The technocrats must be told what the desired outcome is, or else it won’t be achieved.

    When will those self-professed champions of open democracy disclose its planned terms of reference – if not to the public at least to all councillors – before they are set in concrete?

  2. Jim Allen Reply

    June 4, 2021 at 10:09 pm

    Not one mentions of lack of potable water, probably the strongest argument for house number reduction and ergo, salvation of what was the green belt.

Leave a Comment

Please see our comments policy. All comments are moderated and may take time to appear.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *