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Letter: Open Letters That Play Fast and Loose With the Facts Won’t Help With the Local Plan

Published on: 29 Jun, 2020
Updated on: 29 Jun, 2020
From George Potter

Lib Dem borough councillor for Burpham

In response to: Open Letter – It Is Time the Council Addresses the Mistakes of its Predecessors
As a Guildford borough councillor, I offer this response to Karen Stevens.

First, when one writes an open letter it is normally customary to send it to the people it’s addressed to. Unfortunately, despite being among the people it’s addressed to, the first I knew about this letter was when I saw it in The Guildford Dragon.

Second, you ask councillors to answer the following questions:

A) What motivates me to ignore this request for a review of the Local Plan; and
B) What motivates me to ignore promises made when I was elected?

In response to A), no one is ignoring your request. Highways England have cancelled plans for improvements to the A3. This is true, and it is also true that the expectation of those improvements helped to underpin some housing allocations in the Local Plan.

This is why, in the original response you received, the council made clear we were going to review the infrastructure situation to see if there are other ways it can be made to work.

If there is, as you suggest, no way in which the infrastructure can possibly support the housing allocations without the A3 improvements, then such a review will make that clear.

If that’s the case then the next logical step would be to look again at the Local Plan and whether it’s physically possible to deliver it.

But no council would have a legally sound basis to start tearing up their Local Plan just because a single road scheme was cancelled unless they could demonstrate a clear need to do so. The review GBC is undertaking will help establish whether that need exists.

I don’t know what else a reasonable person could expect GBC to do.

It doesn’t matter how often people might say, “I don’t like the Local Plan and I want it gone now.” The Local Plan was passed by the previous council, within the bounds of the law, and the law does not permit it to be changed unless the correct legal process is followed and unless there is a clear legal basis for doing so.

Some might think seeing council taxpayers saddled with hundreds of thousands of pounds in legal fees, following an unlawful attempt to alter the Local Plan, is a price worth paying to protect their view, but that is not a sound basis for responsible decision-making.

As to B), my understanding is that the promises made by councillors, of all parties, never went any further than promising to review the legality of the Local Plan (this happened, and the Local Plan was found to be perfectly legal) and to ensure no development happens without adequate infrastructure to support it.

So any claim that I, or any of my Lib Dem colleagues, are ignoring promises made when elected is simply untrue.

From my point of view, as a councillor for a ward which will be massively impacted by a strategic site, I think it’s disgraceful that the Tories forced through the Local Plan just days before the election, including a housing target with about 2,000 more houses than was actually required by the Planning Inspector.

I also remain deeply concerned about the gap between the theory and the practice when it comes to the impact that strategic sites will have on existing communities.

But with what it is actually possible to achieve at this point, the focus must be on the masterplans and planning applications for the strategic sites when they come forward, and about making sure planning permission isn’t granted unless the infrastructure needs are provided for, and that’s what I and most councillors are focusing on.

Unfortunately, your letter has very little to do with what’s achievable or realistic. You talk about, for instance, keeping the Local Plan but simply “deleting” one or two strategic sites.

I would dearly love to know how you envisage the council being allowed to delete almost 4,000 houses from the Local Plan without the Local Plan itself needing to be radically altered.

I’d also dearly love to know how you think the courts will be persuaded to accept the argument that it’s okay for GBC to ditch the Local Plan solely on the basis of a single road-widening scheme cancellation and an open letter of displeasure from a pressure group campaigner.

Now I must confess that I debated long and hard whether to reply to your letter, given the grief it will no doubt cause me and given that my words will almost certainly fall upon deaf ears.

But the facts don’t alter themselves just because we don’t like them.

The council, as an institution, and councillors as individuals, are reacting to the cancellation of the A3 improvements appropriately and reasonably, and if the Local Plan’s housing target proves to be non-viable because of the cancellation then the Local Plan itself may yet be reviewed.

But open letters which play fast and loose with the facts, and make unfounded accusations of broken election promises, won’t help that process, especially when the author doesn’t even send the letter to the people the letter is intended for.

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Responses to Letter: Open Letters That Play Fast and Loose With the Facts Won’t Help With the Local Plan

  1. Jules Cranwell Reply

    June 29, 2020 at 2:43 pm

    George Potter would do well to pay more respect to the voting public, and particularly someone as respected and well informed as Karen Stevens. At no time has she “played fast and loose with facts”, and he should be ashamed to have suggested such. Perhaps he should have debated a little longer and harder, before penning his response.

    As to “deleting 4,000 homes”, the council can easily do this, as it is well aware that the over-inflated, over-supply can easily absorb this.

  2. Lisa Wright Reply

    June 29, 2020 at 7:12 pm

    Cllr Potter may wish to look at the Lib Dem statement which clearly states they promised to review the Local Plan, something which they haven’t upheld.

    Cllr Potter may also wish to reign in his purposeful condescending implications regarding of Ms Stevens character and grant some credit for her in-depth knowledge of the Local Plan. We’ve all had enough of the previous council’s derogatory remarks to those opposed to the Local Plan; that’s why they nearly all lost their seats at election time.

    Why didn’t the new council review the Local Plan as soon as they were elected?

    • George Potter Reply

      June 30, 2020 at 10:17 am

      The council did review the Local Plan. An independent QC was brought in to review it and they concluded that it was perfectly legally sound and could not be changed.

      The only option we could have taken was to move very quickly to the standard mid-term review of a Local Plan, but doing so would not have changed the housing target and would have prevented the development of additional planning documents (such as the Development Management Policies currently out for consultation) which give the council a way to add more detail to the Local Plan and to provide additional rules and constraints on what is, and what isn’t, acceptable development.

      We decided that the latter would be of far more benefit to residents than the former.

      George Potter is a Lib Dem borough councillor for Burpham.

  3. Alan Young Reply

    June 30, 2020 at 12:44 am

    I very much enjoy Cllr Potter’s contributions to local political debate and it is refreshing to see a councillor willing to take a view, express it openly, and engage with the people of Guildford.

    In his letter, Cllr Potter states “I think it’s disgraceful that the Tories forced through the Local Plan just days before the election, including a housing target with about 2,000 more houses than was actually required by the planning inspector.”

    However, I seem to recall that a number of Cllr Potter’s Lib Dem colleagues, including their leader, voted with the Conservatives to approve the very same plan. Cllr Potter should not forget to credit them for their support for the plan.

    • George Potter Reply

      July 2, 2020 at 9:29 pm

      I thank Alan Young, I enjoy his contributions as well. And he’s quite right to point out that it wasn’t only Conservative councillors who voted for the Local Plan.

      But to be clear on the numbers, the only Lib Dem councillor to vote for the Local Plan was Caroline Reeves. Two other Lib Dem councillors abstained and three voted against.

      However, it’s important to remember that, when the vote was brought before the election, it wasn’t possible for councillors to vote for delay on making the decision, the decision had to be made there and then.

      And the unfortunate reality is that the choice boiled down to being either the flawed Local Plan or no Local Plan at all for at least another two years.

      It should also be remembered that Cllr Caroline Reeves represents Friary & St Nicolas ward, an area which had seen, in the few years prior to the Local Plan, planning applications for almost 1,000 new student dwellings plus the 450 homes of Solum station development. Because of the lack of the Local Plan not only was it impossible for planning permission to be refused (as any refusals would be overturned by the planning inspector), it also meant that there was no new infrastructure being put in place to support all this new development which added up to the equivalent of a strategic site.

      My understanding is that Caroline Reeves voted for the Local Plan to protect her ward from the disastrous consequences of going another two years, or perhaps even longer, without the protections that even a flawed Local Plan would offer it. That doesn’t mean she liked the Local Plan, it just meant that she was doing the best she could for her residents. I find that commendable and if I were in her shoes then I would have done the same.

      George Potter is a Lib Dem borough councillor for Burpham.

  4. Simon Mason Reply

    June 30, 2020 at 7:51 am

    Once again a well reasoned and much-appreciated response to Karen Stevens’ open letter from Cllr Potter and I can assure him that not all of us have deaf ears.

  5. Jules Cranwell Reply

    June 30, 2020 at 8:55 am

    A quote from Caroline Reeves in the above link: “The Lib Dems and I will demand better from Guildford Council.”

    This attitude from George Potter is not better, it is just as bad.

    This link most definitely does show the LDs promised to ‘review’ the local plan, not its legality. To say otherwise is a Trumpian distortion of the truth.

    • George Potter Reply

      June 30, 2020 at 11:57 am


      I would invite Mr Cranwell to read the 2019 Lib Dem borough council manifesto section on the Local Plan:

      I would challenge him, and anyone else for that matter, to read that and then claim that the Lib Dems are doing anything different to what we promised before the election.

  6. Peter Elliott Reply

    July 1, 2020 at 11:19 am

    Surely the declaration of a climate emergency entitles the council to make a more radical reappraisal of the environmental impact of the local plan, and not just it’s legality. This declaration is beginning to remind me of that prayer, “Dear God, please make me good, but not yet.”

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