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Letter: Problems Surround Developer Plan to Demolish Cottage and Garages in Send

Published on: 10 Feb, 2021
Updated on: 10 Feb, 2021

The garages at Send

From: Lynn Yeo

In Send, a private developer has just submitted plans to build nine houses after they demolish Waterside Farm Cottage and eight GBC-owned garages on Wharf Lane to provide an access road.

I believe this creates governance issues and a conflict of interests at the borough council.

At present, all the garages are occupied, mostly by residents of Wharf Lane or nearby Send Road. In 2019, GBC made an agreement with the developer, valid for 12 months, to sell them the garages for £225,000 if they secured permission for 10 homes on the Cottage site, permission that would need to be given by GBC.

Quietly in 2020, the agreement was renewed and the stipulation for 10 homes as well as the time limit on the developer’s option to buy the site was removed.

Most of the houses on this stretch of Wharf Lane do not have off-street parking and we were on a waiting list for seven years before a vacancy came up. All vehicles that drive down our narrow cul de sac use the hardstanding in front of the garages to turn around.

The developer proposes only eight unallocated parking spaces, which do not provide the same level of security or amenity.

That GBC would sell a much-used amenity to a private developer to the detriment of existing tenants and residents I find appalling.

The deal being dependent on GBC giving the developer permission to build on the site creates a conflict of interest because the council can sell the garages only if it approves the application.

When we asked if we could buy the garage we have been renting, we were told the garages were not for sale. We asked about renting other garages but received no reply.

When I queried this with GBC in 2019, I was told that as it was not a planning issue, there was no way to object and in any case, the deal was already signed. This does not explain why the council then entered into a new agreement after the first one expired, despite being aware of significant local opposition.

Our councillors, Susan Parker and the late Patrick Sheard, were told about these plans but also warned that there was no way for them to lodge an objection and were also sworn to secrecy on the details of the deal until it was done. It was reported in getsurrey at the time.

The second conflict arises from a covenant on Waterside Farm Cottage. The site is next to the River Wey Navigation and subject to a restrictive covenant put in place in 1992 as a Section 106 condition for the development of the homes on Sanger Drive, a brownfield site.

The covenant restricts the site of Waterside Farm Cottage to a single dwelling and prohibits further development on that site. The private developer in this application wants to include a clause in a future Section 106 agreement to confirm GBC will not enforce the covenant.

For their financial benefit, they are asking GBC to ignore past commitments made to local residents and abdicate its duty to enforce covenants.

The developer says 30 years is so far back in history it is irrelevant.

Due to the significant overdevelopment in Send, including 70 new houses next road over in Tannery Lane, I believe it more important to uphold and enforce covenants which aim to prevent overdevelopment, especially here, diagonally opposite a Site of Conservation Interest and next to a River Wey Conservation Area.

I also believe this planning application requires extra scrutiny because of the governance issues raised by the deal to sell the garages, and the developer’s request for GBC not to enforce the restrictive covenant, both of which appear to be against the public interest.

The Dragon asked Guildford council to clarify their position and this was their response.

1. Is it true Cllr Susan Parker was told the matter was to be kept confidential as claimed and reported in Surrey Live? If so, why?

Council leader Joss Bigmore, lead for service delivery, said: “We informed Cllr Susan Parker of this transaction in her role as ward councillor. There is no record of Cllr Parker being informed this was confidential.”

2. Is Ms Yeo’s claim: “Quietly in 2020, the agreement was renewed and the stipulation for 10 homes, as well as a time limit on the developer’s option to buy the site, was removed.” If so, why?

The decision notice was published on our website. The option agreement has a time limit for the developer to buy the site. This does not stipulate 10 homes.

3. How does this behaviour comply with the council’s policy of openness?

The decision notice was published on our website in line with our constitution. We are committed to being transparent and continue to review all of our policies and procedures.

4. Why has the council not replied to the enquiry about renting garages elsewhere?

We are not aware of the enquiry.

5. Regarding Waterside Farm Cottage, is GBC considering not enforcing the 1992 covenant as claimed?

We are not considering this. We will consider whether to enforce a restrictive covenant based on the merits of the facts at that time.

Cllr Parker commented:

“Re question 1, I do not think this transaction complies with the stated GBC policy of openness.

“Surrey Live’s account is correct except for the timing.
“Cllr Patrick Sheard and I were called to a confidential meeting with senior GBC officers, not in the planning department. I think it was in summer 2019.
“We were told GBC had already entered into a provisional agreement in relation to the site. We were not provided with documents.

“We were told it was a confidential matter and that we were not permitted to disclose anything about the meeting.

“We both protested, since we were aware this would be very controversial locally, but were informed:

  • It was not a planning matter;
  • So we had no right to call this in;
  • We could not protest or challenge the decision in any way;
  • We were required to keep [this] confidential because it was a financial matter; and
  • It was a fait accompli so any complaint or protest would be ineffective.
“Since it is now in the public domain I assume the requirement for confidentiality is no longer enforceable.”

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test 5 Responses to Letter: Problems Surround Developer Plan to Demolish Cottage and Garages in Send

  1. Susan Parker Reply

    February 10, 2021 at 5:06 pm

    Cllr Patrick Sheard and I were invited to a meeting involving the two of us and officers and no other councillors. Cllr Bigmore was not present; it is disappointing that he is defending GBC in supporting development of this sensitive area. Patrick and I were informed that we had no right to challenge this proposed development and we were told by the officers that it was financially sensitive and so (as is normal for council financial matters) confidential. This was also the reason given for no papers being issued to us, and it just being a verbal matter. Of course, there is no record of us being informed it was confidential because there is no record of the meeting as far as I’m aware; no minutes, nor any webcast record of the meeting. Normally ward councillors are informed of planning proposals for their wards in writing. No documents were ever issued to us.

    Susan Parker is a GGG borough councillor for Send

  2. Lynn Yeo Reply

    February 10, 2021 at 5:39 pm

    I have to contest GBC’s response to question 2. Below is a link to the 2019 and 2020 deals on GBC’s website. They both have different conditions as I stated, with the time limit for option to exercise the deal and specified number or houses removed for the 2020 version.

    https://www2.guildford.gov.uk/councilmeetings/mgDecisionDetails.aspx?IId=7022&Opt=1

  3. David Roberts Reply

    February 11, 2021 at 3:11 pm

    This all looks very dodgy. I would urge Cllr Bigmore to take a very large step back and look at the whole question again before it affects the reputation of his administration.

  4. Martin Elliott Reply

    February 11, 2021 at 7:10 pm

    On a general discussion thread on proposed council rent and garage rent increases on Facebook I asked Cllr George Potter if there was a policy on garages, provision, maintenance and rent.

    I already knew the Council House rent policy of Inflation + 1% ‘to recover from years when rents were not increased’. The rumour was that garage rents were going up 3% this year. (Yes I do rent garages near my council house).

    His reply was.

    “So in general terms I’ve just been looking and can’t find any relevant council documents, but my recollection from meetings is that:

    a) there isn’t any overall policy on garages

    b) where garages are underused there’s generally a move towards redeveloping them for housing

    c) garages aren’t better advertised because the team in charge of them is small and overworked (like almost every other team) and so doesn’t spend much effort on marketing them

    d) charges go up because it’s a non-essential service which the council doesn’t have to provide at all and so it’s considered better to raise money there than elsewhere.”

    I do hope this is not a general policy of GBC now.
    If a service is not statutory/essential, should it be treated as a ‘Cash Cow’ even if 70 years old as a provision!

    Or maybe that’s the same as Garden Waste collection Fortnitely for £42 per year. Justified to me as being competitive with neighbouring Councils and Recycle/Waste was free (despite it being an item in the Revenue Budget!)

    Garage rent graphic

  5. Jules Cranwell Reply

    February 13, 2021 at 8:46 am

    If Cllr Parker says she was told the matter was confidential, and not to be discussed, then that is precisely what happened. She has a well-deserved reputation for honesty.

    This does show council officers in a very poor light. The developer stands to make profits in the region of £4 million, so there is clearly a lot at stake.

    Unfortunately, this event is typical of GBC’s officers making decisions behind closed doors, under a cloak of secrecy. We were promised things would change, after the dismal tory years. Have they?

    The council has a duty to uphold the covenant, whatever the “merits” of the case at the time. Covenants cannot simply be ignored if found to be inconvenient.

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