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Letter: Response from GBC Managing Director to ePetition Debate

Published on: 17 Dec, 2013
Updated on: 17 Dec, 2013

epetitionFrom Sue Sturgeon

Managing director, Guildford Borough Council

I would like to thank all those people who made the effort to get involved in the Local Plan Issues and Options by signing the e-petition calling on the council to delete inappropriate large scale housing from the Local Plan consultation.

There are a number of issues that need some clarification, particularly relating to statements made by those presenting the e-petition at the council meeting on 12 December. The points I would like to clarify are:

  • we will look at brown field sites first, and have not made any decisions on the number of new homes we need or where any development will go
  • we actually have over 3,500 people on our housing waiting list, of which some 2,300 are considered to be in priority need, with the biggest category being people who require single person housing. On average, it takes up to four years for anyone on our priority list to be allocated a home.
  • housing in the borough is expensive; the average price of a home is £358,616, which is twice as expensive as the UK average of £165,515, 1.6 times as expensive as the South East average of £216,004, and over 0.6 times as expensive as the average price of £314,435 in Surrey.
  • it takes a number of years to develop a robust evidence base of documents to support the Local Plan. We do have a Strategic Housing Market Assessment (SHMA) that is dated 2009, so we are updating this and expect to receive some preliminary results in the New Year.
  • we need to be clear about the difference between dealing with planning applications in the green belt and proposing to alter green belt boundaries in the Local Plan. In either event, as we do not yet have a housing number, this discussion is ahead of us and quite rightly forms part of the Local Plan process.
  • we are very aware of the  St Albans case, which is very interesting and we are researching the implications of this.   The St Albans case is about determination of a planning application and not about the re-drafting of the green belt boundaries.

 We have a duty to develop the Local Plan, which will allow councillors to make planning decisions that will continue to protect our valued environment. The importance of the Local Plan to guide development and provide certainty was recently acknowledged by the Chancellor in his Autumn statement, where he indicated that the making of Local Plans may become a statutory requirement for councils.

The access to a decent affordable home is an important foundation for everyone. Where it is not available other issues often occur including poor educational attainment, health issues and antisocial behaviour.

The council is required to prepare a Local Plan and has a moral duty to plan for the future for the benefit of all of our residents.  If we do not then we will not be able to control development in our borough.

I hope that as we produce further drafts of the new Local Plan that the community will continue to make valuable contributions, as they have during the Issues and Options consultation.

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Responses to Letter: Response from GBC Managing Director to ePetition Debate

  1. Robert Burch Reply

    December 17, 2013 at 12:00 pm

    GBC’s MD should take care with her statistics to ensure avoid mis-interpretation. This will be critical as we move into a debate about housing need and housing demand. Using her figures, the average house in Guildford Borough is 1.14 times as expensive as the average house in Surrey, not “over 0.6 times” as she stated (put another way, the average house in Guildford is 14% more expensive than the average house in Surrey).

    To allow a constructive debate on this, I would urge GBC to provide the source of the data used for this house price comparison, otherwise this topic will de-generate into a statistical mud-slinging argument rather than one based on objective facts.

    It would also be prudent to provide a more detailed breakdown by type of house as no one buys an average house and the stock of different types of housing in an area will skew such average figures. If the need in our borough is for more single person homes, as she states, it would be sensible to provide data that shows the market price position for this type of housing.

    I think the council should also explain how the housing register works: what is the definition of each category of housing need on the register; how current is the register (e.g. on average have many of the people on the register have since moved elsewhere or been able to make their own arrangements and are no longer in need); and crucially how does GBC compare to other similar local authorities in the country in the provision of affordable housing (both the amount and the time to be housed)?

    If the key housing challenge for our Borough is to provide affordable housing for those in genuine need, then GBC should publish plans that enable this to be funded by the council rather than relying on developer commitments to affordable housing at 35-40% of the total houses built.

    Developers have proved themselves unwilling to fulfil these commitments in the past and it seems odd that to meet an affordable housing need, a wealthy borough such as ours has no option but to add significant amounts of market-priced housing for which the genuine need is probably low. Demand for such housing will remain very high due to overspill from London and our (currently) attractive surroundings, but demand from those outside our borough does not have to be met.

    Finally, whilst we would, I’m sure, all agree with her generic statement. “The access to a decent affordable home is an important foundation for everyone. Where it is not available other issues often occur including poor educational attainment, health issues and antisocial behaviour.” it would be sensible for the Council MD to demonstrate whether this is a significant problem within our Borough.

  2. Jim Allen Reply

    December 21, 2013 at 1:30 pm

    In Guildford we have only 2 per cent unemployment, approximately, so a nearly balanced work/ job/ housing/ shopping / services situation.

    If we build 1000 houses, we need 2000 jobs and 1000 school places and sewage pipes, water supply and electricity to boot. If we create 2000 new jobs we will need duel carriageways where single carriageways exist at present.

    But there is no need for the jobs. Practically everyone here is employed as it is.

    If there is a housing shortage it is because houses are occupied by students who should have their own accommodation blocks.

    Furthermore, considering it is very rare to see Guildford born people sleeping rough, dare one suggest that the demand is from outside the area.

    This may seem harsh but being a believer in using local tradesmen rather than shipping them in from 50, 100 or 1000 miles away surely creating jobs in the location people already have homes and communities is better than finding a green field next to a balanced existing community and filing it with strangers employed in jobs alien to the area? How could that ‘work’ and thrive?

  3. Susan Parker Reply

    December 21, 2013 at 3:43 pm

    Guildford Greenbelt Guardians or ‘GGG’, is a newly formed group of parish councils, residents’ associations and community groups concerned about the preservation of our local green belt.

    The group has written to Guildford Borough Council (GBC) in relation to a ruling by the Court of Appeal, regarding a planning issue in St Albans with which many might be unfamiliar, which states that in an area where most land is designated as AONB or green belt (which was the case in St Albans and is the case for us) then unmet housing need alone does not necessarily represent a very special circumstance which will allow the green belt protection to be withdrawn.

    To summarise 11 pages of legal judgement, housing need is not enough to overturn green Belt protection for any particular planning decision.

    Also under the NPPF (National Planning Policy Framework) green belt boundaries cannot be changed except in the context of a Local Plan.

    Put these two together, and it means that until there is a new Local Plan, everywhere that is currently protected by green belt will stay protected. So the threat made repeatedly by councillors, including at the debate on the petition, that the Local Plan must be rushed through because otherwise it will open floodgates for development, is not true. There is no rush and we must get the plan right. This includes consulting on whether or not the people of Guildford want growth.

    GGG has also written to GBC to note that there is a legal requirement to consult on the basis of the Strategic Housing Market Assessment (SHMA) before it is prepared, not afterwards.

    GBC has not yet replied to GGG on either the point in relation to St Albans or the SHMA.

    Susan Parker is a chairman of a residents’ association near Shere, and part of the Save Shere, Gomshall and Abinger campaign.

  4. Roland McKinney Reply

    December 23, 2013 at 12:11 am

    Just another statistic that is relevant to why housing in the borough is expensive. The average price of a property in the borough is 82% of the average London property price, based on the current published average London property price of £437,000. It’s one of the reasons why demand in the borough is high.

    Those making comparisons should make sure they are relevant.

  5. Auriol Earle Reply

    December 31, 2013 at 6:25 pm

    The amount of water currently being safely soaked up by the gardens and public open space and green belt land in the borough of Guildford should serve as an encouragement to preserve every inch of green space which exists and discourage any further building in or near the town, particularly in valley land such as the area where the university is hoping to build.

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