Fringe Box



Letter: Six Factors Which Support a Thorough Reappraisal of Guildford’s Local Plan

Published on: 22 Feb, 2024
Updated on: 22 Feb, 2024

From: Niels Laub

Guildford Borough Council decided last night (February 21) to go ahead and review the Local Plan which was adopted in April 2019.

A report on last night’s council meeting will follow later today or tomorrow. Ed

The following six issues alone give sufficient reason to question the Local Plan with its aim to build 562 dwellings per year and release 1,200 hectares of the green belt for development.

1. Housing targets

The housing targets adopted in the Local Plan are based on population projections which, according to the OSR Report released in July 2021, are likely to be overstated. In a letter to the council, Ed Humpherson, director-general for Regulation at the OSR, said that “we found that the population estimates for some cities, such as Guildford, did seem to be inconsistent with, and potentially higher than local evidence would suggest”.

The most likely explanation for this inconsistency is (1) that the ONS counts students as resident at their term time address rather than their home address and (2) that the ONS is unable to accurately count overseas students returning home on completion of their studies.

2. Methodology

Some people argue that a review of the housing target will only result in a much higher figure because current legislation requires local authorities to assess their housing need by using the “Standard Method for calculating Housing and Economic Need Assessment”.

However, the NPPF states “that the use of the Standard Method to calculate housing need is not mandatory but where an alternative approach results in a lower housing need figure than that identified using the standard method, the strategic policy-making authority will need to demonstrate, using robust evidence, that the figure is based on realistic assumptions of demographic growth”.

The latest Household Projections released from the ONS predict a need for only 94 dwellings per annum in Guildford over the next 20 years – not 562 dwellings per annum in the adopted Local Plan.

In my opinion, the latest official Household Projections would certainly be regarded as “robust evidence”.

3. Demography

The proposed housing target of 562 dwellings per annum represents an uplift of 80 per cent over the
demographically led housing need of only 313 dwellings per annum.

This is because the demographically led need is boosted by factors to allow for economic growth and growth in student numbers. In addition, the total site allocations in the Local Plan have the potential to deliver 14,602 homes over the life of the plan.

This contrasts with the total housing requirement of only 10,678 homes over the life of the plan. This represents a very substantial oversupply of land for development and questions whether there are sufficient “exceptional circumstances” to justify building on so much of the green belt.

4. A3 upgrade cancelled

Highways England no longer has any plans to improve or upgrade the A3 as it runs through Guildford which was a stated condition of the Strategic Sites at Blackwell Farm and Gosden Hill Farm. With the unlikelihood of the new railway stations at Park Barn and Merrow now going ahead, there would appear to be insufficient infrastructure to support these developments.

5. A3 pollution

The A3 as it passes through Guildford is one of the most congested and polluted A roads in the whole of the UK. Highways England has conducted a series of pollution surveys which show that pollution on the A3 as it passes through Guildford appears to be the highest in the country by some margin and twice the median level of the thirty worst places.

This has the potential to undermine the health and wellbeing of the people served by this corridor. Developing Blackwell Farm and Gosden Hill Farm without any improvements to the A3 will only increase traffic congestion and illegally intensify air pollution.

6. Global warming

Global warming is an issue to be taken very seriously indeed by all of us. The very act of building on the green belt, by destroying natural habitat and forcing more people to commute, does more harm than good.

According to the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors, about 50 per cent of the whole-life carbon emissions of a typical domestic dwelling are expended during the manufacture of the materials used in its construction like bricks, steel, glass and cement.

Bearing in mind that many scientists now believe that green fields and meadows are an even more resilient carbon sink than forests, building on the green belt only serves to intensify carbon emissions while reducing carbon sinks. Rather than endlessly developing green field sites, we should be doing our utmost to repurpose buildings and preserve natural habitat and biodiversity.

One of the dangers of overstating housing targets is that it can, and will, be used by planning inspectors at appeals to justify further development on green field sites “because we are not meeting our housing targets”.

It will also be used by developers to justify overdevelopment in the town centre as is happening at North Street, St Mary’s Wharf, the Solum development at Guildford Station, and a number of other
developments in the pipeline planned for the town centre.

People say we need to increase the supply of housing to make them more affordable. Asking the private sector to increase supply to make housing more affordable is a bit like asking Jaguar Land Rover to increase the supply of Range Rovers to make them more affordable. That isn’t going to happen.

An increase in the supply of affordable housing will only be realised when the government:

  • enables councils to borrow money to build more housing for a subsidised rent – in other words start building more council housing again;
  • ends the “right to buy” policy which sells off council housing without replacing it;
  • makes subletting council houses a criminal offence and enforces it;
  • adjusts the tax system further to deter the “buy to let” market;
  • prohibits homeowners placing their properties on Airbnb is areas where there is a shortage of affordable housing for the local population;
  • prohibits speculation in the residential market by non-UK residents – which is a big issue in London and Manchester;
  • requires all universities to provide adequate accommodation for their students;
  • fully embraces and incentivises prefabrication in the construction industry, which is long overdue;
  • finds a way of encouraging elderly people locked into in large properties to downsize.

Share This Post

Responses to Letter: Six Factors Which Support a Thorough Reappraisal of Guildford’s Local Plan

  1. Peter Bennett-Davies Reply

    February 22, 2024 at 9:05 pm

    Niels Laub is totally correct in all that he states in his well balanced letter of comment and analysis of the current Local Plan’s potential for serious over delivery of thousands more homes that key workers (nurses, medical orderlies, teachers, care home staff and many others) are unable to afford to buy or rent.

    I also hold the view that the supply of suitable genuinely affordable housing for key workers will never happen until a government takes all the actions set out in the nine bullet points at the end of Mr Laub’s letter.

    Peter Bennett-Davies is a former West Horsley parish councillor

  2. H Trevor Jones Reply

    February 23, 2024 at 9:21 pm

    I agree with most of Niels Laub’s final bullet points, except I don’t see point of deliberately deterring the “buy to let” market, given that a house or flat is a space for the same number of people to live in regardless of whether it’s rented or home-owned.

    I don’t know about buy-to-let taxation as I’ve let a flat in Tunbridge Wells for 33 years by failing to sell it when I moved to Guildford and have duly paid the standard rate of tax on my income less expenses. I just took a bigger mortgage than otherwise on my property purchase in Guildford than I would have if I sold the flat.

    However everything I read suggests to me we do need more houses to reduce homelessness and to make houses more affordable, simply due to supply and demand issues.

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 *