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Letter: The Developer’s Takeover of Planning Has to be Reversed

Published on: 20 Jul, 2021
Updated on: 20 Jul, 2021

An artists impression of how the new homes will look.

From: David Roberts

See also: West Horsley To Get 139 New Homes Despite Claimed Neighbourhood Plan Conflicts

Guildford’s planning system is corrupt. Not necessarily in the sense of bribes being paid, although there are no real safeguards against this. I mean in the sense of regulatory capture of local planning decisions by developers.

Two examples, one big and one smaller:

1. On Wednesday, the GBC Planning Committee approved an application to build 139 houses at Manor Farm in West Horsley, the first of several such developments planned there. Admittedly, the site is allocated for building in the Local Plan. Admittedly, the Plan has been adopted by the council, albeit in an undemocratic way. So far, so inevitable. But the July 14 meeting revealed just how biased the process is against the public, including the 181 residents who had filed objections.

The committee chairman gave officers too long to respond to councillors’ questions, without any chance to cross-examine them.

GBC’s “Principal Urban Design Officer” (the clue is in the name) lectured councillors that rural West Horsley should have the same housing density as Woking.

The suggestion that heat pumps replace gas boilers, as legally required from 2025, was dismissed with the unevidenced assertion that it would be too expensive to upgrade the electricity sub-station.

A Surrey County Council representative waffled on about improving a bus service which barely exists, providing no details.

All concerns about climate change and local flooding were dismissed. In a week when flooding has devastated one of the richest parts of Europe, the only concession is to provide electric charging points that will reinforce car-dependency.

Showing his contempt for nature, Cllr Spooner also mocked the West Horsley Neighbourhood Plan’s pioneering “dark skies” policy.

In the end, four Lib Dem councillors voted to approve the application. This was no surprise, given the Lib Dem’s weak-kneed view of the Tory Local Plan. More astonishing was that they were joined by Cllr Chris Blow from R4GV. That’s V for Villages. He and his party leader have some explaining to do.

2. Policy is supposed to be evidence-based. So for the last seven years I have taken some photographs to document the risk of flooding in West Horsley. When in good faith I submitted these in response to another local planning application, however, an officer told me bluntly “we are unable to accept photographs.” This remains GBC’s position, despite several weeks of argument.

I have pointed out that photos constitute reliable evidence, which it is perverse and unreasonable to reject. Removing them from published public comments amounts to censorship: doctoring the evidence in favour of developers who routinely pay consultants to deny any risk of flooding.

Other councils, such as St Albans, not only accept photos but encourage the public on their websites to submit them in response to planning applications. Any hypothetical privacy issues can be overcome by simple redaction, as per Google Streetview.

GBC policy is out of step. It is also inconsistently applied. I have had photos accepted in the past and, in the case of the application in question, links to at least one video recording remain live while pictures submitted by West Horsley Parish Council have been blacked out. Pictures and other graphic information are accepted from planning applicants, but rejected from the public.

What have residents done to deserve this “hostile environment”? Is planning a runaway juggernaut that no-one, including council’s R4GV/Lib Dem leadership, have the will to stop? Have Guildford planning officers been politicised by the long reign of pro-growth Tories? Or is this just professional incompetence and bad management?

Whatever the cause, the visible effect is the effective takeover of local planning decisions by major developers and the side-lining of the public interest. This has got to be reversed.

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test 3 Responses to Letter: The Developer’s Takeover of Planning Has to be Reversed

  1. Ben Paton Reply

    July 20, 2021 at 10:20 am

    This account is all too accurate.

    The Daniel Morgan Report has given us a new term to describe our institutions: ‘institutionally corrupt’.

    This aptly describes the GBC planning department. It also describes the chronic disregard shown by Councillors and Officials alike for the ironically named ‘Probity in Planning’ Code.

    Councillors and Officials at Guildford are tacitly in league with developers. Has anyone followed up on what happened to the millions of pounds of s106 contributions in Ash that GBC ‘forgot’ to ask for?

    If and when the Waverley and Guildford Planning Departments merge perhaps some of the ‘institutionally corrupt management’ can be weeded out?

  2. Peter Bennett-Davies Reply

    July 20, 2021 at 6:14 pm

    Once again David Roberts comments are on target and fully justified regarding last week’s planning committee’s steam-rollering decision to approve Thakeham Homes’ development of 139 urban-style homes on the Manor Farm site in West Horsley. A rural village bounded to north, south and west by green belt countryside.

    Even the ‘affordable homes’ will be far too high a cost for key workers and young couples to buy.

    Lots of monetary contributions, for example, for schooling, for medical care improvements, to Surrey Highways (supposedly for local road improvements), for the village hall, for the Royal Surrey County Hospital, for policing, are required to be made by Thakeham Homes, but who supervises all the various sums are used as required?

    West Horsley Parish Council will need to stringently monitor the contributions are used for the purposes set out in the planning officers’ report to committee.

    With regard to photographic evidence not being accepted by Guildford Borough Council from residents close to a proposed site, is national legislation responsible for this nonsense or some local authority by-law?

  3. David Roberts Reply

    July 22, 2021 at 1:10 pm

    The “no photos” rule is just an arbitrary decision by Guildford bureaucrats. Here are my pictures, in case anyone doubts how badly West Horsley gets flooded: https://photos.app.goo.gl/6KM8dZ1cWRMuVGM36.

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