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Lib Dem Councillor Hits Out at University and Tory Council Over Planning

Published on: 5 Dec, 2013
Updated on: 10 Dec, 2013
Cllr Fiona White

Cllr Fiona White

A Liberal Democrat county councillor has criticised the University of Surrey and the Tory borough council over the handling of planning proposals.

Her comments come in the wake of the the university announcing a proposal for a “Garden Neighbourhood” development on land that is currently green belt fields. The scheme was announced on the very last day (November 29) of Guildford Borough Council’s consultation on the Issues and Options relating to a new Local Plan for Guildford.

Fiona White, the county councillor for Guildford West, said: “I am well aware of the worries which people in the area have about suggestions of development on the green belt land owned by the University of Surrey and I think it is unfortunate that the university chose to make this announcement towards the end of the consultation period.

“I would stress that the process is a consultation and there is no certainty which, if any, parts of the green belt sites may be in the more detailed draft to be issued next year.  The university should not assume that it will get any special treatment for its proposals.

“The worst thing about this whole situation is that the delays, in the past, by the Conservative-run borough council mean that local people are being put through a lot of fear and worry about the proposals and councillors are all under pressure to make big decisions when time is against them.

“If the council’s Executive had got on with it earlier there would have been time to debate proposals more thoroughly,  the new the local plan would  be in place by now and we would be able to protect communities from the threat of development through planning appeals.”

Greg Melly, Vice-President at the University of Surrey, said: “Like many other individuals and organisations in the Borough, we have been developing our response to the Issues and Options part of the consultation and we had the 29 November deadline firmly in our sights.

We would not have been ready to share our thoughts before this time, but decided that we would brief the local media at the earliest possible opportunity after making our submission to Guildford Borough Council.

“It is important to note that the purpose of this recent consultation was not to examine the university’s plans but to offer responses to Guildford Borough Council’s Issues and Options. We understand that there will be further opportunities for members of the public to comment on any proposals that the council may decide to take forward to the next stage.

“We believe that the West Guildford site presents a great opportunity to meet local people’s needs and provide some of the economic, housing and community infrastructure improvements that are required to help Guildford prosper in the future. We look forward to discussing our proposal further as the Local Plan process continues to unfold.”

Conservative councillors have been invited to comment.

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Responses to Lib Dem Councillor Hits Out at University and Tory Council Over Planning

  1. Karen Stevens Reply

    December 6, 2013 at 9:40 am

    The University of Surrey, like everyone else, does have a right to respond to the council’s Issues and Options, but the decision to go public and hold a press conference on the very last day of the consultation seems to be carefully planned.

    This has made it impossible for Guildford residents (particularly those who would be directly affected by the vast scheme) to respond in a meaningful way as part of the consultation. So rather than wanting to engage with residents as the university claims in its press release announcing its plans, it’s doing the opposite.

    This is a bit like their suggestion that they’ll be creating green space by showing images of wildlife and birds on their brochure plans, when in fact the scheme would be destroying this habitat by encroaching on beautiful open landscape, an area equivalent to about one fifth of Guildford town.

    The university knows that deliberately spinning information (and in this particular case withholding information until the 11th hour) is not in the spirit of open and fair consultation. Residents of Guildford know that this too and it’s not the behaviour we would expect from a respected seat of learning.

  2. Robert Burch Reply

    December 6, 2013 at 9:53 am

    Greg Melly is, in my view, playing fast and loose with the truth during the current Local Plan process. To say that “We would not have been ready to share our thoughts before this time [29th Nov]” conveniently forgets that the university worked up an outline proposal for Blackwell Farm during 2009 as part of the South East Plan exercise.

    Details of this can be seen in the university’s Estate Strategy 2009-2019 which is publicly available on their website. It is very similar to their current proposal. Organising their press release for the final day of consultation was solely done to avoid critical comments being submitted to the council and as such is a poorly disguised political move.

  3. Jim Allen Reply

    December 8, 2013 at 12:28 pm

    I find the practice of ‘not being ready to divulge’ until the last day utterly objectionable because:

    Any claim to that consultation has taken place is contemptible

    Proper consultation might allow those with local knowledge, who may be for or against the scheme, to give beneficial suggestions

    If implies that there is a feeling that the controversial proposal is being hidden until the last minute so it can then be undemocratically forced through .

    I am most concerned that the university has failed to grasp the obvious i.e. that what they need is more accommodation for their own students. If they built sufficient for their expansion plans then low cost housing in the borough would be freed up for homes.

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