Fringe Box



Local Plan Debate Produces No Change In Battle Lines

Published on: 18 May, 2017
Updated on: 19 May, 2017

The following article is a sketch style report of Tuesday night’s (May 16, 2017) Guildford Borough Council (GBC) debate on the Local Plan…

Although eventually decided by a large majority, Tuesday night’s council decision to proceed with another round of public consultation prior to submission of the draft Local Plan to the Planning Inspectorate, later this year, was preceded by a lively debate.

The battle lines are by now well known. On one side, apparently firmly in favour of the draft Local Plan, there are all but two of the 34 strong Conservative group plus two of the nine Liberal Democrats, including their leader, and the two Labour members.

On the other side, against the plan, there are the three Greenbelt Group councillors, the three Lib Dems whose wards are most directly affected by proposals to build on green belt sites and two Conservatives from the Clandons and Horsleys which, along with Lovelace (Ripley, Wisley and Ockham), is the normally “true blue” ward where Local Plan feelings are running highest.

In no man’s land there is a small loose-knit squad of councillors who, while closer to the majority’s pro-plan front line, occasionally, picking their fights, fire pot shots at their  “colleagues”. But they are not brave or sure enough to desert full-time to the Against’s trenches.

And finally there are the absentees who, while probably absent for genuine reasons, can sometimes leave a suspicion of convenience, as with the MP Diana Abbott’s absence because of a sudden migraine during a vote on Brexit.

The opening shot’s in last night’s battle were fired, as usual, by public speakers. All but one spoke in favour of the plan, or at least in favour of development.

Alex Mackenzie Smith

Of these, probably the most powerful was Alex Mackenzie Smith the outgoing president of the University of Surrey’s Students Union. She said: “I am here tonight to speak on behalf of the thousands of Guildford residents that have been let down, by this council.

“I have here hundreds and hundreds of stories … from students at the University of Surrey who have had to endure the most appalling conditions and treatment in this borough from a group of ruthless landlords who act with impunity throughout Guildford.

“For years now Guildford has expanded in numbers but not in size and with nowhere new to live what did you really think was going to happen? Who did you really think was going to suffer?

“Those who have suffered have been students, the low-waged, the unwaged, those who really on care those who service this town those who clear your rubbish, serve you at the check-out and wash your dishes in the restaurants. That is who has suffered.

“It is time for action and that action must come from this council. It is not good enough to point at the university and say, ‘It’s your fault.’

Andrew Procter

Her speech was balanced by another passionate plea from Andrew Procter, of the Save Send Action Group, who put forward a different point of view, from one of the borough’s village. He said: “I am afraid this plan demonstrates another clear failure of proper planning process.

“Send raised a very large proportion of the objections to the 2016 plan but instead of making any attempt to mitigate and amend the plan this council has decided to make matters much worse. Send will not take this lying down. Rest assured we will continue to object until you start to listen in a proper consultative way and make revisions that take account of our objections.

“The major sites in our village have been constantly changed during the process but this council’s pre-determined agenda to build on the green belt without constraint has not.

“Every one of our previous objections still stands for the inspector to read. The latest changes are a noxious cocktail of over development which will ruin our village, block our roads and pollute our local environment.”

“These proposed changes in addition to all the development previously proposed in the 2016 draft plan … will be a significant step to creating ‘Wokford’ and joining our towns and villages together.

“It is perhaps no coincidence that a village that has been targeted for such excessive development is the one that voted in two Guildford Greenbelt Group councillors.”

Thanking all the public speakers council leader Paul Spooner (Con, Ash South & Tongham) said their speeches: “…perfectly demonstrate the issues we have as a council in relation to what is definitely a housing crisis – and I find it extraordinary that some people try to hide that fact – and therefore the delivery in terms of a Local Plan and the need for housing is paramount.

“I have always stated and I continue to state that we need infrastructure to support that. We cannot possibly, whether it is student accommodation or any other form of accommodation, continue to build out in this borough without having the supporting infrastructure and transport.”

Responding specifically to Andrew Procter on Send he added: “I certainly don’t accept that it’s a ‘pre-determined’ agenda to build on the green belt. We try and do all we possibly can to minimise the harm, and it is harm that we do when allocating sites in the green belt.

Cllr Susan Parker

Cllr Susan Parker (GGG, Send) attacked the notion that no plan would lead to a developer’s free-for-all. She said: “We are frequently warned that there is a risk of government imposing plans upon us, or that developers will force plans through on appeal. We have had this threatened for years as an excuse for seeking to force through plans which will please developers.

“However, no attempt has been made to made to seek a plan which will actually honour manifesto promises and will protect our countryside. We do have the scope to decide this.

“Nathaniel Lichfield, who are consultants to developers, have produced recent research which indicates that only 31% of local authorities have an up to date Local Plan. Sixteen plans have been found sound with a housing requirement that is lower than the objectively assessed housing need. Planned supply exceeds household projections by 19% in aggregate. We are planning to build more than we need.”

Cllr Jenny Wicks

Cllr Jenny Wicks (Con, Clandons and Horsleys) outlined her reasons for objecting to the draft plan: “My fundamental objections to planning so much development in the green belt remain. I am glad the OAN [objectively assessed need] figure has been revised downward but we have still not applied constraints … to that figure which means that green belt not in the AONB [area of outstanding natural beauty] is basically regarded as available for development and the north-east of the borough with two strategic sites… will be fundamentally and irrevocably changed in character….

“In conclusion, I have fundamental problems with the plan as a whole… The last consultation produced a huge number of responses but no fundamental changes to the plan, unless you live in Normandy.

“I don’t detect the will to make fundamental changes at this stage and I’m conscious that the government is breathing down our necks. It will be for the planning inspector… to hear and come to a judgement on the objections.

“I voted against previous versions of the plan going to consultation in the hope of achieving significant change. I know we must have a Local Plan but I cannot support the plan as a whole.”

Cllr Michael Illman

Cllr Michael Illman (Con, Shalford): “A document with the complexity of the Local Plan cannot please everybody and we must bear that in mind.

“Of course we have heard tonight that there have been 32,000 representations but I think we should study that in a bit more detail. They actually represent 6,000 people out of approximately 150,000 people who could have commented on the Local Plan and I leave it for my fellow members to decide whether or not they think 6,000 out of 150,000 is a high ratio or not.

“We are representatives, we are not delegates. We are not here to agree with everything that all of our residents say and would like us to say. We are here though to do the best for Guildford and to represent the best interests of Guildford and look at the bigger picture.

“If we do not have a Local Plan and if we do not support the Local Plan at this stage we will leave Guildford at the mercy of every developer and planning inspector for years to come.”

“The Local Plan is an important issue, there is no denying that, however it is not the most important issue that we as a council face, in the coming years, nor is it the only important issue…let’s just push it forward and do it.”

Following Illman came the recently sacked former lead member for housing, Cllr Tony Rooth (Con, Pilgrims). If he was still upset he did not show it and spoke plainly as to why he felt the Local Plan was needed: “Let’s face reality on all this.

Cllr Tony Rooth

“We do need a Local Plan and we need it fast because otherwise we will face the situation where however resolute the Planning Committee is here in refusing applications… if there are not any valid planning reasons the inspectorate will overturn them and planning applications will be approved.

“The absence of a Local Plan and the absence of a five-year land supply are major factors in those decisions.

“As far as the amount of homes we need… the plan provides for the delivery of 12,426 additional homes by 2033.

“… others can argue until they are blue in the face whether the [SHMA] methodology is right or not… but the fact of the matter is that this figure has come down from a previous figure… out of the 12,426 additional homes 3,000 can be accommodated in the urban areas. That is a quarter of what is needed.

“So with all due respect to those members of the public who say, ‘Well you have to build everything in the urban areas on brownfield sites,’ unless the demand is 3,000 units… then you cannot build it all in urban areas that exist at the moment.”

It was time to consider the two amendments. The first was to remove Blackwell Farm from the plan and the second to remove Wisley Airfield.

Cllr Tony Phillips

Cllr Tony Phillips (Lib Dem, Onslow) who moved the motion said: “We need housing, especially affordable housing, but we must have due regard to the suitability of the site for development and take notice of infrastructure and green belt constraints and not just push on regardless.

“We only have one opportunity to protect our green belt and green areas. Once we have concreted over a site it is lost for generations, for our children and our children’s children.

“We as councillors are custodians of Guildford’s heritage and it is our duty to preserve and enhance Guildford, not erode it. I propose that we remove the Blackwell Farm site from the draft Local Plan.”

Responding, the council leader pulled no punches and some of the blows appeared pretty low. He said: “Cllr Phillips, you are probably an embarrassment in fact, in many ways, in relation to the council because I do hope that the students remember in a few years, in 2019 [when the next GBC election is due], the kind of politics that are being played here by the Lib Dems.

Cllr Paul Spooner

“I am extremely disappointed that you’ve just focussed on the negatives, not focussed on any of the gains…

“You clearly don’t care about the people living around your area you represent, you clearly don’t worry at all about the students that are suffering. You know – doesn’t matter – good….

“There is no AONB that is being damaged or trodden over. When I became leader… one thing I did, and I know it might be difficult for you to remember, was actually to roll back the AONB to a point that it protected that area and significantly reduced the housing number.”

The amendment was lost. Only Cllrs: Cross, David Goodwin, Hurdle, Parker and Reeve voted with Phillips while Julie McShane abstained.

Next up, an amendment to remove the Wisley Airfield site from the plan. Cllr Colin Cross (Lib Dem, Lovelace) asked a basic question: “Why is it that we are ignoring [the] NPPF [National Planning Policy Framework]?

Cllr Colin Cross

“It says, ‘Plans and decisions must take account of local circumstances and respond to differing opportunities for achieving sustainable development.’ We do not do that.

Continuing to quote from the framework he said: ” ‘At the heart of the NPPF is the presumption in favour of sustainable development, unless specific NPPF policies state that development should be restricted, ie sites protected by the birds and habitats directives, SSSI, or green belt.

“Wisley has not just one or two of these types of restrictions, it has all three of them, all on the same site, and yet we will not apply this.

Quoting further, Cross said that the framework required planners to: “ ‘…always seek high quality of design, take account of the character of the area, conserve and enhance the natural environment and reduce pollution, conserve heritage assets, actively manage growth making full use of public transport, walking cycling and focus all developments in locations which are sustainable.’

“We are doing the exact opposite of this. We are looking to build dozens of three and four-storey blocks of flats that tick the ‘affordable’ box but will not be suitable for anybody in the area. We should not be building multi-storey building blocks on this sort of rural site.”

This amendment attracted slightly higher support. Reinforced by Cllrs Hogger, Sarti, Searle and Wickes the six who had voted in favour of the Blackwell Farm amendment became ten but remained easily outvoted.

It only remained to vote on the main motion.

Summing up and responding to points made by Cllr Hogger, the council leader said: “I particularly enjoyed the first sentence, ‘Liked many things disliked some.’ I think that probably sums up every councillor here. That’s where we are here. No one I believe, finds this to be a fantastic plan because we are all effected in different ways.

Then responding to Cllr Rooth he said: “I am slightly embarrassed I must say. Whilst on one side of me [the reduced figure of] 12,426 is good news for us politically… when we actually look at it and we look at the student issues and the young professional issues and we look at the housing crisis that exists it’s difficult for me to celebrate that.

All but eight councillors: Cross, David Goodwin, Hurdle, Parker, Phillips, Reeve, Sarti and Wicks voted in favour of the plan proceeding to a further six-week period of public consultation commencing on June 9.

See also: Borough Council Approves Further Public Consultation on the Local Plan

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Responses to Local Plan Debate Produces No Change In Battle Lines

  1. Valerie Thompson Reply

    May 19, 2017 at 10:33 am

    Another typical steamroller response from Mr Spooner.

    Obviously, it is pointless for anyone to protest about the failure of the university to provide accommodation for its students. How dare they complain that the council is responsible for inferior accommodation. They need to lobby the University’s governors to provide what they had promised.

    It is also pointless to protest about sites such as Wisley, already turned down by the GBC Councilors, being reinstated in the Local Plan by the Executive, supported by weak and sycophantic councillors, fearful of being told off and demeaned.

    Why do they want to ruin their own backyard? What do they believe will be the opinion of future generations? Will it be, “Thank you for giving us somewhere to live,” or will it be, “What on earth were you thinking, when you destroyed one of the most pleasant parts of the country?”

  2. Jim Allen Reply

    May 19, 2017 at 3:46 pm

    There is absolutely no point in a public “consultation” if no notice is taken of the views and opinions expressed. As for the comment about 6,000 (32,000 comments) against 150,000, as far as I understand it no Local Plan anywhere in the country has had so many people or comments made during the process.

    As for the reduction of housing numbers only the date span of the plan has been changed. They have simply slipped some of the totally into the following period. The green belt loss remains the same. Smoke and mirrors.

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