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Local Plan Inspector Will Ask for More Evidence – GVG Expert Predicts

Published on: 23 Oct, 2018
Updated on: 25 Oct, 2018

An audience of 150 gathered to hear the GVG presentation at the Baptist Centre in Millmead.

A planning expert has predicted that further evidence and further hearings will be necessary before Guildford’s Local Plan can be finalised.

The prediction was made by Andy Black of PRP, architects and masterplanners, at the Guildford Vision Group’s (GVG) latest public meeting, entitled “Guildford on the Brink”, held last week (October 16, 2018). Black has been hired by the group as a consultant.

If the prediction comes true, contentious Local Plan issues are likely to be argued over during the election campaigns. Proposals to build on the green belt, housing numbers and the condition of the town centre have raised strong feelings within sections of the borough during the course of the plan’s development.

The GVG audience expressed a pessimistic view of Guildford’s future. Nearly all (94%) of the 150 attendees present said, in an exit poll, that they did not “feel confident about the outlook for Guildford and town planning”.

Other findings of the exit poll were: most (77%) would support, “2,500 more homes in the town centre, plus associated infrastructure improvements, to relieve pressure on the green belt”, while 95% thought that surface car parks was not the best use of riverside space.

Responses to the exit poll as recorded by GVG.

The audience of 150 included three borough councillors, Geoff Davis (Con, Holy Trinity), special adviser to the council leader, who was observed taking notes and the two newly Independent councillors Tony Rooth (Pilgrims) and Bob McShee (Worplesdon).

John Rigg, GVG’s chairman

Addressing the meeting John Rigg GVG’s chairman, said: “Despite government promises to protect the green belt unless there are exceptional circumstances no such circumstances have been shown, in our view, by the council in advocating three green belt developments,  yet the inspector is close to agreeing with the council that large areas of greenbelt can be built upon.

“GVG has focused on trying to persuade the council to masterplan Guildford town centre and this means to adopt and to implement an exciting plan for the benefit of the community.

“The planners have not provided sufficient homes for its residents for some years now. The government made it crystal clear either councils deliver enough homes or there would be sanctions, including housing targets to make up any shortfall and even the shortfalls of other councils.

“The Bellerby Theatre site could have housed about 250 homes but the council decided to sell it for a supermarket and surface car park pushing another 250 houses on to green belt.

“We estimate the town centre could accommodate about 3,500 sustainable homes over the plan period and not high-rise.

“Our group support ‘modal shift’ away from motor vehicles to cycles and buses and the sustainable movement corridor, if it works, but 60% of all journeys are by vehicle and the council’s boasts about modal shift will simply not address the problem. You cannot deliver a fridge freezer by bike or bus.”

GVG’s audience listening carefully to the presentations

Rigg continued: “We are absolutely convinced there is the opportunity for a great town centre with riverside walks, town squares, markets and pedestrianisation.

“Even the inspector… said the historic High Street is great but walk metres away and it is “appalling”, his word not ours.”

“Unfortunately no one told Network Rail that when they proposed the largest development in the history of Guildford, a ten-storey wall…

“So now we have a large number of applications in Walnut Tree Close, large bulky buildings, we have a nine-storey council consented Guildford Plaza site and we have a 14-storey application on the Guildford Casino site.

“And only now the council decide they need policies to protect views. You couldn’t make it up!”

Andy Black

Urban planner Andy Black who has followed the progress of many other Local Plans in the South East, several of them under the same planning inspector Jonathan Bore, then described the options he thought Inspector Bore faced with Guildford’s Local Plan. Black said:He may decide the plan is unsound and chuck it out… It’s unlikely but he may do that.

“He may, as he did in Mid-Sussex and at Waverley, suggest that there are further hearing sessions, that there is further evidence to be heard.

“He may decide there are just some minor modifications required and ask the council to make those.

“And he may, probably the most unlikely outcome, find the plan completely sound, in which case the council would then have to vote on the final version so it could be adopted before the “purdah” period commences, March 19, for the May local election – a tight time schedule.

“At any time up until March, and six weeks afterwards, anyone could launch a legal challenge, on the basis that the plan is unsound. This has happened in Waverley and it wouldn’t surprise me if it happened in Guildford.”

Of the options, he felt that the call for further evidence requiring further hearings was the most likely.

Julian Lyon

Julian Lyon, who is chairman of the Guildford Society, but speaking in his role as a director of GVG, quoted the examining inspector: “…he said: “For exceptional circumstances to exist to release land from the green belt, shouldn’t it be clearly demonstrated that all opportunities for development in the town centre have been exhausted? Isn’t the residential capacity of the town centre much higher than the council states?”

Reiterating some of the criticism expressed by John Rigg, Lyon continued to quote the inspector: “In his summing up he said that the High Street is good but quality declines steeply as one moves into surrounding streets; the newer areas have appalling urban design and spaces; the pedestrian environment is dreadful.

He believed the inspector was unconvinced by the council’s reliance on major works to the A3 to enable developments outside the urban area, and “although the council [subsequently] changed its language, acknowledging the risk to the Plan if the A3 works are not forthcoming or are delayed, it has not moved very far to bring forward development where it can control delivery, such as in the town centre.”

The audience was reminded that the consultation on the changes made to the Local Plan as a result of the hearings closed today, October 23 at 12 noon.

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Responses to Local Plan Inspector Will Ask for More Evidence – GVG Expert Predicts

  1. Jim Allen Reply

    October 23, 2018 at 2:56 pm

    Considering the wild fluctuations in housing needs assessment, the “OAN”, perhaps a wiser route would be to withdraw the plan to reassess which sites need removing and what the state of the wider situation is in March next year. Thus, once purdah and the May elections have been completed then, and only then, should the plan be put in place with a new Executive of the green belt friendly kind.

    Trying to stitch up the electorate prior to the elections with such an unpopular plan could well be political suicide for those currently elected.

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