Fringe Box



Local Plan To Be Updated But Councillor Warns It Will Not Deliver ‘the Moon on a Stick’

Published on: 26 Feb, 2024
Updated on: 29 Feb, 2024

By Martin Giles

Guildford’s Local Plan is to be updated. A full meeting of the borough council decided unanimously for the update last week (February 21) but because of national planning policy “it will not be a blank sheet of paper”, the lead councillor for planning, Fiona White (Lib Dem, Ash Wharf), warned.

The decision comes in the wake of a mandatory review carried out in recent months, which concluded that significant changes had occurred since Guildford’s plan was adopted in April 2019. The current review was required within five years of that date.

GBC will now look in greater detail at its evidence base for the plan, including the housing, retail and commercial needs of the borough.

The first phase of the process will consider the budget, timetable and scope of work required to carry out a Local Plan update. The council anticipates this phase will be complete before the end of the year, when more clarity on the government’s approach to planning reform is expected. A report detailing these findings will come back to Executive for review and approval.

Cllr Fiona White

Cllr White said: “I believe this is the right decision. There have been a lot of changes to the way we live since the existing plan was adopted in 2019. An updated plan will reflect the way we run our lives now.

“We will now decide what evidence we need and the best way of gathering it. Regular updates and any significant developments will be communicated promptly. We are committed to transparency at every stage of this process. We understand the importance of keeping our residents informed about timelines and key milestones. I encourage residents to stay engaged and, at the appropriate time, to share your thoughts with us.

“I also want to remind residents that this does not mean our existing Local Plan will become redundant. It will remain the primary consideration in determining development applications in the borough.”

Public speakers

There were six public speakers who spoke ahead of the main debate.

Cllr Julia Osborn, Send Parish Council

Cllr Julia Osborn, chair of Send Parish Council, outlined what she described as a disproportionate impact of the existing Local Plan on Send and the north-east of the borough, which had seen a large number of “windfall” developments since green belt status was removed.

She said: “The spatial strategy of the Local Plan is now not fit for purpose and it never was. The continued reliance on windfall applications without infrastructure in villages is a completely unsustainable approach. This update needs vision and it needs leadership. It needs a new spatial strategy with the town centre master plan at its core.”

John Rigg

Former GVG councillor John Rigg, now once again chair of Guildford Vision Group, also described the current plan as “not fit for purpose” which had cost the Tories the 2019 GBC election.

“Clearly missing from the officers’ report,” he said, “was the opportunity to deliver a vision” and there was “no reference to our town or the emerging town master plan.” Nor were there “ambitions for flood remediation, for height restrictions, density, delivering riverside homes and parks or to assist green belt protection.”

Alistair Smith

Alistair Smith, chair of The Guildford Society, said the society supported the recommendation to update the Local Plan.

He continued by stressing the importance of updating the evidence base which should include an economic strategy and the outputs from the Shaping Guildford’s Future programme He also pointed out that previous concerns about the necessity of delivering infrastructure and building heights had been well-founded.

Malcolm Aish, Ockham Parish Council

Malcolm Aish, chair of Ockham Parish Council, also pointed out that sufficient infrastructure was essential to support any planned developments and the lack of it was already causing problems in obtaining GP appointments and school places. The environmental impacts of the plan should also be included, he said, adding that “GBC’s efforts to tackle climate change have not progressed.”

Karen Stevens, Compton Parish Council

Karen Stevens, speaking on behalf of Compton Parish Council, said: “The current plan is undemocratic, developer-led and bad for the environment. It ignores the views of thousands of residents.”

She said GBC had “pushed through its strategic sites regardless. Now the consequences are coming home to roost. The strategic sites cannot all be delivered, and keeping them in the Local Plan serves no other purpose than to keep the housing figures artificially high. This inevitably risks aggressive development in the green belt and the five-year [land] supply is not met.”

Amanda Mullarkey, Guildford Residents’ Association

Amanda Mullarkey, chair of the umbrella Guildford Residents’ Association, was concerned about the urgency of some planning aspects. She said: “We need to fast track firstly a height supplementary planning document to sit alongside a heights policy for the plan. The SPD would inform site allocations for brownfield sites in the new plan, allow a plan-led approach and avoid excessive allocations for brownfield sites driving up heights. Secondly, development briefs for major brownfield sites linked to flood risk management and sustainable transport plans.”

Councillor debate

In the councillor debate members from across the entire five-party spectrum spoke.

Cllr Patrick Oven

Cllr Patrick Oven (Guildford Greenbelt Group, Send) said that as far as the inset villages were concerned [ie those that had green belt protection removed], the way the plan had operated was a classic case of the law of unintended consequences. He added: “There may have been unintended consequences, but it was blatantly obvious from the moment the villages in the north-east of the borough were inset… that the presumption against development…  moved 180 degrees to a presumption in favour [resulting in] far more development than that in the plan.”

Cllr James Walsh

Cllr James Walsh (Labour, Bellfields & Slyfield) said he welcomed the update “as a chance to draw a line under the animosities this issue has generated in the recent past and develop an evidence-based, updated plan that’s fit for a changing world and one that enjoys the support of the majority of residents.”

He said a balance “will undoubtedly have to be stuck between achieving this and enabling the development the borough needs to grow rather than stagnate. We need to see high-quality housing for 10 years, but especially social housing for those who can’t manage high mortgages and high rents.”

Cllr Richard Mills (Con, Castle) welcomed the report as “well balanced and well targeted” adding: “We have, I think, confidence in our planning officers to carry it forward effectively.” Highlighting three issues, he said: “We should query any increase in targets that may be suggested for the town; that [there] should not be a moratorium on policy development…[including] the need for better controls on building height”. He added: “We should show some scepticism about the merits of a town centre master plan at this stage.”

Cllr George Potter

Cllr George Potter (Lib Dem, Burpham) began by echoing his party colleague Cllr Vanessa King (Stoke) and agreeing that the update represented “a fantastic opportunity. It is probably the most important thing, other than ensuring sound finances, this council will do over the next four years in terms of the long-lasting impact.”

But he cautioned against any claims that an updated plan could be “all things to all people, to have winners without losers and to deliver the moon on a stick.” Any plan would be subject to national planning policy constraints and he challenged the idea “that population numbers and projections are somehow at the heart of this and that somehow if only we can get more accurate population projections then all our problems in a local panel update will be solved. That is simply not the case because the standard method for government starting point for housing targets is not based on population projections in the main it is based on affordability.”

Cllr Joss Bigmore

Cllr Joss Bigmore (R4GV, Merrow) agreed with others on the need for urgency asking for a broad outline of a timetable as soon as possible.

He continued: “The planning policy team have confirmed to me that the only forum at which we can challenge the standard method of assessing housing need is a public examination of the update. This means that we’ll be subject to a high housing number until that time, which… could lead to unplanned development on our allocated sites…

“There’s a view that we can wait and see but it seems unlikely a Labour Government will be any more sympathetic to our arguments in the South East for less housing so we should get this going as quickly as possible.”

Cllr Fiona White reiterated a caution, many times throughout the evening, that the only decision before the councillors was whether or not to proceed with an update and debate on the update itself would be had in due course with the involvement of parish councils, residents groups and individuals.

The proposal to proceed with an update of the Guildford Local Plan was passed unanimously on a show of hands.









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