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Local Reaction to Government Announcement of Planning White Paper

Published on: 8 Aug, 2020
Updated on: 10 Aug, 2020

Representatives from the local political parties and the Guildford Society were invited to give their responses to the announcement of a White Paper “Planning for the Future“, setting out intended reforms to the planning process.

See also: Planning White Paper ‘May Protect Green Belt But Threatens Democracy and Quality’

Here is what they said…

1. Do you think a change to the planning process is required? Why or why not?

Cllr Caroline Reeves

Caroline Reeves of the Liberal Democrats: While there may be a need for some changes, and particularly the move towards digitising, much could be done within the present legislation and these wholesale changes do not seem to be constructive.

One of the main issues nationally with the present process is the delay by developers in building permitted development, although residents in Ash may well disagree. If this was addressed it would go a long way to solving our serious national housing need, but this White Paper does not address the issue.

Christopher Barrass of Residents for Guildford & Villages: Yes, it needs to be far more responsive to the needs of local residents.

Nine years ago, the government recognised this with its Localism Act, but now this White Paper is going in the opposite direction.

Ramsey Nagaty of the Guildford Greenbelt Group: We believe that the planning process, although it is lengthy, does not give enough weight to the views of local residents and specific local area constraints.

2. What is the main problem, if any, with the current planning process in Guildford Borough, in your view?

Lib Dems: Most decisions are passed by our planning officers under delegated authority, the small percentage of applications which go to the Planning Committee are obviously the contentious ones. The key is for the members of the committee to understand the legislation, and for clear explanations to be given about why decisions are made. Sometimes, planning language is not helpful in this respect.

R4GV: We believe the process of consultation can be improved to take far more account of the, often expert, responses of local organisations and people, as other local councils such as Elmbridge are doing.

On policies, there is a great deal of room for improvement. Please see our comprehensive response to the council’s draft Development Management Policies on our website.

GGG: We have found the consultation required is often a tick-box exercise, genuine concerns and issues being brushed aside with stock responses to the consultations. Further, there is genuine frustration that the Local Plan, which had much vocal opposition, was passed in the purdah period just before the last election at which the then Conservative administration was devastated at the polls and new Liberal Democrat, R4GV and GGG councillors elected.

But the plan cannot easily be changed under the present process. It should have included master-planning for the town centre and measures for mitigating flood risk and easing the traffic bottlenecks with improved infrastructure.

3. What impact would changes, as outlined in the White Paper, have in Guildford Borough, with its adopted Local Plan in place?

Lib Dems: The changes would do nothing to guarantee the delivery of affordable, well-designed and sustainable homes, which is what we urgently need. The proposal to exempt more sites from making s106 contributions just compounds the problems and favours the developers. It will seriously compromise social housing numbers and will not allow younger people any greater chance of having a decent home.

R4GV: We are deeply concerned that, despite its promises, this will become a charter for development which will see a loss of social and genuinely affordable housing, further encroachment on our rural and green borough and uncontrolled second-rate development.

Cllr Ramsey Nagaty

GGG: Within 42 months Guildford would need to establish a new Local Plan within the latest rules and regulations. In view of the development pressure on Ash,  GBC can currently, mitigate some aspects at present. Under the new system, we would see much more developer-led projects coming through with GBC less able to mitigate or control development in similar greenfield and brownfield areas allocated for development.

GBC will also be less able to ensure truly affordable and reasonably priced homes for sale or rent and social housing. Housing requirements would be imposed by the government. After local councillors designate areas (growth, renewal, protected) there will be very little local control over development within the growth areas.

4. Should any political party be allowed to take donations from housing developers?

Lib Dems: Absolutely not. It cannot possibly pass any test for integrity even if the donation is made public.

R4GV: Absolutely not. The decisions we as a council make can mean the difference of tens of millions of pounds to a developer.

Integrity is one of the key Nolan Principles of Public Life and even basic hospitality from developers should be avoided so that we are clearly seen to be practising those principles.

Ramsey Nagaty GGG: No, this should be banned, if it is not already, and anyone doing so should face criminal charges.

Cllr Paul Spooner

Paul Spooner also responded on behalf of the Conservative ‘independent’ group at GBC but in a more consolidated format. He said: “I welcome a White Paper consultation on the planning process, but finding an acceptable solution that satisfies everyone will be impossible. I welcome any effort to try and achieve consensus for delivery of new homes and associated schools, health centres and other infrastructure in a balanced way, but achieving that through legislation as presented needs further thought to meet the stated aim of the local community shaping planning.

“The effect on boroughs and districts with adopted Local Plans, such as Guildford, is not clear and I await further clarity from MHCLG. I have no issue with legal donations to any political party whether from individuals or organisations including unions where members support political donations to particular parties”

And the chairman of the Guildford Society, Alastair Smith, sent the following statement: The future White Paper has provoked positive and negative reactions.  We will be responding to the consultation.

The White Paper, if enacted in its current form, will have a major impact on how development is controlled in Guildford, and the role of local government in this process.  Many of the aims laid out in the White Paper relating to a simpler planning system, better local design codes, more attractive development, all seem sensible common sense.

But the White Paper is weak on how these are to be achieved, and it is unclear to what extent the public will be able to influence planning.  Converting the White Paper into robust legislation will be a considerable task, as always, the “devil will be in the detail”.

Noticeably the government are doing nothing, at first read of the White Paper, to ensure conversion of offices and commercial buildings into dwellings doesn’t result in sub-standard accommodation due to very limited regulation.

All can support building the houses we need, but it is also important that new dwellings and conversions are built to high and attractive standards and in sustainable locations.

Although planning can take time, the bigger issue appears to be the reluctance of the developer community to build the consented developments.  The Local Government Association estimates are that a million dwellings have had consent over the past decade which have not been delivered. The White Paper only has limited suggestions to solve this issue.”

Representatives of the local Labour Party were also invited to comment.

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test 4 Responses to Local Reaction to Government Announcement of Planning White Paper

  1. Winifred Paine Reply

    August 8, 2020 at 6:31 pm

    Developers should be made to build doctor’s surgeries instead of expecting the existing one (as in Ash Vale) to cope with the occupants of some 1,200+ homes. I am informed another doctor’s surgery will be built eventually.

  2. John Davey Reply

    August 9, 2020 at 9:11 am

    They have made a big effort to avoid speaking about genuine affordable or social housing for local people.

    Who do the authors of this White Paper represent?

  3. Mike Murphy Reply

    August 9, 2020 at 11:57 am

    I remember having sight of the Conservative government’s previous white paper.

    In one section it was in favour of conserving the green belt and in another it advocated virtually ignoring it. As other’s have observed, devil will be in the detail, and then how the agreed policy applied.

    When Cllr Spooner was in charge he was elected on a ticket of conserving the green belt and then, to everyone’s amazement, he was allowed to drive coaches and horses right thorough it, particularly in Send. Most of us, including me, had no idea that GBC had the power to just erase part of the green belt, a legacy that our forefathers left for us to carefully maintain.

    I despair. Once this protection of the green belt has been removed none of the land will be safe.

    It’s ironic the Cllr Spooner is in favour of any legal donations. Maybe we should have an enquiry as to where these legal donations have come from over the past, say, 10 years?

  4. Keith Francis Reply

    August 11, 2020 at 8:44 am

    Unfortunately, it is up to the developers who must ensure that they receive part of the council’s take (CIL) from any development to provide a new doctor’s surgery estimated cost £1m each.

    All of our Surrey Clinical Commissioning Groups should be fully aware of this opportunity to receive these funds. I know the one covering another Guildford Borough development on its border in mid-Surrey certainly does.

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