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MP Calls for Lib Dem Council to Sort Out ‘Planning Shambles’

Published on: 17 May, 2023
Updated on: 18 May, 2023

By Martin Giles

Guildford MP Angela Richardson has supported Michael Gove’s decision to give a final warning to Guildford Borough Council over the planning application processing performance.

Angela Richardson MP

Richardson describes the situation as a “planning shambles” and calls on the council, now solely Lib Dem-controlled, to sharpen up its act on planning.

But Liberal Democrat Tom Hunt, countered: “For the last two quarters, GBC has exceeded the DLUHC [Department of Levelling Up Housing and Communities] target of determining over 70 per cent of non-major applications within the statutory eight-week period, or as agreed with the applicant.”

See also: Guildford One of Three Councils Threatened with Planning Power Strip

The Secretary of State told GBC in his letter, received in late April, that their performance levels were, “…indicative of a very poor quality service to local residents and a significant deterrent to investment in your local housing market and wider economy. That is not good enough…”

Guildford’s MP said: “This letter confirms that Guildford Borough Council is now on the verge of being designated, which means that control of some planning applications would be lost locally and dealt with by central government.

“When the Conservative administration left office in 2019, Guildford was among the best planning authorities – it is now among the worst. I have explained to the Secretary of State the mitigating circumstances of Covid but he rightly felt that he had no option but to demand better for residents of Guildford.

“I hope the new Lib Dem leadership will deal with their previous four years of planning failure swiftly so that people in this borough can get the service they want and see the effective delivery of the housing we all need.”

Responses from local parties

Cllr Tom Hunt

Speaking on behalf of the Lib Dems Cllr Tom Hunt, the lead councillor for planning in the previous GBC administration, said: “It should be noted that this is simply a re-announcement of the same letter that was reported on by local media on April 24. It is good to see Guildford’s MP taking an interest. Better late than never.

“The GBC planning team has already demonstrated a marked improvement in performance from 2021. There is still work to do to return performance to where we would like it to be, and we are continuing to support the planning team to improve the service.”

Cllr Joss Bigmore

The leader of Residents for Guildford and Villages and former deputy council leader, Joss Bigmore, said:  “GBC’s performance had already improved significantly under the previous administration, and for the last six months was above the government’s targets, however it will be a challenge to maintain that performance as I doubt the budget situation will allow the extra funding we invested in the service to be maintained.

“We will also need to find funding from existing budgets for the North Street appeal (maybe £300k), and potentially the same again for Three Farms Meadow (Former Wisley Airfield).

Cllr James Walsh

James Walsh, the new leader of the three-councillor Labour Group at GBC, was sympathetic to the new administration. He said: “The problems in the council’s planning system have manifested over a period of time, not helped by the pandemic and difficulties recruiting staff.

“However, the department has been working hard to complete outstanding work, with officers undertaking intense sessions to clear backlogs. As a result, I understand that the current as-yet unreported figures are better than those cited by the Secretary of State.”

“Time will tell if the council is now moving in the right direction and there can be no doubt that this needs to be a top priority for the new administration.”

But the chair of the Guildford Greenbelt Group Ramsey Nagaty, who lost his Shalford seat at the May 4 election was critical. He said: “The Conservative Local Plan, including the insetting of the villages from the green belt, opened the floodgates for planning applications. The Lib Dem leader at the time Caroline Reeves supported it.

“The planning department Executive post for the last four years has been held by the Lib Dems who have not been able to administer the department efficiently to cope with the increased workload. Problems of processing the unprecedented number of planning applications were compounded by Covid and “working from home”.

“There has been no proper examination of the Planning Department by a cross-party task group. Instead, there has been the use of non-local planning consultants while residents, applicants and councillors find it difficult to contact officers.”





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