Fringe Box



The Nature of Consultations – Or When We Are Being Misled

Published on: 30 May, 2017
Updated on: 30 May, 2017

From Neville Bryan

Last week I was sitting at the GRA (Guildford Residents Association) AGM listening to the group prepare for the next (4th) Guildford Local Plan consultation and was intrigued by one particular conversation.

It was generated by an extremely frustrated member who like many of us are amazed by Guildford Borough Council’s complete intransigence to the thousands of requests to change direction in this local plan, despite;

  • 13,000 responses to the Issues and Options consultation in 2013;
  • 20,000 responses to the first Local Plan consultation in 2014;
  • a 2015 local and general election where the victorious Conservatives promised to save the green belt;
  • 32,000 responses to the revised “Regulation 18” consultation in 2016.

Mostly in responding, residents said the same things, namely that we value our green belt and AONB, there is already too much traffic with no plan or funding to address the problems, and that we want to understand how the SHMA is calculated, and constraints applied.

That was until one member pointed out, that government guidance on “consultations” wasn’t to induce a change of direction but to make sure there are no mistakes in the direction (trajectory) being undertaken.

Well GBC cannot complain about the level of respondents pointing out “mistakes” I suppose, but to be sure, I looked up the definition of “consultation”, it is: “noun – a meeting to discuss something or to get advice or the process of discussing something with someone in order to get their advice or opinion about it”.

Looks like that member was right – whatever we say or do, all GBC appear to be doing is checking with residents and other bodies for mistakes in their work. Whatever we residents feel and don’t like they still clearly intend to proceed with a plan the core contents of which have hardly changed since first proposed in 2013, whatever their election manifesto says.

The implications of this are severe.

The borough will lose important green belt. Blackwell Farm and Gosden Hill Farm are tracts of land which protect Guildford from urban sprawl (a prime purpose of the green belt). Ask yourself what the first thing you see when you come west on the A31, or South on the A3.

The traffic issues will not be solved – it looks like the A3 Tunnel is finally a dead idea, as the areas to the north-east of Guildford, where it would most likely emerge, are now planned as housing. The A3 will not be started for review until at least 2023, and what about the tens of thousands of houses in Farnborough, Aldershot etc already agreed and underway.

The town centre has no resolution to its traffic problems, and who out there believes the “modal shift” (i.e greater use of public transport, bikes and feet) is going to correct things or is suitable for anybody other than the university students currently taking over our town?

In common with our misunderstanding of “consultation”, we should probably add the term “election promise”. Our MP Anne Milton and many of the Guildford Tory councillors (including Matt Furniss) appeared under a 2015 election campaign headline: “Conservatives Say Greenbelt To Stay” are now showing the current party political system up for what it is – a means to an end, not one designed to represent the people who vote.

Perhaps the one surprise out of all this is the one body who has appeared to have taken notice of our 32,000 objections appears to be the Planning Inspectorate whose approval of the Local Plan is required. Thank goodness, I just hope they read the content of our objections and take notes. That’s more than GBC have done.

It also means that we all need to review the latest plan changes and keep responding. You can only comment on the new changes, or say that your concerns have not been met but we must review and be prepared to comment – after all you just never know who’s listening.

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Responses to The Nature of Consultations – Or When We Are Being Misled

  1. Christopher Dalby Reply

    June 1, 2017 at 11:20 am

    Rejection and objection but never any viable plans or ideas where the much needed homes will be built.

    And as the poulation grows at record speed new homes are much needed, as is the modernisation of ‘our’ town. I say ‘our’ because it has been clear that those with the loudest voices are the ones most comfortable and more bothered about the presevation of their own quality of life rather than giving a decent chance, as they had, to others that also deserve the opportunities they enjoyed.

    • Jim Allen Reply

      February 28, 2019 at 5:44 pm

      Actually, viable alternatives have been put forward but ignored. As for “much-needed homes” there comes a time when supply exceeds demand, as it did in Ireland. The total of 14,000 homes is some 8,000 over the properly computed number. Conversely, 47,600 additional vehicles exceeds road capacity.

      Find the money for the infrastructure then let’s talk about exactly how many homes are actually needed – and let’s exclude developers from the conversation.

  2. Neville Bryan Reply

    June 2, 2017 at 1:44 pm

    So build em high, and build em cheap? Even the NPPF does not ask for this, but no prizes for guessing sympathies here.

    Infrastructure remains our single biggest problem. Guildford leads the way in town congestion, a position which benefits nobody. Building out of town just compounds the problem from every direction.

    In reality I do not think anybody is saying don’t build – full stop- including me, as I suggested in my thoughts above. What most are saying is, infrastructure first, and use the town developments wisely and well. The town is where the most sustainable building can take place, as there is land, and much of it, in great locations. One of the best ideas is making use of the river, one of the worst a 40% increase in a dying retail expansion.

    The student town take-over problem also needs to addressed. The university has caused it though over expansion, and the university has the land and potential to fix it. In the last 12 years, 4,500 additional students have taken entry level housing off the Guildford market. I do not see Mr Dalby’s ire directed at the university management, or the council who have stood by and allowed it, just at those of us who want to protect our environment from the traffic, concrete, and fumes.

    The next generation will not thank us for decimating their countryside, and certainly not believe Mr Dalby’s assertion that we destroyed it for their financial wellbeing.

  3. John Lomas Reply

    June 2, 2017 at 3:39 pm

    Having participated in a large number of DSA and also associated Dept of Transport (or whatever it was called at the time) consultations over the last 40 yrs, I have come to the conclusion that “consultation” means: “We tell you what we want to do, you tell us what you think about it. We will then do what we intended all along”.

    There has been a slight variation in recent years in that some obviously ridiculous ideas have been proposed which, following protests, have been dropped “after consultation”.

    The cynic in me believes that such measures were never intended to survive, but were included in order to make it seem as if someone had been listening and responding.

  4. J Moore Reply

    February 28, 2019 at 11:51 am

    I was born in Guildford and lived there many years. I now live in Shropshire (north of W Mids), where we are suffering exactly the same “development” drive.

    It is all about money, not requirements. The government is squeezing local authorities who do not want to reign in their spending, so they look to “development” to swell their income; council tax, business rates and community infrastructure levee.

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