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No Councillor Prepared to Chair Planning Meeting So Traveller Pitches and 93 New Homes Delayed

Published on: 2 Feb, 2023
Updated on: 3 Feb, 2023

By Emily Coady-Stemp local democracy reporter

and Martin Giles

No councillor was prepared to step in and chair last night’s Planning Committee meeting at Guildford Borough Council in the absence of the chair and vice chair, so decisions on building 93 homes and traveller pitches in Guildford have been delayed.

Both the committee chair, Cllr Fiona White (Lib Dem, Westborough), and the vice chair, Cllr Colin Cross (R4GV, Lovelace), were unwell.

The vote on the new housing estate in Ash and four traveller pitches in the Hog’s Back, both recommended for approval by the council’s officers, will now need to be taken at a later date.

Tensions between the leading Lib Dem group and their coalition partners, the Residents for Guildford and Villages, are still believed to be high in the wake of the Lib Dems voting against the North Street development earlier this month, but it was denied by one senior councillor that this was a factor.

There is one uncorroborated report that 20 residents from Ash had travelled to the meeting to hear the planning application affecting them.

See: North Street Plan Rejected by Borough Council in Knife-edge Vote

GBC has already been warned that it could be placed in “Special Measures” by the government because of its poor performance in processing planning applications. By some performance measures, it has been placed as the worst in the country.

See: GBC Planning Could Be Designated for Special Measures Due to Poor Performance

John Armstrong, the council’s democratic services and elections manager, asked for a nomination from those attending for someone to take the role of chair in the meeting, but none came forward.

GBC Planning Committee Members February 2023

Having consulted a council lawyer, he announced that the committee were in the “very unfortunate” decision of having no other option but to adjourn the meeting to a later date, which was agreed by the committee.

Some councillors who were spoken to today seemed embarrassed by the failure to conduct the meeting. One said to The Dragon: “What a shambles!”

Outline planning permission had been granted in 2020 on the Ash Green Road site, Ash, for 100 homes, and the meeting was due to make a decision on the reserved matters, including the layout, appearance and landscaping of the land at May and Juniper Cottages.

The planned homes would include 26 affordable rent properties and 11 shared ownership, over a site that would be a mix of detached, semi-detached and terraces as well as four two-storey blocks of flats.

Plans also included a play park and a central area of green space and the layout had been amended, as well as the number of homes reduced from 100 to 93.

Both Ash and Normandy parish councils had objected to the plans and the council had received 32 letters of objection raising concerns about the impact on local schools, healthcare and policing as well as on traffic in the area.

The second application due to be heard was a retrospective one for four traveller pitches on former horse paddocks behind Ipsley Lodge Stables on the Hog’s Back.

An officers’ report on the application showed that the families living at the site already had children in local schools and that if permission were not granted they would probably need to return to roadside living.

Officers had recommended that temporary and personal permission be granted to the named families living there currently, given a shortage of sites for travellers in the county.

Documents said the plans differed from a previously refused application on the site because they no longer included a new road to access the site and because the personal circumstances of those living there had since been provided.

The five-year permission being granted would have meant enough time for the provision of authorised sites in the area, although one applicant had been told there would be around a ten-year wait for a space on a council-owned site in Chertsey.

Officers said: “Whilst [Guildford Borough Council] can demonstrate a five-year supply of traveller sites, none are currently available and only four are available within the next five years.

“Should permission be refused, the applicants would be likely to have to revert to roadside living; this weighs heavily in favour of the proposal.”

Surrey county councillor Matt Furniss (Con, Shalford), the authority’s cabinet member for transport, infrastructure and growth, was due to speak at the meeting to object to the plans.

Also due to be announced were 13 appeal decisions. Of the 13  GBC refusal decisions listed, five were allowed on appeal and seven appeals were dismissed.

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Responses to No Councillor Prepared to Chair Planning Meeting So Traveller Pitches and 93 New Homes Delayed

  1. Annie Cross Reply

    February 2, 2023 at 10:22 pm

    I take offence at the comment that Cllr Colin Cross is “believed to be unwell”. He is unwell.

    Editor’s response: no offence was intended nor any implication. The simple fact is the reason for absence was not stated at the meeting and we only had an unconfirmed, although believed, report that sickness was the reason for Cllr Cross’s absence. However as you have now confirmed that is the case I have happily amended the article.

    • William Brewster Reply

      February 26, 2023 at 11:52 pm

      I take offence that no councillors allowed this meeting to go ahead and councillor cross didn’t bother to turn up. I hope cross is ok as he looks fine when I see him outside your house every day. My fathers been very unwell recently but turns up for the job he’s paid to do. I hope more councillors step down like councillor cross has as councillors who don’t turn up or refuse to allow planning decisions to go ahead are bad value for money and undermine the planning process.

  2. Bob Nutall Reply

    February 4, 2023 at 10:14 am

    Probably one of the better meetings they’ve ever had.

  3. RWL Davies Reply

    February 4, 2023 at 1:05 pm

    So, no one thought to have a contingency plan in place if the chair and vice chair were both absent. Understandable; it’s not as if GBC Planning Committee meetings are important or have any bearing on the borough’s future.

  4. Mark Stamp Reply

    February 5, 2023 at 10:00 pm

    All of those councillors in attendance are guilty of a dereliction of duty and putting their squabbles ahead of their voters.

    It should have been entirely possible for any one of them to take the chair temporarily for a committee that we have recently been told takes decisions on a non-party political basis.

    • John Ferns Reply

      February 6, 2023 at 11:58 am

      Isn’t it fortuitous that a ‘Special’ planning committee had already been convened for tomorrow, when all these topics, and more, are on the agenda to be discussed?

    • Sara Tokunaga Reply

      February 6, 2023 at 2:59 pm

      Surely any one of the councillors should have been able to chair the meeting. All should have received and read the documents pertaining to the application.

      If they were all incapable of chairing the meeting does it follow that this implies they should not be on the planning committee as they cannot make decisions?

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