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North Street Application Put on Hold Until Secretary of State Decides Whether to Take Decision Himself

Published on: 10 Jan, 2023
Updated on: 12 Jan, 2023

Michael Gove has put the North Street application on hold while he decides whether to call it in.

By Martin Giles

The Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities has directed Guildford Borough Council not to approve the planning application from developers St Edwards for the controversial North Street development until he has considered whether or not to “call it in”.

If the application is “called in” the SoS, Michael Gove will decide whether it should go ahead or not.

The leader of Residents for Guildford who support the applications sounded furious when asked about the news and Guildford’s Labour Party chair has called the move “anti-democratic” (see below).

Gove, as the MP for neighbouring constituency Surrey Heath which includes Ash, part of Guildford Borough, should have good local knowledge.

Angela Richardson MP

Guildford’s MP Angela Richardson, who was Gove’s parliamentary private secretary (PPS) until she resigned in January 2022 over “Partygate”, requested on Friday (January 6th) that he took action. This followed an unsuccessful attempt by the leader of the Tory group at GBC to refer the application to a meeting of the full council.

See: Guildford’s MP Asks for North Street Plan to Be Decided by the Secretary of State

Some observers are criticising what they see as the politicisation of the decision.

The notice explains to GBC that: “This direction does not, of course, prevent your council from considering the application, forming a view as to the merits or, if they are so minded, refusing permission.”

It is expected that the application will still be debated at GBC’s Planning Committee meeting scheduled for tomorrow evening (December 11) at 7pm.

The North Street Holding Notice received by GBC today.

Cllr Joss Bigmore

Joss Bigmore, lead GBC councilllor for planning policy, was obviously very angry when he spoke to The Dragon about the announcement but contained himself in his written response: “I am not surprised at this latest desperate attempt by the Conservative Party to politicise a planning application.

“There are no grounds for call-in, and it would be my prediction that once we get the May elections out of the way the holding direction will be lifted.

“We will continue with the Planning Committee tomorrow night: local representatives should be making this decision not detached Westminster Conservatives more interested in elections than what is best for Guildford.”

The developer, St Edward, a joint venture by M&G Real Estate and the Berkeley Group, has declined to make a comment on the news.

Brian Creese

Brian Creese chair of Guildford Labour commented later (January 11): “Hasn’t Michael Gove got enough in his in-tray as Levelling Up secretary? It feels very anti-democratic to me – surely it is our right to choose how we develop Guildford via consultation with our elected councillors?

“That said we know that the council has been pretty hopeless at doing this. A skilful council steers a path between local housing and business needs, popular opinion and the economics of building.

“Guildford Labour has issues with the development, most notably that as this was [partly] council-owned land there was a real opportunity to include social housing. But what our MP seems to have done is circumvent proper process and the rights of Guildford people to shape its own town.

“It should be for Guildford to decide its future not government ministers.”

Cllr Tony Rooth

Tony Rooth the Independent borough councillor for Pilgrims ward who resigned from R4GV partly because he felt there had not been sufficient consultation on the plan said: “The Gove decision has rather superseded my request for deferral of the Planning Committee meeting but at least I asked the question outside all this party political mud-slinging.”

Further reaction has been sought. Please check back.

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test 4 Responses to North Street Application Put on Hold Until Secretary of State Decides Whether to Take Decision Himself

  1. Peta Malthouse Reply

    January 10, 2023 at 5:49 pm

    Well, well, well. The Tory party which voted through our dreadful Local Plan before the last election is now sidestepping our local democracy and making a decision about whether it should be determined by the MP for Ash.

    The area concerned has been waiting for redevelopment for at least 40 years and Guildford has suffered as a result. I hope this is not delayed overlong. The only benefit I can hope for is that the government can insist on the affordable housing numbers being increased.

    However, property prices are dropping so don’t hold your breath.

  2. Tony Rooth Reply

    January 10, 2023 at 7:54 pm

    The undisputable fact that North Street needs redevelopment is now regrettably becoming a “blame or claim game ” between political parties which now include R4GV [Residents for Guildford & Villages].

    Claim the fame for “getting North Street done” or counterclaim for the “botch on your watch”.

    The arguments appear directed at the short-term May elections rather than the long-term future of Guildford’s town centre. It’s not what residents really want but the way that political party councillors do it.

    Tony Rooth is the Independent borough councillor for Pilgrims ward.

  3. Craig Adams Reply

    January 11, 2023 at 12:44 am

    I am no fan of the current local council and its decisions. However, this does not make me remain completely partisan or ignorant just for the sake of obstinacy or political purity; a good point is a good point.

    On this particular subject I completely agree with Cllr Bigmore. I think there is a will to do good by the town. It may not be “perfect” but it’s the closest we’ve been for, what, 20 years?

    We need to move forward Guildford, not get stuck in the mud.

  4. Howard Moss Reply

    January 11, 2023 at 10:24 am

    This appears politically motivated and undemocratic, Angela Richardson MP has asked for Secretary of State intervention claiming “residents in Guildford are concerned. “Just how many residents?

    Up until one particular resident publicly complained he really wasn’t aware of the scheme, despite the multiple public consultations, only 59 people had objected, less than those who had supported it.

    Then her Conservative colleague Cllr Paul Spooner tried unsuccessfully to have the application taken out of the Planning Committee’s hands.

    So now we have this impasse – preventing the democratically elected councillors who represent all parties in Guildford and who are appointed to the Planning Committee from making a decision, apart from doing nothing or being able to refuse the application.

    That’s not democracy.

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