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Letter: National Parties Selling Local People And Countryside In Interests Of Development

Published on: 22 Jan, 2016
Updated on: 24 Jan, 2016

By Ben Paton

The machinery of government at all levels now works sedulously with developers to work around age-old constraints on housebuilding.

Ben Paton the Conservative candidate in the Lovelace ward by-election.

Ben Paton.

One argument is that the end justifies the means. House prices are too high and the solution is to build more houses.

The argument is made that house prices are high because not enough houses are being built.

Annual supply has varied between roughly 0.6% and 1% of the total stock of houses. However, it is facile to argue that increasing the supply of new houses will materially affect the price level for the 23.4 million homes in the country.

If the number of homes built each year doubles will it reduce the price of houses? It would add less than 1% to the housing stock, which will make next to no difference to house prices and considerably less difference than the effects of interest rates, QE and foreign investment.

The segment of the housing market where there is an acute shortage is in what used to be called council housing. Guildford Borough Council had not built any council houses for some 20 years (until very recently), it has also been busy selling them off. It owns 15% fewer council houses than it did in 2000.

The Conservative controlled borough council is not representing local people, the people who actually live here – regardless of race, colour or creed.

It seems to me that control of local government is now largely in the hands of a clique of business interests which can rightly be characterised as a ‘local government-property development complex’. This is the military industrial complex writ small – operating in our backyard rather than in global geopolitics.

emails letterWhat do the numbers tell us? The number of homes/dwellings in the UK is 23.4 million. New houses built peaked in 2008 when some 226 thousand houses were completed and troughed in 2013 when 135,000 houses were completed.

An example of the work of this complex is the manner in which housing need is estimated. The calculation of housing need has been outsourced to a commercial property consultancy called GL Hearn, now part of Capita.

The arithmetic model showing how the figures are computed has not been given to Guildford Borough Council and the council has not obtained the calculations used in the model and will not disclose them.

A public authority fulfilling a statutory purpose has outsourced the critical calculations upon which its entire local plan is based to a private sector commercial property consultancy and argues that it has no business need to see the calculations and so presumably has not performed basic checks or different scenario analysis.

The determined efforts of one offshore developer, Wisley Property Investments to develop agricultural land in the parish of Ockham illustrates the politico-commercial nexus in local politics.

This developer bought the farmland in the belief it could change its use. That belief was partly based, it would seem, on its political connections.

David Mellor, former cabinet minister under Margaret Thatcher, was a director of the predecessor company, Wharf Land. Today the company is fronted by a Conservative local politician called Mike Murray, who is the lead councillor for planning in the Conservative controlled Vale of White Horse Borough.

He continues to insist, in defiance of the facts, that the land is suitable for development. To smooth the path to development the local farm tenant, whose family has farmed the land for 30 years, has been replaced.

The new tenant is none other than Colin Rayner, Conservative lead councillor for transport in the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead, large farm contractor and subcontractor to Veolia and Heathrow Airport.

One of the backers of Wisley Property Investments is understood to be RAB Capital, a city hedge fund part owned by Conservative party donor Michael Allen-Buckley.

Needless to say, the developer’s shareholders stand to make a lot of money. It paid £7 million for the agricultural land. It plans to put some 2,100 houses on it.

If the average house were priced at £250,000 the developer’s gross sales revenue would be £525 million. If the profit margin were similar to that disclosed by the big quoted UK housebuilders (ie 25% to 30%) the developer might make £150 million profit – in its offshore tax haven.

Mr Murray has been so successful in promoting his project that Guildford put this site into its draft local plan – despite the fact that its suitability was never tested against other available sites, and despite the fact that no credible exceptional circumstances have been shown to justify building on the green belt right on top of a site of nature conservation interest and hard up against a special protection area.

Not only has Guildford been giving the applicant ‘pre-application advice’, it has also  held the application open for a further year to permit the developer to gather new information and change its application.

We must wake up to the fact that national political parties are not protecting local interests and are not standing up for the countryside. By all means vote for national parties in national elections. But in local elections, electors should vote for local parties or residents’ associations. National parties are selling local people and local countryside down the river – in the interests of property development.

Sources of information:

Click here for our interview with Ben Paton in August 2014 when he was selected to stand as a Conservative candidate in the Lovelace ward by-election.

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Responses to Letter: National Parties Selling Local People And Countryside In Interests Of Development

  1. Jules Cranwell Reply

    January 23, 2016 at 8:36 am

    This is an excellent and irrefutable analysis by Mr. Paton.

    It is beyond time that the GBC executive told us why they are so in thrall of the development industry.

    At a time when the executive is awarding itself staggering increases in allowances, we are entitled to have transparency for our money.

  2. Anne Vallis Reply

    January 23, 2016 at 2:53 pm

    The most worrying aspect is how blatant the developers and councillors are!

    There is no attempt to hide affiliations, and local concerns are just dismissed out of hand. Just like Barclay Homes in Effingham.

    They seemed amazed that residents were opposed to their plans!

  3. Michael Bruton Reply

    January 23, 2016 at 7:52 pm

    Guildford Borough Council has appeared five times over a period of one year in the Rotten Boroughs column of Private Eye – including in September 2015 under the heading ‘Cayman Crocodiles’ apropos the offshore company which owns the former Wisley airfield. I wonder why?

    Mr Paton’s letter is a good summation of the state of the Tory Party both nationally and locally across much of England.

    And Mr Cameron has the effrontery to claim that the Tory Party is “on the side of ordinary people”. Is it any wonder that politicians in general are held in such low esteem – lower even, I gather, than that of estate agents.

  4. Peter Doyle Reply

    January 24, 2016 at 11:30 am

    Tories with their hands in the till? Dodgy dealings with development companies? Treating locals with absolute contempt? Somebody will inform us that the earth is globe shaped next.

    Corruption and vested interest have prevailed in this country for decades. The very idea that we live in a democracy is a cynical deception that somehow, quite amazingly, and against all the evidence, still persists within our somnambulant population.

    It appears to most sensible observers that GBC is rotten to the core – witness the previous incumbent’s tenure at the top and his rather more than questionable dealings and associations around the local plan.

    Yet, we still sleepwalk into allowing stuff like this to happen, and that suits those vested interests just fine.

    However, the ‘local government-property development complex’ is just one example of almost uncountable such arrangements designed to place large amounts of money in the hands of those with no accountability (and even less intention to pay tax) at the expense of the general population.

    Mr Paton’s summary of the situation of Wisley is a depressingly accurate representation of the behind-the-scenes skullduggery going on at all levels of government.

    And if we think how many other sites, small and large, that GBC will be keen to deliver into the hands of eager developers through arrangements that will never be less than obfuscated, then we get an idea of the scale of the problem on a countrywide basis.

  5. Andrew Procter Reply

    January 24, 2016 at 7:21 pm

    Ben Paton paints a very chilling picture of what our world has become. If only we could be assured that key decisions made in terms of planning were free from vested interest and bias we could all sit back and relax.

  6. Neville Bryan Reply

    January 24, 2016 at 11:50 pm

    I am sorry to say that I both agree with Mr Paton’s key message, and find it a depressing commentary on the state of local politics.

    The vast majority (I am pleased to say not all) of local councillors appear not to care what their voters think, unless of course it’s election time.

    You only have to look at the recent Clay Lane Link Road petition, raised by 800 local residents (with a 96% support level in the local village of Jacobs Well, Worplesdon) where two of the three Worplesdon ward councillors voted against the petition.

    The petition was asking for a change of route strategy with no legal reasons for councillors to object, yet Conservative ex-Mayor David Elms, and Conservative current Executive member Iseult Roche voted against the petition and effectively the wishes of their voters.

    Only the two councillors can explain their reasons, but it reminds me of the push on the local plan last year, when it was blatantly not ready, and had so many objections, yet was pushed out at great expense. The party message I got was “carry on, the voters don’t matter”. It appears party over people time.

    This is what we see. What are we not seeing.

    Key questions like: Why is the housing number proposed (Strategic Housing Market Assessment) saying 800-plus?

    Or: What meetings are being had between property developers and GBC councillors and representatives on the major sites we are told are all still being put forward against such heavy resistance?

    Or: How are you protecting the green belt we all want defended?

    So many major developments are now on the table in Guildford, and with it so much money at stake, we need strong leaders and representatives, with high moral fibre and a strong vision.

    The vision is unclear. There is no joined-up thinking to the infrastructure (and I note the headlines this week on the billions on infrastructure shortfall before any development).

    Too many times GBC recently are making the wrong headlines in papers like Private Eye. I do truly wonder what revelation we will have next, be it through national exposure, or the Dragon (keep it going Martin).

    It all does not inspire any confidence in local politics, and the “trust us” message is long gone with the Mansbridge debacle.

    The key point remains though. We need local politicians to represent local people. And dare I suggest next time, anybody with connections to property development in any way be instantly unelectable.

  7. Mary Bedforth Reply

    January 26, 2016 at 6:33 am

    Any defence forthcoming from our MP?

    Probably not. Only photo ops.

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