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Opinion: Conservative Critics Should Get Their Facts Straight

Published on: 6 Aug, 2021
Updated on: 10 Aug, 2021

Cllr George Potter

By George Potter

Lib Dem county councillors for Guildford East and borough councillor for Burpham

I find it beyond belief the sheer level of ignorance that appears to be commonplace amongst so many Conservative politicians. There have been several instances on local topics lately.

Is it any wonder that so many ascribe dishonesty to the utterances of Conservative politicians when the only alternative rational explanation is an unbelievable level of ignorance and incompetence about the most basic facts of the topics they’re talking about?

It really shouldn’t be necessary for me, or anyone, to educate Conservative politicians on the most basic facts about planning, especially when the individuals in question have spent so much time and so many words making pronouncements about it – anyway here goes. I start with several facts:

1. The population projections used to calculate the housing targets in the Local Plan were wrong.

2. Since the Local Plan was written the central government formula used to calculate the housing targets has been changed to produce even higher targets.

3. Despite knowing that the population projections used in the formula are far too high, the Conservative government has, thus far, refused to change the formula.

4. Any review of the Local Plan has to comply with the government’s housing targets.

5. The removal of land from the green belt in the Local Plan is, for all intents and purposes, permanent and cannot be reversed by a review of the Local Plan.

6. The Conservative government is currently planning reforms of the planning process with the stated aim of making things even easier for developers to get planning approval.

7. The Conservative party received a quarter of its total income from property developers.

Now, there are some things which, of course, are not facts but are matters of opinion.

For instance, some people, including me, think that the Conservative party is in the pocket of property developers and, regardless of what local Tory politicians say in attempts to win votes, this government will do anything it can to make the planning system more profitable for property developers, regardless of whether that means more poor quality development, without supporting infrastructure, or not.

Some other people clearly think that the Lib Dems, despite trying to amend the Local Plan to reduce an unnecessarily large additional buffer within the housing target, did not go far enough to try and stop the Conservatives from adopting the Local Plan. I would argue that such views have no basis in fact, but obviously, it’s a matter of opinion and people are entitled to their view.

Other people, such as Julie Iles (see: Opinion – We Should Demand to Know When the Local Plan Is To Be Reviewed), might well think that R4GV (Residents for Guildford & Villages) and GGG (the Guildford Greenbelt Group) overpromised in the 2019 local elections and made claims about their ability to “fix” the Local Plan which could never be delivered. But others, in turn, could well argue that actually R4GV, if you read the specific wording of their manifesto, made it clear that there was a caveat attached.

These are matters of opinion, and it is impossible, naturally, to stop people from having contradictory opinions on why things have happened the way they have and what the motives of the people involved were and are.

But Julie Iles, as a well-educated, accomplished and no doubt intelligent woman, really has no excuse for her consistent claims about the Local Plan which are simply factually incorrect.

Regardless of her opinions on the matter, for her to try to blame the coalition administration for the Local Plan housing targets indicates either inexcusable ignorance of how the housing targets work or simply a determination to not let facts get in the way of a good soundbite.

Similarly, when she claims that the council should be doing things such as ensuring new houses have heat-pumps installed, she is, either deliberately or out of ignorance, ignoring the fact that local councils have no power to insist on such things because the government keeps that power to itself and chooses not to use it.

While Guildford Borough Council has gone as far as it possibly can to ensure high sustainability standards (such as requiring electric vehicle charging points), if Ms Iles wants higher standards then she really ought to be talking to her party colleagues in parliament to give councils the ability to set those higher standards.

Sadly, yet again, we have a pronouncement made by Julie Iles which is absolute nonsense to anyone who has taken more than ten minutes to look into the topic.

So my question at this point is, why on earth should anyone listen to a Tory politician who clearly doesn’t know the first thing about what they’re talking about?

And, for that matter, why should anyone believe a word that any Conservative politician says on the Local Plan given their appalling record of arrogance and dishonesty and while their party is pocketing vast sums from companies with a vested interest in tearing up any and all obstacles to unfettered development?

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