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Opinion: Guildford Must Say ‘Enough!’

Published on: 27 Apr, 2019
Updated on: 28 Apr, 2019

Cllr Mike Hurdle

By Mike Hurdle

a Guildford Greenbelt Group borough councillor for Send

This article has been adapted by Cllr Hurdle from the speech he gave during the debate on the proposed adoption of the Local Plan by Guildford Borough Council.

I’ve strongly opposed the Local Plan, adopted by GBC last night. It’s been a vast undertaking and I do acknowledge the huge amount of work on the details prepared by the borough council officers. My quarrel has not really been with the details, but with the big picture. Let’s recall why this plan is bad for Guildford.

Despite being a historic town, Guildford, like other Surrey towns, has already contributed a lot more to fulfil the nation’s housing needs than other places. But there are limits to how far you can expand without damaging the sustainability of a place through overcrowding and traffic. My home village, Send, like much of Guildford, has narrow roads between houses, with no space for making passing places or slip roads. Three such roads then meet at a point and traffic jams are frequent.

“More infrastructure needed!” we’re always told. But unless we can find a transporter beam from Star-Trek, there is no credible infrastructure solution because there’s no space to deploy it, and it’s a cop-out to pretend otherwise. We can’t cope with the traffic now, let alone the traffic caused, as it will be in Send, by almost a 40% increase in housing, plus industrial warehouses, plus a new A3 junction on our doorstep.

How did we ever get into this mess? In the absence of regional planning to promote employment and housing more evenly across the country, we have allowed the market to suck economic vitality away from the rest of the country to the overstressed South East. And if we don’t make a stand now, there will even greater pressure next time – in just fifteen years – and the time after that, and so on. The logical end will come when Guildford becomes such an unattractive place in which to live and work that aspirational people will take their wealth- creating activities elsewhere.

I wouldn’t object to heavy-handed central government direction if we had sat on our hands and done nothing to build houses. But that’s not the case – look at the housing density here compared with the rest of the country.

There were thousands of public objections, which is unusual. People feel that in a big-picture sense, this isn’t really Guildford’s Local Plan; it is the government’s plan for Guildford. It is getting further and further from what we would have chosen.

The huge irony is the government’s core belief is the principle of the “small state” – a presumed reluctance to micro-manage from the centre. This is the government which – a few years ago – coined the term “localism”, to reflect a belief that what people wanted locally actually mattered. Instead, councils are legally obliged to go through the time and expense of public consultations, knowing from the start that the public’s views would not count.

Across the party divide, many councillors are deeply unhappy with the plan, but were worried about voting “no”, because they think the government would take over and inflict something worse. Let’s get real – something worse will happen under the plan, maybe in five years, and certainly in fifteen, when the green belt is due to be reduced again. There were nor are any risk-free options.

Despite last night’s vote, it is still a time to stand up, and that time starts now. We need to remind the government about its former commitment to Localism, and point out that overheating the South-East is a poor short term fix, not a healthy sustainable answer. Stand alongside other local authorities. Challenge the government to listen, and think better.

Is that Utopian? Maybe. But we won’t know, will we, unless we try.

And if government doesn’t listen … whatever the theoretical punitive tools at its disposal, the political realities dictate that it will not hold on to its local parliamentary seats at a time like this by imposing a plan we don’t want.

And maybe, just maybe, if a place like Guildford stands up and says “enough!”, then the government might still be forced to pause and think, and embrace the need for proper regional planning.

 

 

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test 2 Responses to Opinion: Guildford Must Say ‘Enough!’

  1. Jules Cranwell Reply

    April 27, 2019 at 2:42 pm

    Brilliantly put Mr Hurdle.

  2. S R Miller Reply

    April 28, 2019 at 10:28 pm

    Enough is enough. Guildford is already saturated and a complete mess.

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