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Opinion: Guildford’s Housing Numbers Need Re-appraisal Following Brexit Decision

Published on: 7 Jul, 2016
Updated on: 10 Jul, 2016
Colin Cross the Liberal Democrat Candidate for the Lovelace By-election

Colin Cross the Liberal Democrat ward councillor for Lovelace

By Colin Cross

Lib Dem ward councillor for Lovelace which includes, Ripley, Wisley and Ockham and a strategic green belt site earmarked for a possible 2,000+ houses in the draft Local Plan. His stated views are personal and do not reflect any official Lib Dem policy.

“In 2014 the GBC’s [Guildford Borough Council’s] preferred option of 652 dwellings per annum (dpa) was chosen.” (See appendix 17, page 1609 of the GBC’s Draft Local Plan 2016). This target was lifted to 693 dpa in this year’s revised draft Local Plan.

This is an increase of 6.3% in spite of 7,000 responses (covering 20,000 separate points) being received in 2014 from the local population. This reaction was overwhelmingly against the plan and its inflated housing targets.

But we have been told over and over that GBC’s planners have “listened” to the public concern and acted upon it accordingly. One must ask what we would have ended up with if they had not listened?

Opinion Logo 2The day after the Brexit decision I wrote to The Dragon to insist that this result rendered the latest SHMA [Strategic Housing Market Assessment] (and therefore the current draft Local Plan) obsolete and in need of urgent revision.

Since then even more clear evidence has come forth from an independent consultancy to show that G L Hearn’s SHMA calculations are deeply flawed. The initial methodology was wrong and so was the double-counting brought about by the various loading factors they introduced to raise the base figure from 517 to 693 (over half of which are for overseas students temporarily at Guildford’s university).

The real base figure is therefore in the range of 500/520 dpa but that is not the end of the story, only the beginning.

We must now examine the effects on that figure of the following:

  • The constraints imposed on Guildford Borough of having 89% of its land designated as green belt and around 50% as AONB [Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty]. Our current plan is to inset around 7% of the green belt land so as to build on it. Surely we should instead be saying we must protect it from development and use it as a valid constraint to reduce our SHMA figure?
  • Rural Exception Sites are currently given as equating to 90 dwellings over the 20 year plan life. This is a tiny amount and does not represent the benefit to rural communities of their local people being provided with this special type of affordable housing. Normally the maximum number of homes on these small rural sites is up to ten, therefore we should aim at one site, per year being developed, i.e. 200 homes over the life of the plan, not 90.
  • Windfall housing is that which is not in the plan but will happen anyway, normally as either individual new homes or small developments of fewer than ten homes at a time. GBC are allowing only 42 such homes p.a. whereas the records will support a figure of nearer 80 p.a.
  • Sustainable growth is at the heart of planning and a necessity for any successful site. The mega-sites of Blackwell Farm and former Wisley Airfield are touted as sustainable but they represent the absolute opposite. Why was it that after touring the Wisley site and surrounding area that the GBC Planning Committee promptly voted 21-0 against the proposed development there?
  • The choice of the strategic sites, in particular, is flawed and must be urgently reviewed. There is insufficient funding to realise the developments as local infrastructures are unable to cope now or be upgraded sufficiently in the future. GBC must be realistic as there is a black hole now of over £500 million for infrastructure costs.
  • Brexit – it stands to reason that this is a sea-changing decision. Only today the financial pages are reporting the probable exit of 80,000 City jobs to European Centres from London. That’s 80,000 properties up for sale or rent in the South East, many of which are in Surrey. Do we really want to build even more executive houses now?

In summary, its back to the drawing board before it’s too late and out with the calculators. As a rough guide Guildford should have a SHMA that is around 100 less than the current real base figure of 500/520 dpa, i.e 400/420 dpa.

This represents 8,000/8,400 homes over the 20 year life of the plan and even that will take a lot of achieving and a great deal of expenditure on providing the necessary infrastructure to sustain it, but at least it is a realistic target.

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Responses to Opinion: Guildford’s Housing Numbers Need Re-appraisal Following Brexit Decision

  1. Shelley Grainger Reply

    July 7, 2016 at 9:56 pm

    Sorry but I don’t understand Cllr Cross’s reasoning. Brexit may or may not effect housing demand in the South East, in the long term. We don’t have a crystal ball.

    Currently we do not have enough housing, which leads to house price rises and people being inadequately housed. Therefore we still need to build houses, with adequate infrastructure to support them.

    All wards should take their fair share of mixed housing, which includes social housing as well as family homes and smaller units for downsizers. The green belt can be looked after while accommodating some housing if it is built in keeping with the surroundings.

    As far as I can see, the green belt is often used as an excuse for keeping the villages for the exclusive use of their current inhabitants, rather than acknowledging that all communities need to grow and adapt for the future. Could the council just get on with it, please? Plans for numbers can be reassessed and changed as you go along.

  2. Paul Bishop Reply

    July 8, 2016 at 9:11 am

    Re-assessing the numbers now is a complete waste of time, money and effort. At this point in time we have zero visibility of what Brexit will really mean for population growth.

    What we do know, however, is that today we have a shortage of housing. This is something which will continue to get worse for at least two years whilst we continue to operate within the EU.

    After that, we really do not know the impact it will have. When we understand what the post-Brexit situation will be, then we can reassess. Until then, it’s business as usual.

  3. John Perkins Reply

    July 8, 2016 at 11:13 am

    Shelley Grainger rather misses the point. Cllr Cross is not arguing that we do not need more housing, but that the quantity is wrong and should be recalculated in view of the new situation.

    The crystal ball used by GL Hearn and not seen by GBC, never mind residents, was asked to answer a question which is no longer valid.

    It’s foolish to make up new numbers as you go along and anyway that is not allowed under the terms of Local Plans.

    As for fairness, perhaps Ms Grainger can explain how the disproportionate quantity of proposed housing in and around the councillor’s ward meets that criterion.

  4. Colin Cross Reply

    July 8, 2016 at 11:51 am

    The central point of my article is that it can now be proven that the GBC SHMA number should be around 40% lower than it is and therefore needs reducing.

    Whatever number of houses we build it may not affect the cost as that is controlled by external forces beyond our control.

    Brexit was mentioned in passing as it is beginning to look as if it is having a negative impact on UK property prices, both commercial and residential.

    The premise of a reduced and accurate SHMA still stands, Brexit or no Brexit.

    Colin Cross is the Lib Dem ward councillor for Lovelace.

    • Paul Bishop Reply

      July 11, 2016 at 11:58 am

      I would be very intrigued to see the working and sources to support the 40% reductions. Would those suggesting them be able to post it somewhere, maybe on The Dragon, for a wider group review?

      The SHMA clearly states: “The SHMA does not set housing targets. It provides an assessment of the need for housing, making no judgements regarding future policy decisions which the Councils may take.”

      If assertions can be backed up with data, it is worth making this available.

  5. Adrian Atkinson Reply

    July 8, 2016 at 12:46 pm

    Mr Bishop says: “Until then, it’s business as usual.” So yes, people are getting on with business as usual and scrutinising the plan. However, that does not mean the council are right to implement the plan as proposed.

    The SHMA [Strategic Housing Market Assessment] is flawed, with or without Brexit. It should be reviewed as part of normal business of the council. Yet they have refused to do so. New independent scrutiny will show that the proposed housing number of 693 is too high. It is a “sexed up dossier”.

    Mr Spooner, his Executive or council officers (civil servants) have failed to scrutinise the SHMA and failed to listen to many members of the public and public bodies from Guildford saying it is wrong. He says there is no need, he says he “trusts the experts”.

    Is he in danger of doing exactly the same as Mr Blair did when blindly accepting the advice from the security service for the decision to go to war? Every reasonable person knows the decision was made, Blair and Bush needed a narrative to take parliament along with it, the evidence wasn’t properly scrutinised but it supported a certain “trajectory”. Chilcot is unforgiving about the lack of “challenge” by civil servants, intelligence officials, and Cabinet ministers.

    Let’s scrutinise the SHMA dossier, let’s get to the bottom of the intelligence the developer owned consultancy, GL Hearn, has used to tell a narrative that Guildford needs to grow by 25% over the next 15 years. Show us the proof not the spin. Let’s not just trust the experts who have a clear vested interest in development.

  6. David Burnett Reply

    July 8, 2016 at 11:40 pm

    Colin Cross’s observations on Brexit are spot on and he is right in saying that there will be much less demand for executive homes in Surrey. KPMG has said house prices will fall 5% outside London (Daily Telegraph June 24). Singapore’s third-biggest lender, UOB, has suspended new loans for the purchase of London properties (Guardian June 30). Taylor Wimpey shares have now almost halved since May 24 (Daily Telegraph June 27).

    The proposed plan will tear up the green belt and add to congestion on the A3. Potentially with less speculation in the housing market, those who really need houses will have a better chance at house ownership. Besides, much of our older housing stock is more desirable due to being closer to town centres and having bigger rooms and gardens. Wouldn’t it be best to wait and see what Brexit brings?

  7. David Roberts Reply

    July 10, 2016 at 11:29 am

    I completely agree with Shelley Grainger’s point about all wards taking a fair share. There are just three problems:

    1. The total housing need number is provably much higher than it should be but the council isn’t listening;

    2. Guildford could build 100,000 new houses and it would make zero difference to prices because of the overhang of the London market (especially if the Brexit effect has been exaggerated);

    3. “Fair shares” would mean Guildford town taking 20 times the number of new homes as East Horsley (for instance) which is the next biggest settlement and has one-twentieth of the population Instead, over 8,000 out of 13,000 new homes would be in the green belt.

    Wherever one lives and whatever ones concerns, surely It can be agreed that this is not fair?

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