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Opinion: Have Onslow Tory Candidates ‘Predetermined’ Blackwell Farm Proposal?

Published on: 7 Apr, 2015
Updated on: 14 Apr, 2015

By Martin Giles

In Touch Onslow 2Arguments between political parties can leave many of us cold. Politicians can often seem more interested in point scoring (even if it is only them keeping score) than sensibly debating the issues and the choices.

One such argument, reignited at a recent hustings meeting, has been raging over the last few days, largely behind the scenes. Many emails have been exchanged and thousands of words written by the fingers of angry combatants punishing abused keyboards.

It is all over “predetermination”.

In short (because I appreciate you have other things to do), it goes like this: if a candidate or sitting councillor expresses a view that indicates he or she has already made up his or her mind on a planning proposal then, in the view of some, especially it seems among the Conservatives and perhaps the Lib Dems too, those elected councillors should not be able to take part in the decision to grant or not planning approval because they have already made up there mind, they have “predetermined” the decision.

Some seem to have extended the argument so that all those standing under the Guildford Greenbelt Group (GGG) banner, if elected, should be excluded from all planning decisions involving green belt development.

Surely this would be a step too far. The democratic process must allow all people to stand for election and express their views openly so that we electors can decide who will best represent us. If GGG candidates are elected and then prevented from taking part in planning decisions wouldn’t that compromise democracy and leave voters, perhaps those most affected by a decision, unrepresented?

Susan Parker, party leader, responded, when challenged on this issue, by saying that GGG candidates would consider green belt development in line with current government guidance i.e. that it should only be allowed in exceptional circumstances.

If we wish to protect the green belt, and the government as the Conservative party claim they do, then surely this is a sensible approach. We might imagine developments that are “exceptionally” required, perhaps construction during a national emergency, such as the prisoner of war camp on Merrow Downs during the Second World War.

But increased housing demand should not be considered sufficient reason, any development could be justified on those grounds. It is not exceptional, it is currently the norm.

Of course it gets trickier if candidates express views on specific proposals. If a candidate is standing in Onslow ward, for instance, you might think that the voters there are entitled to know his or her views on the Blackwell Farm plan, under which the University of Surrey wishes to build more than 3,000 homes on the green belt.

So if candidates do express a view, and are then elected, should they really be excluded from any subsequent decision?

No doubt the Tory candidates, Adrian Chandler, Phillip Hooper and Chris Varveris, will be treading very carefully making sure that no utterance could be seen as “predetermination”. But no… wait … a recent Conservative newsletter circulated in Onslow has the headline, “Conservatives Say No to Farm Development”.

"intouch" or out of touch? Are the Tory candidates aware of their own party's stance?

“intouch” or out of touch? Are the Tory candidates aware of their own party’s stance?

What? Don’t they understand their own party’s position, was there no editing or approval process for the party literature? Surely it isn’t a clever ploy to exclude the ward councillors from the planning decision when it comes. Is it?

Of course I am keeping an open mind, free of predetermination, until I know all the facts. Perhaps someone would like to tell me?

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Responses to Opinion: Have Onslow Tory Candidates ‘Predetermined’ Blackwell Farm Proposal?

  1. Tony Edwards Reply

    April 7, 2015 at 4:05 pm

    The ‘predetermination’ argument against the GGG is a somewhat pathetic symptom of a Conservative party in disarray, running scared of a new, well-organised and well-supported opposition to those wishing to vandalise the borough’s Green Belt. It would be vaguely amusing if it were not so very sad.

    Some local councillors could never be described as politicians and tend to revert to infantile antics in the name of democracy.

  2. Mary Bedforth Reply

    April 7, 2015 at 5:44 pm

    This is from the GBC website. Advice to councillors, dated 6 March 2015.

    I like the bit about ‘avoid giving the impression that you have made up your mind. prior to the decision-making meeting..’. So absolute clarity and transparency then. At least we know where we stand.

    When will a list of prospective candidates for the local elections be available? I note that Cllr Hooper is now standing in Onslow ward. He is one of the three current Holy Trinity Conservative councillors who are not standing again.

  3. Fiona White Reply

    April 7, 2015 at 8:51 pm

    The guidance for councillors on pre-determination were changed by the coalition in the Localism Act 2011. Please click here to view.

  4. Jules Cranwell Reply

    April 7, 2015 at 8:58 pm

    Could the Tory 2011 abandoned manifesto pledge to “continue to protect the greenbelt” be considered ‘pre-determination’? Surely not. If it was it would have precluded all Tories from involvement in any planning applications.

  5. Helen Jefferies Reply

    April 7, 2015 at 9:42 pm

    I don’t see the Guildford Greenbelt Group’s (GGG) position on the green belt as anything different to that stated in the Tory manifesto of 2011.

    As 89% of the borough is green belt the Tory councillors should have been excusing themselves from planning committee meetings all the time over the past four years. I have no recollection of any councillor doing so. In fact, they cared so little about the green belt that they issued a draft local plan which proposed building the majority of new houses in it, completely the opposite of what they had promised four years earlier.

    I would venture to say that responses to the local plan consultations have shown that the electorate does care about the green belt so once again the major parties are claiming that their position is to protect it.

    Trouble is they can’t organise themselves. If you read the election leaflets now dropping through doors they only promise to protect their own bit. Most people call that Nimbyism. Many borough residents are lucky that they will have the choice to vote for GGG candidates in May who will protect the green belt and will also promote transparency in council dealings.

  6. Jane Robbins Reply

    April 7, 2015 at 10:56 pm

    Politicians should certainly be able to have a view on proposed developments especially in their own wards.

    However, as I see it, the difference between the Guildford Greenbelt Group and the other political parties is that they are a one policy party dedicated to blocking any re-zoning of green belt land for housing.

    How can they, therefore, sit on a committee and fairly judge planning applications involving building on greenbelt if it is their sole mandate to oppose such applications. I don’t believe they can because applications would not have a fair hearing.

    Individual planning applications should be judged on their merits and in accordance with local and national policy and that this is the line all politicians should take.

    • Lisa Wright Reply

      April 8, 2015 at 9:06 pm

      In response to Jane Robbins, the Guildford Greenbelt Group (GGG) strap line is “Cleaner and Greener Guildford”, including the economy, finance, congestion, governance etc.

      I wonder if she has read their manifesto?

  7. Ben Paton Reply

    April 7, 2015 at 11:03 pm

    Some Conservatives do not seem to have heard of the phrase ‘before you worry about the speck of sawdust in someone else’s eye worry about the plank in your own’.

    Let’s consider a few of the planks in what they say (to mix metaphors).

    1. You can’t express a policy view on the Green Belt because that might be ‘predetermination’. But the Conservative candidate for Merrow is reported to have said he’s in favour of building a new town in Ockham.

    2. You can’t talk about the fact that their former lead councillor for planning is being prosecuted for fraud or the fact that the council’s “Probity in Planning” code apparently has no legal force but you can accuse the Guildford Greenbelt Group (GGG) of being in favour of building houses in Ash – even though that’s false.

    3. You can’t talk about the fact that there are 20% fewer council houses owned by the council this year than there were some ten years ago but you can talk about a housing crisis.

    4. You can’t talk about the crisis in road capacity and school capacity but you can talk about increasing the number of houses by 20% plus.

    5. You can’t talk about the fact that building on much of the green belt is all about making development profits but you can talk about a shortage of affordable homes.

    6. You can’t talk about the fact that over 50% of the new houses built in London are said to be bought by non UK residents but you can talk about the need to build on the green belt.

    7. You can’t talk about the fact that local politicians are supposed to support residents and their way of life but you can talk about how you propose to re-write all the planning rules to benefit property developers.

    8. You can call everyone else a Nimby but you can’t admit that the only place you defend the green belt is in your own back yards or constituencies.

    GGG’s approach to planning is more transparent, more principled, more in the local interest and more conservative (with a small c) than that of the so-called Conservatives in Guildford.

  8. Andrew Backhurst Reply

    April 8, 2015 at 11:09 am

    Anyone who has driven east along the A31 will have noticed that the land to the north of the Hog’s Back is stunningly beautiful and anyone who has walked it will have know why it is such a controversial issue.

    I do not want to put down our wonderful democracy but the will of Westminster and the power of the appeals department in Bristol will not look at the beauty, but Blackwell Farm’s position as a missing piece in the jigsaw of the map of Guildford.

    As a resident of Tongham our equally important fields are not covered by the green belt and are currently being picked off by developers. We all can only hope that reason every candidate is standing for election is to represent the best interests of the town its villages and the surrounding countryside.

  9. Gerald Bland Reply

    April 8, 2015 at 2:29 pm

    Interestingly it was the application of ‘exceptional circumstances’ which led to the government inspector appointed to determine the content of the 2003 Local Plan, allowing Guildford council to re-designate part of the then Green Belt, to accommodate the expansion plans of the university.

    It would be help voters in the borough council elections if all candidates or their party spokesperson were asked what they would regard as ‘exceptional circumstances’ justifying the release of more green belt land for development.

  10. Bernard Parke Reply

    April 8, 2015 at 7:04 pm

    If you look at the heading of the photographed, “In Touch” newsletter within this article it states that “Council tax has been kept low again”.

    In fact, council tax has risen 2% on top of 2% each year now for several years.

    A rise above that figure would trigger a referendum.

    Many other authorities have frozen council tax in line with the government’s direction.

    Why can some authorities do this but ours fail?

  11. Jules Cranwell Reply

    April 9, 2015 at 8:24 am

    In response to Jane Robbins, before judging the Guildford Greenbelt Gropup (GGG) as a one policy party, she should perhaps read the manifesto. Amongst other priorities, GGG is also about ensuring probity in public life.

    It’s all very well for the Onslow Tory candidates now saying “no” to the development. They have already said “yes”, as they all voted for the daft Local Plan which proposes the development of 3,000 homes there, along with the various other massive assaults on the green belt. Are we really expected to trust them?

    Jules Cranwell is an organiser of the Guildford Greenbelt Group.

  12. Dominique Kelly Reply

    April 9, 2015 at 3:05 pm

    Looks like this is the ultimate predetermination. The Conservative Government is lining up Guildford for development, according to this BBC item.

  13. Bernard Parke Reply

    April 9, 2015 at 6:53 pm

    I think all Dragon readers should see the link in Dominique Kelly’s comment.

    So much for election promises.

  14. Stuart Barnes Reply

    April 11, 2015 at 9:54 am

    It seems to me that all most people and politicians are doing is to obscure what is happening by discussing effects rather than causes.

    There will be no stopping concreting over what is left of our once beautiful countryside unless the reason for it is attacked. That reason is virtually unrestricted immigration.

    Dave has broken so many promises that it is useless to expect anything from him; Clegg is a joke; and Miliband is wedded to more of the same.

    The local parties are just mirror images of their big brothers in Westminster so nothing will change unless we vote for something different. If enough people wake up something might be achieved.

  15. Michael Bruton Reply

    April 14, 2015 at 8:03 pm

    In 2011 Guildford Tories promised to protect the green belt – no ifs, no buts. Then they draw up Draft Local Plan.

    The latest housing numbers are 15000+ of which 10,000 are planned on green belt land. Fast forward to 2015 and the Guildford Tories promise again to protect the green belt.

    How do these Tory candidates in 2015 square their alleged passion for the green belt with allocating potentially 10,000+ homes on it? If Conservative councillors love the green belt and Guildford town so much, why did nearly all of them vote for inflated housing numbers in council on 19 June 2015? Do tell.

    Regarding the incorrect interpretation of so called ‘predetermination’ by Guildford Tories and some others who profess to know, is it merely a ruse to try and silence their critics whilst not having to comment on the sites which may lose them votes if they did?

    Guildford Tories appear already to have predetermined the outcome of the Local Plan by ignoring wholesale the 20,000 comments made by local residents in favour of the green belt.

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