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Opinion: Kick National Politics Out of Local Politics

Published on: 21 Mar, 2021
Updated on: 23 Mar, 2021

Cllr Ramsey Nagaty

By Ramsey Nagaty

leader of the Guildford Greenbelt Group (GGG), and borough councillor for Shalford, gives his view on the proposal to review the Guildford’s Local Plan put forward in Conservative county council candidate Julie Iles’ letter

Our Local Plan was voted in by the previous Conservative administration during the purdah period before the GBC elections in May, 2019, supported by Labour and Caroline Reeves, then opposition and Lib Dem group leader.

The Conservatives lost most of their 35 seats in 2019. At the previous election 2015, they had distributed leaflets headlining their pledge to protect the green belt, featuring pictures of candidates and present Conservative councillors standing at “strategic sites”.

Given previous broken promises, voters should take with a pinch of salt any fresh declarations now it is election time. Rather, they should look at the campaigning and voting patterns of the parties over the years.

Consistently, GGG has worked, campaigned, promoted and voted to uphold and give weight to policies that protect wildlife, the countryside, air quality and climate change. We have argued for infrastructure first and challenged the GBC officers who have considered if the infrastructure is not forthcoming they will find other ways to justify development.

GGG has raised the issue of Office of National Statistics algorithms and figures being incorrect. Our former councillor, David Reeve, highlighted this prior to the adoption of the Local Plan and was treated badly by the then administration, and the facts he put forward ignored.

See also: Saying the Complaint Against Me Was Not Politically Motivated is Humbug

Since then, GGG has worked with others, including campaigners in Coventry who have similar issues. Being a few years ahead with their Local Plan, they can evaluate how ludicrous was the expected growth, economic and in population, used to justify greenbelt release.

This caused the UK Office for Statistics Regulation of the UK Statistics Authority to review the ONS algorithm and workings. GGG is contributing to information they have requested and GBC has written to the Office for Statistics Regulation to ensure Guildford’s figures are included in the review. Council leader Joss Bigmore (R4GV, Christchurch) has given full support.

Shortly after the last GBC elections, I attended the QC review of the Local Plan supposed to give a road-map for the way forward, with representatives of other parties and officers. Regrettably, the QC, having had prior briefings with GBC officers, mainly addressed the three Judicial Reviews mounted by parish councils, Wisley Action Group and Jules Cranwell that were in progress but then asked for questions.

Cllr Reeves was most concerned to obtain exoneration for voting for the Local Plan and confirmation officers had done nothing wrong rather than identifying the best way forward. I asked if climate change was a reason to review or amend the Local Plan and the QC said this was a good point worthy of further consideration. The council, Lib Dem-led at that time, did not pursue this.

GGG proposed a motion at full council calling for an immediate review of the Local Plan and this was blocked at the last minute, following Lib Dem pressure.

Other councils have acted differently. On July 28, 2020, Lancaster City Council formally adopted its Local Plan: Strategic Policies and Land Allocations DPD and Review of the Development Management DPD.

This document shapes the future of the Lancaster district up until 2031, and plans for more housing, new employment, open spaces, shops and community facilities, all of which are necessary to create places in which people want to live, work and do business.

But on January 30, 2019, the city council had declared a climate emergency. While the Local Plan sought to address climate change, it was too far advanced in the preparation process to incorporate some of the actions and directions of the climate emergency declaration.

So Lancaster council entered into an immediate Local Plan review to ensure the aspects of this important agenda were adequately considered and include the necessary mitigation and adaption measures necessary to address the climate emergency.

If they can do it why can’t we?

GGG requests for a review were rebuffed. I was told by the lead councillor for Planning, Jan Harwood, that officers were too busy drafting the supplementary planning documents (SPDs). At no time did the Conservatives join us to press home for a review.

The voters are not stupid and have long memories. Last-minute positioning by Conservatives must be seen for what it is. If they really mean what they are saying then, at local level, they should resign from the Conservative Party and join a local democratic party, campaigning as before on truly held principles.

I say let’s kick national politics out of local politics and listen and act for residents.

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