Fringe Box



Opinion: We Need A Better Long-term Local Plan for Guildford

Published on: 20 May, 2017
Updated on: 22 May, 2017

By Julian Lyon

Julian Lyon is the chair of the Guildford Society and member of the Guildford Vision Group but this article is written in a personal capacity…

Julian Lyon

I have been reading the comments of readers of The Dragon following the debate at the council in respect of the draft Local Plan. I have responded to the previous consultations and I feel a need to comment.

Firstly, the Strategic Housing Market Assessment, or SHMA, is intended to be a professional opinion of the level of housing need – it is not the same as a decision as to how many homes we shall build.

I agree that the GL Hearn and Justin Gardiner methodology should be available for scrutiny, but I also understand that, once this is made public, they would have no business – their ability to charge handsome fees from local authorities would evaporate.

…I have absolutely no faith in our SHMA

The GL Hearn opinion is just that, an opinion – the council should be challenging it and could have spent less money if they had commissioned a second independent study and compared the results objectively.

I do not know what the right answer is. I do know that we urgently need a Local Plan.

Much of the evidence base is poor (for a variety of historic reasons), and not particularly fit for the purposes of a modern authority looking to be a force for good, and looking ahead more than the first few years of this plan.

Much of the evidence base is poor…

Our problems are rooted, for a variety of reasons, in more than 30 years of poor plan making and the common thread – including the 2003 plan which is so out of date – is inadequate evidence.

If we need to build on the green belt now it is because we have taken really poor decisions in the past, based on pretty poor information.

A relatively blind reliance by many local authorities across the country may have done more to damage communities and democratic processes than any single consultancy has managed to achieve, ever. Their ‘magic’ formula, that has led to countless successes with planning inspectors at Local Plan enquiries has given them rich pickings when every local authority has to have a Local Plan.

It is, however, ethically unsound and morally bankrupt to fail to expose the magic formula to fair audit and reasonable criticism. That local authorities, like GBC, have chosen to rely quite heavily on this unchecked, unaudited report is, at best, unfortunate and certainly undemocratic and, as a result, I have absolutely no faith in our SHMA.

I happen to think, though, that the number most professional analysts would arrive at as our Objective Assessment of Need (OAN) would be higher than we would like and more than our infrastructure can cope with – again because of this history of poor planning (nothing to do with heads of planning Tracey Coleman and her immediate predecessor, Neil Taylor, who both arrived into the eye of a storm that was already raging, and into a situation where the need for a Local Plan was seen as more important in the round than some of the problems it will inevitably cause).

I would prefer to leave the green belt untouched, but I am not swayed in the short term, about ten years in this long-term planning window, by all of the arguments that are rehearsed over and over again on these pages.

We cannot let the borough council’s failings over many years become the norm for the future…

The one thing that I believe must happen is that there has to be a comprehensive plan for and audit of the areas of the borough that are not in the green belt. We need to know how we can combine solving social issues and infrastructure needs whilst developing more densely in the Guildford urban area over the next 30 to 50 years.

My biggest gripe with the Local Plan is that it does not look to the next plan period and that we know in our guts that next time round, there will be yet more of the green belt at risk.

I have some fairly radical ideas about how to achieve a thirty-year regeneration of brownfield areas across the Guildford urban area – and a good start would be the town centre regeneration proposed by the Guildford Vision Group (of which I am a member).

I also chair the Guildford Society and we have some very real and tangible misgivings among our members about bringing substantial height of buildings into the town, especially where it might adversely impact on the historic heart.

…we need a better long-term plan

Proper masterplanning on a fairly major scale over a substantial period does not need to lead to an increase in the roofline of our beautiful historic town centre; it does not need to create a Solum-style wall across the views of the hills; it does, however, represent an opportunity, by increasing some development densities in outlying areas, to make public transport more viable.

It should enable us to address the areas of multiple deprivation highlighted by the Guildford Society in our response to the 2014 draft Local Plan.

We cannot let the borough council’s failings over many years become the norm for the future – it will destroy us.

I have confidence in James Whiteman and his officers to take on the task of thinking through the 30-year plan for which the current Local Plan should be the first part, flawed though it may be.

…bullied in some fit of pique by a council leader we did not elect

I do, however, fear for my democratic rights when the councillor whom my ward elected, Cllr Phillips, is bullied in some fit of pique by a council leader we did not elect.

There is precious little committee time for elected members and conscientious members of the public to make their points, and I would urge the leader and Executive to recognise that the three minute committee speaking slot leads to an intensification of feeling into a short burst.

This should not be responded to in the manner that we witnessed this week. All the players in this are human, we all have frailties and we all may lash out a bit.

Emotions are running high and we need development to take place. But we need a better long-term plan, over multiple Local plan periods. It cannot simply be, “Look at all that green space, surely they won’t notice if we build on a bit of it…”

Please note: although in my day job I am a director of Savills with responsibility for international corporate property portfolios (the business space companies occupy), a member of the Steering Group of Guildford Vision Group and chair of the Guildford Society, these views are entirely my own.

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