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Opinion: We Have a Practical Plan for the Local Plan

Published on: 12 Apr, 2022
Updated on: 15 Apr, 2022

By Tim Anderson

lead councillor for Resources and R4GV borough councillor for Clandon & Horsley

I stood on doorsteps during the borough election campaign of 2019 and promised to change the proposed Local Plan.

Then a week before the election the Tory administration, with its then dominating majority, adopted the Plan.

Tim Anderson

Changing a non-adopted Local Plan is relatively easy: changing an adopted Local Plan is a nightmare. Once passed it sets like concrete.

Of course, we only discovered this after a post-election legal opinion initiated by R4GV, and three judicial reviews initiated by others.

In the first year, R4GV was on the backbenches and the Lib Dem led council not only had no appetite for reviewing the Local Plan, they supported it.

In 2020 the Lib Dems invited R4GV to join them in a coalition. The pandemic had already started and there was little appetite for addressing other issues.

The pandemic was crippling the council’s finances. I had become lead member for Resources and with it, responsibility for balancing the budget.

It was a full-time job.

In 2021 I proposed a motion to review and update the Local Plan. At last we could make a start on the issue which had caused me to stand for election.

There was a bitter debate in the chamber. The Conservatives’ motion only concentrated on the impact of the delay on A3 road improvements on the three strategic sites Wisley, Gosden Hill and Blackwell Farm.

The Guildford Greenbelt Group (GGG) wanted an immediate stop to strategic site development.

The Tory’s motion left the door open to a transport review conducted by Surrey County Council finding mitigating factors which would make a review of evidence bases and an update unnecessary.

GGG’s motion just looked unworkable and risked Guildford being penalised for missing housing allocations. R4GV believed that we needed an independent expert to provide a guiding hand through the process and it became the most important element of our motion.

Planning barrister Mary Cook was commissioned to produce an analysis and a recommended path. Ms Cook is, without doubt, an expert and her opinion must be respected.

What I objected to was the fact that she came to the conclusion that the strategic sites and the inset villages couldn’t be put back in the green belt without any supportive analysis.

At the beginning and end of the report her objections were just stated,
as if they are absolute truths.

Likewise, an early review would trigger the imposition of the “Government’s Standard Method” of calculating the housing number. This, she said, would radically increase our target. Again the assertion was stated baldly without any supportive reasoning.

My conclusion was, and is, that she had come to these conclusions before she found Guildford on the map.

No consideration was given to the challenges to housing numbers being made by other councils. There was no mention of the Coventry report which highlighted that housing targets had been inflated by incorrect assumptions about students staying in university towns after graduation. Guildford is a university town, but the consequences didn’t get a mention.

Most of all, I objected to the assertion that any update must be delayed for at least two years to 2024 or perhaps 2025. This was the core recommendation which Joss Bigmore presented at Full Council last week.

In my view, it had taken three years to get to this point. I wanted a Formal Review immediately.

Opposing the leader of the council and my group in the chamber was not an easy decision. I agonised over it for several days, but I decided to keep to the principles I had expressed on doorsteps in 2019. But I lost the vote and accept the result.

The next day Joss Bigmore and I met and agreed a compromise. Reviews of evidence bases, essential before any Formal Review can take place, will be conducted as rapidly as possible, but will take two years, and the Formal Review can then follow.

If factors like Mole Valley’s challenge to its housing number are successful, the Formal Review will be automatically triggered.

Likewise, if the Prime Minister’s pledges in support of the green belt translate into tangible policy change an update will start instantly.

I have learnt in the three years since I got elected that the wheels of local government move frustratingly slowly. But we now have a practical plan which we are committed to deliver and I feel I can now get back on doorsteps in the run-up to the election next year confident that I can show I have delivered on my promises.

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test 11 Responses to Opinion: We Have a Practical Plan for the Local Plan

  1. Jules Cranwell Reply

    April 13, 2022 at 6:56 am

    Methinks Mr Anderson doth protest too much. “Residents For Guildford Town” or “R4GT”, as I call them, have betrayed the residents who supported them, due to their manifesto promise to review the plan. No attempts to justify this will change the views of those they have betrayed.

    It is clear from the above that he does not agree with most of the advice from Ms Cook.

    The “compromise” he is so proud of appears to amount to nothing but wishful thinking.

  2. Valerie Thompson Reply

    April 13, 2022 at 9:14 am

    Even if it is difficult to revise the Local Plan, GBC could ignore some of it. Everyone knows that the housing figures were inflated, so they should just stop approving large developments in the villages and concentrate on Guildford town centre.

    On the whole, villages will reluctantly accept small, infill developments on former green belt land, which will actually provide sufficient houses for a long time.

  3. Ben Paton Reply

    April 13, 2022 at 9:49 am

    An intellectually dishonest fudge by any other name is still an intellectually dishonest fudge.

    Once again residents have been sold down the river by borough councillors whose thinking is crooked.

  4. Richard Walters Reply

    April 13, 2022 at 5:48 pm

    From attending the Local Plan examinations and from reading the evidence base to the plan, it was clear that the large strategic sites that adjoin the A3 were considered dependent on A3 infrastructure improvements coming forward by certain dates. The mere fact that these works have been delayed, and delayed, should be considered very special circumstances to not only trigger a review but also trigger an assessment of whether the sites should be put back in the green belt. Councillors have been solely one-track-minded, over housing numbers, in coming to their decision to delay the review.

    I completely agree with Cllr Anderson’s assessment of Mary Cook’s report. There were no examples to back up her assertions. For her to even state that the developers wouldn’t give up their options on their sites without a fight is irrelevant. I would have preferred her report to analyse whether the lack of A3 infrastructure improvements meant we had the wrong sites in our current plan and what options we had to delay, change or remove these allocations.

  5. David Smith Reply

    April 13, 2022 at 5:52 pm

    Sorry if I am misunderstanding here, but is it fair to assume that developers and landowners of undeveloped sites, which are included in the Local Plan, will rush through their proposals before any challenge happens in a couple of years (if it ever does)?

    If so, it will be too late for the villages where many of these schemes are not reliant on infrastructure upgrades while Gosden Hill and Blackwell Farm may see a reduction in numbers as they are dependent on a new junction on A3 etc which will take place later in the plan period. Ironic really, bearing in mind that’s where most of the new homes are needed.

  6. John Rigg Reply

    April 14, 2022 at 11:15 am

    Jules Cranwell is the single most confused person I have come across in this long-running debate about the Local Plan.

    He does not appear to recognise that the law and planning law is set by central government.

    He chooses to ignore the realities of the Local Plan process. He attacks Tim Anderson the one person of action across the Guildford political spectrum who is closest to Mr Cranwell’s ambitions to protect the villages and green belt.

    Mr Cranwell talks about betrayal but should look in the mirror and see how he compares himself as an armchair warrior ignoring realities compared to those that get out of their armchairs, stand for election with all that entails and, when elected, are brave enough to deal with the realities of government and the law.

    Tim’s letter shows how hard he has worked to secure those ambitions how conscientious he is and the disappointment he shares with his community.

    Compare this to Mr Cranwell, his easy accusations of betrayal and his cheap criticisms which contribute so little to the challenges ahead.

    John Rigg is a R4GV borough councillor for Holy Trinity

    • Ben Paton Reply

      April 14, 2022 at 12:42 pm

      Mr Rigg would do better to come up with some facts.

      He should answer the questions:
      1. What evidence has the GBC Executive gathered about the projected growth in Guildford’s population?
      2. What housing target would be set if the current government formula was applied?
      3. How many houses have already been supplied in the borough that go towards meeting the existing (or alternative) housing target?
      4. What questions did the council ask its legal team to answer regarding how the adopted Local Plan can be changed?
      5. What practical and legal steps must be taken to set aside the adopted Local Plan?
      6. Is the “tender” or “instruction” asking for counsels’ opinions published? If not, why not?
      7. How many barristers’ opinions has the council asked for?
      8. Is the Planning Department’s advice on changing the adopted Local Plan published? If not why not?
      9. Is the Legal Department’s advice on changing the adopted Local Plan published? If not why not?

      The GBC Executive is long on protestations and short on reasons and evidence. Mr Anderson is to be commended for doing more to explain the council’s position than its Executive.

      Previous Executives led by former Cllrs Mansbridge and Juneja came up with very similar pseudo justifications for the council’s conclusions-based and predetermined approach to the housing target. They too said that housing strategy was set in Whitehall not in Guildford, although the “evidence base” to justify the strategy and the choice of strategic sites was 100 per cent decided in Guildford.

      Mr Rigg has not come up with reasoned and evidenced arguments. He has just launched an unpleasant ad hominem attack on Mr Cranwell. With the GBC Executive plus ca change plus c’est la meme chose.

      Mr Rigg is a former senior executive of Savills, the estate agent that has been advising the owners of the agricultural land at the former Wisley airfield for a decade. Has that had any influence on his judgement on reviewing the allocation of strategic sites in the Local Plan?

    • Adam Aaronson Reply

      April 20, 2022 at 7:42 am

      Cllr Rigg states that Tim Anderson is “the one person of action across the Guildford political spectrum who is closest to Mr Cranwell’s ambitions to protect the villages and green belt.” The one person? Really?

      I think he meant to say “the one R4GV person of action across the Guildford political spectrum who is closest to Mr Cranwell’s ambitions to protect the villages and green belt”. Has Cllr Rigg come across Susan Parker, Ramsey Nagaty, Catherine Young, Guida Esteves and the other members of the Guildford Greenbelt Group, all of whom are “persons of action across the Guildford political spectrum” and probably even closer to “Mr Cranwell’s ambitions to protect the villages and green belt”.

      But the underlying message of Cllr Rigg’s comment seems to be that there is only one member of R4GV, Tim Anderson, who is interested in protecting the villages and green belt. Cllr Rigg seems to have ruled himself out as a champion for this cause, so perhaps it is time R4GV (Residents for Guildford & Villages) changed its name to R4GT (Residents for Guildford Town).

  7. Jules Cranwell Reply

    April 14, 2022 at 1:51 pm

    I’ve looked in the mirror and, frankly, I feel I have nothing to reproach myself for. However, I do appear to have touched a nerve with Mr Rigg.

    Had I been elected, and made a solemn promise to review the Local Plan, then that is what I would have done, whatever the risks and consequences.

  8. Robert Burch Reply

    April 14, 2022 at 2:07 pm

    What R4GV and GGG have both achieved is getting candidates elected who are not aligned to national parties. This means they are able to focus on what is best for our borough.

    If we criticise those who have taken on the task of trying to resolve the mess left by national party leadership, we will soon see the Lib Dems or Conservatives back in charge.

    I worked on the early Local Plan campaigns with John Rigg in 2013 and 2014 and found him one of the few people at the time with the ideas and the experience to deliver what is best for the borough. The Conservative leadership refused to listen, leading to the mess John Rigg and others are working hard to resolve.

    Remember: “We must all hang together, or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately.”

  9. Harry Eve Reply

    April 20, 2022 at 11:50 am

    Rather than criticise residents who are distressed about the way the Conservatives adopted a Local Plan, knowing full well that it was based on unsound evidence, Cllr Rigg should be turning his fire on SCC for their failure to acknowledge serious infrastructure issues such as the local road network.

    He should also turn his fire on the developers that the Conservatives in SCC and GBC favour, and the consultants who support their relentless assault on our green belt, countryside, biodiversity, and an area that should have been an SNCI (Three Farms Meadows aka the former Wisley Airfield). He should also be asking the Office of National Statistics (ONS) to stop delaying the release of the 2021 census figures.

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