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Opinion: We Will Protect the Environment in Both the Town and the Countryside

Published on: 21 Oct, 2018
Updated on: 21 Nov, 2018

This is the fourth in a series of opinion pieces from all the political parties and the Independent councillors who currently form Guildford Borough Council (GBC) in the period between now and next May (2019) when the borough elections will take place.

We are grateful to all the participants for agreeing to take part. Our aim is to allow our readers to hear from local politicians directly and become better informed of the political choice they have before they cast their votes…

Susan Parker in her garden near Gomshall

By Susan Parker

leader of the Guildford Greenbelt Group (GGG)

GGG was formed as a grass-roots popular response to Guildford’s Local Plan but we are not just a single-issue party. We care about the environment and were key in forcing through an air-quality initiative.

We want to protect our culture and historic town centre. We want to address climate change.

And GGG is fiscally responsible. We have three councillors who have challenged the Executive and stand up for our beliefs. We have stuck by our manifesto.

Guildford’s Local Plan is not yet finalised. It’s very unlikely to be completed before the next council elections next May. Even if it is approved, we can modify it, if we get enough seats.

Our local housing need is predicted by the Office of National Statistics to be 301 homes annually. Guildford Borough Council (GBC) want to build more than double that number. Why? So they can justify building on our precious, irreplaceable wild spaces.

GBC’s proposal is to build 12,600 homes by 2034, of which 70% will be on green fields.  Mostly, these will not be “affordable” homes, so they won’t improve the chances of young people getting on the housing ladder or provide homes for our teachers, nurses, policemen or firemen.

No, they will be “executive homes”, using our countryside to produce more profits for the development lobby.

There is a climate change crisis, and we are told we need to change things in the next 12 years, but GBC’s Executive wants to build 1970s style “new towns”, dependent on car use.

This is completely unsustainable. We don’t need to do this. The country is building more homes than it needs, by roughly 50,000 homes per year; but these are mostly unaffordable.

We have enough “land banks” held by developers for around 1 million homes (the developers build slowly to keep profits up); we have enough brownfield land for about one million more, and we have more than 650,000 empty homes in the country. (To get an idea of the scale of that, each person on the anti-Brexit march yesterday [October 20, 2018] could have one of those unused homes.)

It’s the housing lobby and the developers who argue most strongly that there is a “housing crisis” because they want cheap agricultural land for their land banks.

It is indeed hard for young people to buy homes, but we have a financing crisis, not a housing crisis, and it isn’t getting easier.

There is a lot of “brownfield” (derelict land) in our urban area, and with the decline in the retail sector, this should be used for good quality, medium rise housing. Most of this should be council housing, tied homes for key workers, or for first-time buyers.

GBC owns a lot of brownfield land but doesn’t want to develop this. Until the [Local Plan] inspector insisted, there was no policy for building on brownfield.

Few urban homes are planned. The current administration would rather build offices and superstores, pushing housing onto green fields.

If people vote for us, we will protect our environment in the town and in the countryside.

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test 6 Responses to Opinion: We Will Protect the Environment in Both the Town and the Countryside

  1. James Wild Reply

    October 21, 2018 at 7:19 pm

    I find the last paragraph in Cllr Parker’s opinion piece needs to come with a caveat.

    I live in Send and voted for the Guildford Greenbelt Group in the elections in 2015. Back then, our village was earmarked to accommodate 400 new homes.

    Since then there have just been arguments in the council chamber between the ruling Conservative councillors and the Guildford Greenbelt Group councillors and I question whether Send is now being punished for voting in the GGG councillors as the housing number for Send has since leapt up to 770 houses as well as two industrial parks.

    I won’t be voting GGG again as I question how such a minority group can influence decisions.

  2. Bernard Parke Reply

    October 21, 2018 at 9:01 pm

    Then will Mr Wild vote for a party which gave an election pledge: “Conservatives Say Green Belt to Stay”?

    • John Perkins Reply

      October 23, 2018 at 12:08 am

      Conservatives promised to protect the green belt and they are keeping that promise. It’ll just be smaller than it was, easier to look after.

  3. Valerie Thompson Reply

    October 22, 2018 at 9:07 am

    GBC is punishing all the villages where vocal activists have protested against “insetting”, that is, removing villages from the green belt. West Horsley is still threatened with an increase of a quarter to their existing number of houses. It was West Horsley that “outed” Monika Juneja and complained about Mansbridge’s misleading statements regarding the failed “elected Mayor” campaign. I feel we are definitely being punished for that incident.

    GGG has stood up against the aggressive tactics of the Conservative councillors at every turn. One of GGG’s councillors was humiliated with a public enquiry because he had used one statistic that GBC regarded as secret (why were any statistics secret at all?) in a long, well-researched document questioning GBC’s housing numbers.

    The Conservatives have not kept to their promises regarding green belt and have not stood up for what they know is right.

    GGG may be a small party, but they manage to contribute to stories in the press on every contentious issue.

    At the next council elections, it would be fantastic if more people stood for GGG or were Independents who would question damaging decisions by the dominant Conservatives.

  4. Peta Malthouse Reply

    October 22, 2018 at 9:29 am

    I just wish GGG had control of the council because they are all very able and I think we would get good governance for a change.

  5. Lisa Wright Reply

    October 22, 2018 at 9:56 am

    Mr Wild may have forgotten that it is the Conservative Councillors that are pushing development in Send, whether that is punishment for voting GGG is surely a question that should be answered by the Conservative Executive.

    What would have happened in Guildford without GGG?

    I suspect the Local Plan would have been waved through without much protest and Mr Wild, and the rest of the borough would be living in one huge building site by now.

    Arguing, or should we say critical debate, brings all the issues to the front and hopefully allows councillors to choose the best decision for the population. Yes, GGG has brought many important issues to the table including Guildford’s air quality. Other issues have been completely ignored and in my opinion, the environment and our countryside draws the short straw in our Conservative-dominated council.

    In May, please consider which councillors have really spoken for the benefit of your area over the last few years. In my experience of council meetings, there’s really only a few that ever speak up and I can’t even remember the names of most of them. In Worplesdon it’s been Bob McShee that has truly represented his constituents views, always at community meetings, gathering information from residents, answering queries and putting forward to objections to the Local Plan.

    Lastly, if you really do want change for your community, you have to get involved. Stand for election, put the time in and get things done.

    I’m sure Susan Parker [GGG lesader] will be pleased to chat to anyone who shares her passion for our countryside, the well-being and housing opportunities for our youngsters and elderly folk and the regeneration of Guildford’s historical town centre for the enjoyment of everyone for years to come.

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