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Opinion: Who Can Believe This Desperate Tory Pre-Election Ploy?

Published on: 21 Mar, 2021
Updated on: 22 Mar, 2021

Fiona Davidson

By Fiona Davidson

Chair, R4GV

written in response to the letter from Conservative county Cllr Julie Iles (The Horsleys) Now Tories Demand Review of Their Own 2019 Local Plan)

It’s a bit early for April Fool pranks, but surely no-one is taken in by this desperate election ploy from Cllr Iles.

The only believable comment appears to be her acknowledgement that the awful Tory Local Plan, pushed through just days before the last election, ensuring massive development on our green belt fields and villages, had the wrong housing targets.

We assume the “confirmation” Cllr Iles speaks of in her letter is documented, comes directly from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG), is signed by Secretary of State Robert Jenrick and is legally binding. We ask that she publishes it.

Then we will be only too happy to action such a commitment if it comes from someone who really matters in this arena. Of course, it would represent a complete U-turn by the Secretary of State, and is completely contrary to Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s “Build, Build, Build” mantra.

The latest information published by the government on December 16, 2020 states a new target figure of 787 houses to be built by Guildford borough, 40% higher than our present annual target.

Our experience is that miracles are rare. There is history here we need to remember.

The reason the borough has an annual housing number of 562 is due to years of housing under-delivery during successive Conservative administrations. They also made the choice to plunder green belt, rather than to build on brownfield.

These self-same local Conservatives passed their Local Plan in 2019 highlighting a “get out of jail free card”.

They apparently had a Statement of Common Ground linking the green belt sites with the delivery of desperately needed infrastructure provision, including widening the A3, promised, they said, by the same dependable chums in Westminster.

But, surprise surprise, the government’s Highways Agency stated, after the Plan was adopted, that it was not obliged to recognise this “promise” if it ever existed. And three failed Judicial Reviews agreed.

The Conservatives also promised their Local Plan would save Guildford from rampant development. The reality certainly doesn’t feel like that in the villages they decided to remove from the green belt.

I’m sure lots of other local authorities will be delighted to discover from Cllr Iles, and her clearly worried colleagues also standing for local re-election this May, that the Housing Delivery Test, which penalises local authorities for whom developers do not deliver their housing targets, can now be renegotiated, in Tommy Cooper fashion, “Just like that!”

So convenient to discover this just ahead of the SCC election.

Brilliant! Who knew? Has anyone told Mr Jenrick? In fact, has anyone told Mole Valley Council who recently sent GBC a letter asking our borough to take their unmet housing need?

Or are her words that “if locally calculated estimates of housing need cannot be achieved without building on the Green Belt that a lower target will be accepted” slip around the fact that the main sites and villages have already been removed by the Conservatives from the green belt?

Cllr Iles’ carefully crafted sentences assume the Guildford electorate were born yesterday.

The 2019 Plan took the Conservatives nearly a decade to put in place, and they now concede what thousands told them repeatedly. That it was, and is, a mess.

But once done, some things are not so easily undone, unless another magical message from Secretary of State Jenrick confirms that the government’s property developer friends are equally happy to return the inset villages and the major green belt sites back into green belt without redress.

And yes, the hundreds of millions of pounds of resultant losses are just fine. Perhaps Cllr Iles has also had “intimations” that the government will compensate the developers so the housing targets can be reduced. And maybe even return their party donations.

Contrary to the accusations, we believe the Local Plan should indeed be reviewed.

But to protect our borough from yet further development on our fields and villages it must be handled with care and with the professional due diligence of independent expert legal advice.

Our position is clearly stated in the paper available on our website here. The document is based on fact and logic, not pre-election fantasy. It may not be what everyone wants to hear, but after so many broken promises by the Conservative Party we need to deal with the harsh reality of their legacy.

Cllr Iles and her colleagues may find it a useful read.

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test 2 Responses to Opinion: Who Can Believe This Desperate Tory Pre-Election Ploy?

  1. Alan Reif Reply

    March 21, 2021 at 6:38 pm

    What rubbish is being written about our hard-working county councillor Julie Iles who rightly supports the Mole Valley Conservatives’ view of protecting our green belt, especially in Effingham, Clandon and the Horsleys.

    What the GBC [Conservative] group proposed is history. Let us all now get behind Julie to give her another term of office to represent the reason we love living in this wonderful part of Surrey.

    Alan Reif is president of the Mole Valley Conservative Association

  2. John Ferns Reply

    March 21, 2021 at 9:47 pm

    Who can be trusted? Certainly not the Conservatives.

    Residents of Ash South & Tongham, who up till now have borne the brunt of meeting the rapacious demands of the developers, will not be impressed if they find their remaining green spaces sacrificed, in order that the sacred cows in the green belt are spared and they are forced to host the Local Plan shortfall.

    Ash & Tongham residents hope and expect all housing applications for any site within GBC, to be fought, and be fought hard at planning committee stage, and if necessary to be forced to appeal.

    It can be done, and we have done it, regularly. And with Highways Agency failure to provide the road infrastructure improvements for the A3, there should be little difficulty for the “green belters” to easy planning refusals for the three contentious sites.

    Any administration, headed by any party, will never be forgiven by Ash South & Tongham residents, if the five-year statutory review results in even more houses for Ash & Tongham, at the expense of relieving the pressures felt on the green belt.

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