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Opinion: Who Cares What Guildford Borough Residents Want?

Published on: 7 Apr, 2022
Updated on: 9 Apr, 2022

By Martin Giles

The full impact of government planning policy on Guildford borough was confirmed this week.

Councillors, most of them elected by voters reacting to the adoption of a Conservative promoted Local Plan, accepted that resistance by way of a review was too high risk.

The stark truth is that the system is designed to pay little heed to what most residents in the borough want. Democracy plays no effective part in any significant planning decisions in England, one of the most centrally governed countries in Europe, according to the Electoral Reform Society.

Actually, democracy hasn’t played a part for some time. Planning inspectors have been doing their rounds stamping on local views and desires, imposing the government will against a background of name-calling. Those wishing to preserve the green belt or object to high rise buildings are relentlessly labelled “Nimbys”, as if caring about one’s own environment is somehow wrong.

See also: Council Accepts Legal Advice Not to Risk a Formal Review of the Local Plan

Asked yesterday what his message was to Conservative-run councils, struggling with unpopular housing targets requiring them to build thousands of homes in the next 15 years, Prime Minister Boris Johnson did not outline any changes to targets or green belt policy despite previous statements that he was unequivocally against greenfield development.

If this government was really concerned about the housing problem they would be encouraging and facilitating social housing with suitable climate change components.

But there is less profit in council houses for the Tories’ donor-developer chums. They much prefer to build on greenfields, even if it makes no social or environmental sense with its dependence on car travel.

And the houses planned are not “houses for our children” as some have claimed, they are houses for the highest bidder. A very small percentage will be affordable to children of local families.

Any last vestige of hope that the widely unpopular Local Plan could be significantly changed has now been extinguished, councillors responsible for the plan say, in effect, they were “just following government orders” and the character of our borough, once 89 per cent green belt is changing as we watch, with the biggest developments still to come.

There are just over 12 months until the next borough election. What choice will voters have then?

Will they shrug and return their traditional majority support to the Tories, regardless of their clear responsibility, at the national and local level, for our widely unpopular Local Plan? And regardless of their wealth-loving attitudes and cosy relationship with building developers.

It is certainly hard to imagine a welcome for blue rosettes, in the east of the borough at least. And why would they welcome them in their current Conservative bastion, Ash and Tongham, or other over-developed wards where infrastructure is not keeping up with new houses?

Will the support for the Residents for Guildford and Villages party hold up despite their internal split and mostly muted protests? Their supporters in 2019 felt the R4GV party was intent on reviewing the Local Plan. But then it became fully apparent just how tight the Conservative straight jacket had been buckled up around Guildford planning, in the death throes of the previous GBC administration?

And what is the Lib Dem “policy” on local planning (answers on a postcard please)? Do they want green belt development or not? Do they support John Rigg’s town masterplan or not? How is it going with plans for 3,000 new council houses promised in 2019?

The Guildford Greenbelt Group has stuck to its guns and might easily hang on to, or increase, its share of seats in the east of the borough but it seems unlikely they will be able to form a large enough group to become a major part of any coalition.

And the Labour view? Although it is the party which, through Herbert Morrison, introduced the idea of the Metropolitan Green Belt in the 1930s, local Labour councillors seem uncomfortable to be seen defending the wishes of wealthier residents in the former green belt council wards containing the strategic development sites.

In the end, the council’s decision to run scared of a review was not surprising, risk aversion runs deep in the GBC culture, but it was a very unpleasant reminder of how damaging our Local Plan is and continues to be.

See also:

Dragon Interview: Cllr Catherine Young on Decision to Delay Local Plan Review

Dragon Interview: Local Plan Review Decision – Council Leader Joss Bigmore

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test 10 Responses to Opinion: Who Cares What Guildford Borough Residents Want?

  1. Daniel Hill Reply

    April 8, 2022 at 1:47 pm

    I can’t imagine R4GV will survive the next election after failing to keep their promise to review the Local Plan.

    If residents want to protect our green belt we need a brownfield site first policy at GBC. And residents need to vote for GGG who are the only party that can be trusted.

    • John Redpath Reply

      April 11, 2022 at 7:59 pm

      Mr Hill continues to show his ignorance of political matters.

      Firstly if he had done the most basic research he would know that R4GV campaigned to change the then unadopted Local Plan and it’s likely that this stance may have forced the hand of the ruling Tory administration into voting the Local Plan through days before the 2019 election.

      Secondly R4GV are the only party promoting brownfield sites before greenfield. This was clearly stated in our election literature and is evidenced by our Town Centre Master Plan (TCMP).

      The TCMP will help to provide a much more sustainable and therefore greener borough as well as providing three thousand or so new homes close to the town centre.

      John Redpath is a R4GV councillor for Holy Trinity

      • Jules Cranwell Reply

        April 13, 2022 at 6:59 am

        It is patently untrue that “Residents For Guildford Town” are the only party promoting brownfield sites first. This has always been a policy of GGG, long before R4GV came into existence.

  2. Graham Vickery Reply

    April 10, 2022 at 10:35 pm

    I am inclined to agree with Mr Hill. I joined R4GV on the back of clear promises to resist the Local Plan, which many thousands of voters were moved by.

    The procrastination of GBC’s leadership since the 2019 election followed by meekly throwing in the towel amid much hand wringing, and worse still hiding behind the skirts of Mole Valley and other boroughs, is simply contemptible.

    • John Phelps Reply

      April 11, 2022 at 11:17 am

      “The procrastination of GBC’s leadership since the 2019 election” – is Graham Vickery aware that R4GV did not have the leadership till September 2019 and only had one Executive member before that? Is he also aware that they only have 16 councillors out of 48?

      The idea that GGG can be trusted is absurd, they have done nothing but shout from the back for years and never delivered a single thing. Even when Cllr Parker had a seat at the table and was on the Exec, she squandered it and did nothing.

      • David Roberts Reply

        April 12, 2022 at 8:14 pm

        Is John Phelps aware that GGG is an opposition party, the only effective one that Guildford possesses, since the Tories have got the Executive bound hand and foot to their Local Plan?

        Is he also aware that GGG only has four councillors out of 48? Delivering policy is not a luxury they yet enjoy. Cllr Parker’s place on the Executive was made impossible within weeks, when R4GV and the Lib Dems failed to start a Local Plan review three years ago.

      • John Perkins Reply

        April 12, 2022 at 8:55 pm

        Well that’s local democracy for you. How do you think the Party principle works?

      • Graham Vickery Reply

        April 12, 2022 at 9:03 pm

        Re John Phelps comments, elaborating on R4GV’s path to office to its eventual leadership of GBC, does not change the plain fact that R4G4 councillors did not unitedly oppose the motion. Instead, they guaranteed it would be passed.

        My concern, as I think is that of thousands of R4GV voters, is R4G4 effectively sided with the authors of the dreadful Local Plan. Whether, GBC Planners are mesmerising GBC Councillors or GGG councillors have more or less spine, is not relevant.

        What matters is that R4G4 has enabled the very thing why voters flocked to them in 2018 to resist because they believed, like I, R4GV would defend them from the developer machine steam rolling over the villages. The plan cannot be undone but it could have been frustrated and delayed but not now.

  3. Jim Allen Reply

    April 11, 2022 at 9:43 am

    It’s easy to make “suggestions” and make “promises” when you haven’t read the paperwork.

    It was clear, for those who attended the examination in public, that there was a minimum standard and the examination was not there to improve it but check it met this minimum, however inadequate it actually was.

    Only a trained town planner could possibly understand this simple fact.

    So as with all political rhetoric, don’t blame those elected for it is for the electors to read the paperwork and the elect the person who appears closest to the truth

    The electorate was stitched up by the planning officers of Guildford aided by those who should have had more back bone in the council chamber at the time.

    We need to move on to get the infrastructure up to standard.

    • Ben Paton Reply

      April 12, 2022 at 6:57 pm

      What a peculiar – and self-contradictory argument. It makes the electors responsible for decisions that are wholly and exclusively in the domain of the elected representatives.

      On Mr Allen’s logic the blame for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine rests with the Russian people and not Mr Putin.

      That’s the same as saying the Messrs Spooner and Furniss are not responsible for the Local Plan.

      As for Mr Bore’s ‘Examination in Public’ – that was a stitch up. The conclusions based evidence had been in the making for 10 years. You did not need any special qualifications to work that out. A child of six could see it.

      The whole thing was premised on fake population projections. As many predicted these have now been shown to be out by a mile. The council’s ability to ignore the facts continues unchanged, it seems.

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