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Opinion: Why Tory Bosses Can Disregard Fallout from Guildford’s Housing Boom 

Published on: 25 May, 2021
Updated on: 26 May, 2021

Open Democracy story June 2020

By Martin Giles

Conservative party bosses care more about their building developer donors than they do about Guildford.

This should not be a shock to you. It has been obvious for some time.

But there is nothing we can do about it.

Even if the concern about overdevelopment and loss of green belt resulted in South East Conservative MPs like ours, Angela Richardson, losing their seats at the next general election it is unlikely to be at a scale that could cause a Tory majority at Westminster to be threatened. Especially, given the loss of Scottish seats by Labour and the inroads into the Northern “red wall” made by the Tories.

Conservatives in their central office can carry on thumbing their noses at Surrey residents while the cheques from property developers continue to arrive.

And now it is anticipated that the new Planning Bill will pander to developers even further and reduce even more the little control local authorities retain on planning.

The Open Democracy website reported in June last year that the Conservatives had received more than £11 million from some of the UK’s richest property developers and construction businesses since Boris Johnson became prime minister July 2019. How many more £millions in the last year?

Times story February 13 (2021)

Donors, of course, expect and receive influence. They won’t care that the Local Government Association has said that more than 1.1 million homes in England, which have received planning permission over the last decade, are yet to be built. The Association called for new powers to be given to councils to encourage developers to build housing more quickly.

Don’t hold your breath.

Local Conservatives, MPs and councillors, have now woken up to the realisation that Guildford’s Local Plan has made their brand toxic to many in the borough and things are likely to get worse.

Even as Solum’s “Great Wall of Guildford” rises at the railway station, spoiling sightlines and casting long shadows across the townscape, enough light will remain to see clearly the malign effect of Conservative planning policy.

Residents in The Horsleys and Send don’t need to wait. The removal of green belt protection has already led to unwanted and unpopular developments.

While in the west of the borough, poor Ash continues to suffer from the insatiable appetite of developers to eat up what little green space they have left. Even historic listed buildings like Ash Manor receive no real protection to their setting (see: Protest At Historic Ash Site Forces Planning Deferral).

Angela Richardson’s conservativehome article

Ms Richardson, an erstwhile supporter of the Local Plan, writing in conservativehome, reflected on the county council election result: ”There was no tangible evidence of a vaccine bounce, regardless of the marvel that vaccine roll-out has been. Instead, our local elections were fought on borough level planning issues, a hangover from the Local Plan implemented by the Conservative-controlled administration at borough council shortly before the May 2019 elections – with massive strategic sites eating into the green belt – which saw the electorate remove every single Conservative councillor in the Guildford Borough Council part of my constituency.

“That Conservative administration did its noble duty in bringing forward the best plan possible, to consult and find sites with a brownfield first approach to avoid the risk of having development imposed on them by central government which would not reflect the communities wishes – and to avoid building hulking tower blocks that we see in neighbouring Woking.

“…the local community, though understanding the lack of affordable housing for key workers and those who had lived their entire lives in Guildford and wanted the same for their children, wanted the Local Plan stopped and voted in a brand new residents group who pledged to stop it.”

But the 10,000 to 14,000 houses currently in the Local Plan are not just for the offspring of existing residents, the birth and death rate would not justify that, and the houses envisaged by developers will not be truly affordable nor social housing. No, Guildford Borough’s population is expected to grow through migration, international and domestic, although the stats looked decidedly dodgy and, probably, already well out of date.

So our Tory MP is pinning her hopes on a change of heart within her policy-making colleagues. She says: “A well-organised group of Conservative MPs successfully made the argument to look again at a housing algorithm that would have seen a disproportionate number of houses land right on our doorsteps in the South East.

“I will keep working with them to make sure that planning will be fit for what we need in Guildford and surrounds, not something imposed to hit a target…”

She needs to succeed. Anger over the Local Plan is likely to remain and perhaps increase as its effects are further realised.

Cllr Paul Spooner

Confirmation comes from an unlikely source. Paul Spooner, who pushed through the plan in the face of huge resistance, commented on Ms Richardson’s article: “As the previous Conservative leader in Guildford… I agree wholeheartedly with Angela’s concerns and the risk to our traditional core vote in Surrey.

“Meeting the housing needs identified through the [objectively assessed need] and adopting the Local Plan may have satisfied government and contributed in a small way to the local demand for housing, but at what political cost!”

At what local political cost indeed? But more importantly to some of us, at what cost to our borough?

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Responses to Opinion: Why Tory Bosses Can Disregard Fallout from Guildford’s Housing Boom 

  1. Jim Allen Reply

    May 25, 2021 at 4:11 pm

    If only the council had followed the cabinet rules on consultations this would never have happened. Instead, they also failed to read the NPPF in its entirety in their guidance document. It is clearly stated, in the 2012 version, that all residents should be considered when a development is proposed, for example, that any adverse impacts would significantly and demonstrably outweigh the benefits. I would imagine that the 80,000 comments indicate a significant loss of benefit.

    Greg Clerk wrote “This should be a collective enterprise. Yet in recent years, planning has tended to exclude, rather than include, people and communities.” Clearly, Cllr Spooner did not read the letter from the minister in the preface to the NPPF 2012, it goes on to say these roles should not be taken in isolation.

    So why was housing numbers isolated? It seemed to be the main driver of the Local Plan. That is not what the NPPF says should be the case.

    Further, it clearly states (para 9) plans should result in movement “from net loss to net gains of biodiversity”. How can removal of the green belt achieve that?

    I could go on, but the pattern is apparent. Elected to follow central government policy documents and then can’t even do that.

  2. David Roberts Reply

    May 25, 2021 at 7:29 pm

    “Noble duty” would be a good note for Cllr Spooner to retire on, bearing in mind that someone said that “all political careers end in failure.”

  3. Ben Paton Reply

    May 27, 2021 at 8:38 am

    The planning system sets up a number of hurdles for developers to jump. They engage highly paid consultants to come in and gather “evidence”. The consultants are not independent in anything but name. They are paid by the developers to make the case for development, not to seek the truth.

    Developers then use very expensive legal teams to ensure that the regulatory boxes are all ticked. Anyone attending the Public Inquiry into Wisley Investment Properties Ltd’s appeal against the decision to refuse it permission to build a new town saw this process in action.

    Why does the system fail the public?

    First, there is no obligation on council officials or on developers and their consultants to tell the whole truth. Just as in the case of Hillsborough football stadium events, public officials presenting a case at a public inquiry appear to have no duty of candour.

    They just tell their own truth – which is usually self-serving and/or the truth of the particular politician in charge.

    Second, changing the use of land generates such extraordinary, super normal profits that developers have the resources to buy the results that they want.

    Agricultural land acquired for £3,000 per dwelling can be used to build houses that sell for an average of over £300,000, a hundred fold increase.

    So it is naive to imagine that the system is not in key respects corrupt.

    The 180-degree change of position of the former leader of the council is symptomatic of the absurdity of the system. He spent at least four years telling us that his Local Plan was essential – my Local Plan or the highway.

    After most of the Conservative councillors lost their seats in the last election he’s had a Damascus Road conversion. He now says that his Local Plan needs to be revised.

    The public is right to distrust the planning system and the people who devised it.

  4. Colin Cross Reply

    May 28, 2021 at 12:02 am

    Game, set and match to Ben Paton, a comprehensive analysis of the fault lines in the existing planning hierarchy across Britain today.

    It’s time to review and rebalance to create an even playing field.

  5. Jules Cranwell Reply

    May 28, 2021 at 5:58 am

    One only has to peruse the registers of interests of the previous Tory administration to see the hospitality received at local level, during the creation of the now discredited Local Plan.

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