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Opinion: Will Approval Of The Draft Local Plan Be Democratic?

Published on: 24 May, 2016
Updated on: 25 May, 2016

Revised Local Plan Jun 2016By Martin Giles

Tonight (May 24) Guildford Borough Councillors will take one of the most important votes as a planning authority in living memory.

They will be voting on a plan that will shape how our borough will develop over the next 20 years.

All the signs are that the vote will be won by those proposing the revised draft plan goes through to the public consultation stage. But the restricted “para 19” consultation that will follow might not change anything substantially.

Points raised by the public in support or objection will submitted with the plan to the Planning Inspectorate for approval. The nominated planning inspector can consider the consultation and presumably change the plan in light of them but his or her main considerations will be: Has it been prepared in line with assessed need? Is it justified? Is it deliverable? Is it consistent with national policy?

We should remember that the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) presumes in favour of sustainable development.

The council earlier proudly announced that it was spending our money to hire barristers to reduce the chances of any successful legal challenges. Fair enough perhaps if those challenges only represent unreasonable minority views. But will they? There’s the rub.

Tory Green Belt promise 1By choosing to put the Local Plan to one side during last year’s election and then, as Cllr Matthew Sarti (Con, Horsley & Clandon) recently reminded them, campaigning as protectors of the green belt, the Conservatives can claim no mandate for the green belt development proposed in the plan.

It feels like, and it seems like, they are more intent on satisfying the Conservative government’s wishes, and the bigger business’s wishes, rather than the wishes of those of us who live here.

Another justification for the plan is that if it is not agreed then the borough will be wide open to speculators. If this is true just what does it say about localism, local democracy and our planning laws?

Opinion Logo 2We can have any plan we like – as long as it has a housing target derived through a calculation we cannot examine and, in any case, is one which some, from their observation of the evidence, cannot agree.

This is not real democracy. Whether anyone likes it or not, the previous public consultation, which had a very good level of response compared with others, showed that the overwhelming number of those who commented on green belt development were against it and most of those who commented on the housing target thought it too high.

Complaints that only the wrong type of people responded are ridiculous: one might as well say only the wrong 50% voted at the last local election.

Actually, the council did make a big effort during the last public consultation to encourage all in the borough to participate.

But it seems that the response was not the one the council wanted. However, instead of reducing the housing target and removing proposals for green belt development, the housing number is still high and significant green belt development remains in the plan.

How is that democratic?

They say we get the governments we deserve. Perhaps, given the generally low level of interest in council affairs, they are right.

It is hard to imagine our borough with all the extra housing which will become our target. Even if we do build the extra schools and doctors’ surgeries, even if we find adequate water supplies, even if we manage to maintain legal levels of air quality, even if we give up areas of our green belt with no prospect of any reduction in population growth and demand, even if we do all that, just where will all the cars go?

If we did have all the money required, and we don’t, either as a county or a country, just where will the necessary extra road space be created?

No vote from a council, nor approval from an inspector can make a bad, unpopular plan good and popular, a plan that councillors will be truly happy to support without being leant on, a plan that would lead to a better Guildford, not just a bigger Guildford.

Of course, there is more than one view on any subject. Here is a video produced by Guildford Borough Council promoting the Local Plan:

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Responses to Opinion: Will Approval Of The Draft Local Plan Be Democratic?

  1. Adrian Atkinson Reply

    May 24, 2016 at 11:47 am

    I bet you can count on two hands the number of individuals who supported the proposed green belt plans. Yes, the sites have changed slightly but new ones have been added at the last minute to make up for the changes.

    The plan still represent a loss of 8% of our greenbelt (not 1.6% as the council suggests). The housing number has changed, in my view it has gone up despite lower economic growth and Guildford population growth forecasts. We still are still being asked to allow nearly 70% of the housing on current protected green belt land.

    The trajectory continues despite the vast majority of people of respondents were against the plans. I wonder why the council refuses to release the stats? Is it because they paint a horrific picture of public objection?

  2. Peter Elliott Reply

    May 24, 2016 at 12:13 pm

    As those who voted Conservative last May were led to believe they were voting for a party that had pledged to protect the green belt, the council cannot possibly claim to have a mandate for their new, radically different policy.

    So why not give these voters a chance to have their say, by putting on the elected mayor referendum form: Question 1. Do you want an elected mayor? Question 2. Do you support large scale development on the green belt?

    This would be an easy and cost-free way for the council to seek a legitimate mandate for their plans.

  3. Peter Shaw Reply

    May 24, 2016 at 12:55 pm

    There is a further worrying development. Today the Housing and Planning Act 2016 was published. If this goes through parliament as written, then under section 150, land sites identified and proposed in the Local Plan will be given ‘Permission in Principle’ to build on the site.

    So if a site is proposed in the Guildford Local Plan tonight for 2,100 homes then “In Principle” permission is granted with technical issues sorted out at a later date.

    In a nut shell this makes tonight’s vote even more crucial.

  4. John Armstrong Reply

    May 24, 2016 at 1:48 pm

    I really do not know why our representatives (and I use the term loosely) continue performing theses charades and don’t just let the Planning Inspectorate decide. After all, that’s what happened when councillors voted down a proposed development as they recently did in Cranleigh, only for it go through on appeal.

    The next development has been approved without a fight because the council cannot afford a costly appeal. That’s the way it’s going to be.

    As for our councillors – put you feet up ladies and gents, it’s out of your hands.

    We have been stitched up my friends and there’s not a thing we can do about it.

    You could vote leave on the 23rd I suppose?

    John Armstrong is the chairman of Guildford Ukip

    • George Potter Reply

      May 25, 2016 at 9:27 am

      I do love the UKIP obsession that absolutely everything could somehow be improved if we leave the EU.

      Perhaps next Mr Armstrong would like to tell me how my bed will magically become more comfortable and how the hole in my shoe will go away if only we vote leave. After all, that’s just as plausible as thinking that how we vote in the referendum on Europe will have any impact on how the UK government and local councillors follow the planning process.

      However, since Mr Armstrong apparently believes that our councillors can’t do anything at all (which rather lets them off the hook), will his party therefore be boycotting the next council elections?

      • John Armstrong Reply

        May 26, 2016 at 7:43 pm

        Surely George Potter is not suggesting that there is no link between the EU (see the latest immigration figures) and the unprecedented demand for housing; not to mention our elected representatives inability to prevent a single brick being laid.

        They try though, I’ll give them that. Trouble is they just won’t admit their powerlessness.

        As for uncomfortable beds; I prefer to make my own.

        John Armstrong is chairman of the Guildford Ukip Branch.

  5. Peta Malthouse Reply

    May 24, 2016 at 5:42 pm

    I am aghast at the complete waste of money spent by the borough on the film featured.

    We can all agree that the problems outlined need to be addressed we do not however agree that the plan, as drafted, meets the need of Guildfordians.

    They bang on about affordable housing but have removed the area along Walnut Tree Close from development. Why? Because of flooding. But this does not worry them when they put forward proposals to build on land with a flood risk in the green belt – they say the developer will have to address it.

    Sauce for the goose should be sauce for the gander but the imperative for GBC has been a desire to surrender a large part of the green belt from the outset. This plan merely seeks to justify that.

    We are being sold short and our opinions, with many good ideas, are being ignored. The participants in the film just state the ‘bleeding obvious’ for the most part and in many respects advance their own position.

    Democracy? Please don’t make me laugh. These councillors do not pretend represent our views.

    It was said by Cllr Spooner last night that the video film cost around £4,000. Ed

  6. Valerie Thompson Reply

    May 24, 2016 at 6:12 pm

    Democracy is a word not understood by most of the councillors at GBC, especially the Executive who believe that breaking rules regarding housing number assessment is perfectly acceptable.

    Democracy has gone out of the window, when requests under the FOI act are denied, when public opinion is ignored or ridiculed, when unanimous decisions are made and the results rejected,(Wisley, Three Farms Meadow application) because they don’t fit in with what has already been decided by a secretive few.

    Democracy is allowing the public to have a full consultation not one (para 19) that is curtailed and limited in any way.

    Democracy is not denying the public the chance to protest by shielding behind some expensive lawyers.

    Let us use Democracy, in the next elections, and throw out those councillors who are acting against the interests of the population of Guildford Borough…that is, most of them.

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