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Planning Backlog Increases As Councillor Says ‘It’s A Mess’

Published on: 14 Oct, 2021
Updated on: 27 Oct, 2021

Guildford Borough Council’s Millmead offices.

By Hugh Coakley

Planning at Guildford Borough Council (GBC) is “in a real mess”, according to one Conservative councillor, with an increasing backlog in planning applications and planning enforcements.

One estate agent has said “slow” planning decisions and delays will potentially put off businesses coming to the town.

Guildford Borough Councillor for Pirbright and Surrey County Councillor for Worplesdon, Keith Witham (Cons).

Guildford Borough Councillor for Pirbright and Surrey County Councillor for Worplesdon, Keith Witham (Cons) writing to his residents on October 1 said: “Everything to do with local planning, and in particular planning enforcement at GBC is in a real mess.

“There are over 750 planning applications that haven’t been either decided – or even looked at and over 300 outstanding planning enforcement cases.”

This an increase on the 650 case backlog reported in The Guildford Dragon NEWS in April 2021 (See Backlog Of Planning Applications Doubles At GBC).

One example cited by sources is the refusal after nearly eight months by the planning committee for a “hot food Lebanese lunch restaurant and takeaway” at the former Pims Kitchen (227 High Street). The grounds for refusal were “loss of a retail unit” despite it having previously operated as a takeaway and being recommended by Cllr John Rigg (R4GV, Holy Trinity), for acceptance.

An estate agent said: “Planning decisions are too slow. The interest is there but they can’t get a change of use. It seems to be almost impossible.”

Cllr Joss Bigmore.

The leader of GBC, Cllr Joss Bigmore (R4GV, Christchurch) said there was more than a 45% increase in applications in the second quarter of the year. He said “We are continuing to run a full [planning] service except for pre-application advice, which we stopped in April. We will review this decision soon.

“We currently have a four-week backlog on applications and have appointed additional temporary staff to help deal with it. We completed 213 applications in September, the highest monthly total for several years.

“The extra cost of dealing with the increase in applications, as well as the impact of the pandemic which has seen us lose a large percentage of our income from parking and leisure services, has caused a predicted overspend for 2021-22 of £3 million. This adds to the pressure to find further savings as well as the £6 million budget gap over the next four years.”

The efficiencies at GBC has meant a 14% reduction in roles over the last two years, said GBC, from 754 to 650. But Cllr Bigmore insisted: “Most of our services are working more efficiently and handling more enquiries than at the start of 2021.”

The chairman of The Guildford Society, Alistair Smith, said: “There is pent-up demand after low activity during the pandemic. It is no wonder the planning is subject to delay at present. It is important that resourcing is provided to allow long-term planning policies to be developed as well as managing immediate demands that can impact on economic activity.”

Sallie Barker.

Sallie Barker, who chairs Guildford Conservatives, said they were calling for a comprehensive review of the services. She added: “We have heard from a number of residents giving examples of long delays and even some having their fees returned by the council. These delays are symptomatic of the confusion and inaction of the Lib Dem/R4GV coalition of the past two years.

“There are clearly now fundamental issues in the council’s leadership and management that need to be addressed.”

Cllr Ramsey Nagaty.

The leader of the Guildford Greenbelt Group, Ramsey Nagaty, (GGG, Shalford) said: “These are pertinent and highly relevant, timely questions by The Dragon. I am not the only councillor who has residents pressing them for assistance in progressing their planning applications.

“One resident had a clear planning right and yet it took over 14 months for a resolution. There are delays with new businesses opening including retail and leisure businesses which would greatly improve the high street and regenerate our retail and leisure.

“The GBC planning officers are very hard working, It is not clear whether Future Guildford has removed the less productive staff or whether the uncertainty has meant some of the most able staff have left, with GBC effectively poorer.

“If the backlog is not addressed, I will press for a review of the service. GGG previously pressed for enforcement to be taken out of the planning department and will press for further changes as necessary.”

Howard Smith.

The vice-chairman of Guildford Labour, Howard Smith, said: “You have to have some sympathy for the planning team. Planning, perhaps more than any other area in the council, requires people to meet, discuss, advise and confer in person in order to work efficiently and it should be acknowledged that this has been affected by the pandemic.

“Dozens of staff, many of them with years of valuable experience, have been let go in the council’s reorganisation under Future Guildford. We frequently hear stories of problems with the systems and phone lines at the council.

“We have to ask – were the Future Guildford cuts too severe? Have too many people been let go? Reports of deficiencies in the council’s service are snowballing and we need the leadership at GBC to be honest about these issues and how they will be rectified.

“It’s all well and good to take the credit for any savings to the budget but we have to be clear at what cost to residents and businesses in Guildford.”

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Responses to Planning Backlog Increases As Councillor Says ‘It’s A Mess’

  1. Linda Parker Picken Reply

    October 15, 2021 at 9:05 am

    Some planning applications are not processed within the set time limits. Developers are appealing these on the grounds of non-determination. This can lead to a presumption in favour of development, which is a highly undemocratic way of an application being approved.

    One such case is Elmsleigh Farm in Send where 8 further houses could be waved through without a proper airing of site issues. One of these is developing 6 houses on the site that has already been approved. The total of 14 if considered together would have required an affordable housing quotient.

  2. Jim Allen Reply

    October 15, 2021 at 11:46 am

    I can save £90 million on the planning budget! Stop promoting the commercially unviable Weyside Urban Village and associated non-SANG – it’s over 50% nature reserve where people will be excluded to prevent disturbance of the nesting birds in the active flood plain. 404 pages of a council report clearly say National Highways and SCC do not agree. Both are statutory sign offs.

    The SoS has not approved the desecration of the allotments – no SANG Management Plan is provided so it is an full planning permission in outline permission clothing.

    168 clarifications are sought as well as 96 obligations and 118 pre-commencement conditions. The application is riddled with ‘could be’, ‘may be’ and ‘wait and sees’.

    The Weyside farce could remove hundreds of future hours from the planning officers work load as it is far from ready without even a proper entrance to the site or adequate parking adequate for the real world. It is mere supposition all 3,500 residents will work in Guildford town centre and there is no transport provision to get anywhere else outside walking distance.

    At least it must be deferred or at best thrown on the scrap heap of stupid ideas and re-thought through without the loss of the allotments.

    After All the £90,000,000 loan will barely cover the cost of the STW move let alone the land cleanup currently on the shoulders of GBC residents to pay for.

    It is time common sense took over from stupid ideas.

  3. John Redpath Reply

    October 15, 2021 at 6:01 pm

    It’s good to hear positive criticism from those who know what they’re talking about and have done their homework.

    More than double the number of planning applications is the root cause and I praise all the planning officers working so hard to clear the back log of applications – well done to them for their continued perseverance!

    What a shame that the only comment Sallie Barker can make is a political one. Do the Conservatives have anything positive or constructive to say these days?

    John Redpath is an R4GV councillor for Holy Trinity

  4. Kevin Beauchamp Reply

    October 27, 2021 at 11:14 pm

    This is more than a political issue. The inability of GBC to deal with planning applications in a timely manner is allowing developers to bypass the local planning process and go straight to appeal where they think their applications will receive a more favourable reception.

    Two instances have happened in Send. Waterside Farm is an application to build eight houses on a sensitive site between the Wey Navigation and the Heathside Nature Area. It does not comply with the Send Local Plan that was adopted in May this year, is on a site where a restrictive covenant permits only one residence and had 50 objections from the local people.

    Within hours of GBC missing the deadline, even though it was due to go to Planning Committee on November 3, the developer had commenced the appeal process. A similar thing has happened at Elmsleigh Farm where the developer has made consecutive planning applications to avoid having to provide any social housing. Poor performance by GBC means appeal due to non-determination. This is unacceptable.

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