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Updated: Resident’s Investigation Reveals GBC Failings over Ash Green Homes Application

Published on: 19 Jun, 2024
Updated on: 20 Jun, 2024

By David Reading

Ash Green residents opposing a small housing development on open space in their village may have had their case sabotaged by a series of extraordinary failures by Guildford Borough Council.

This article has been updated with new images. Please see below.

The failings have been revealed by a resident who has been closely following the matter.

The essence of the complaint is that GBC failed to decide on the housing application within an eight-week statutory period – thus triggering an appeal by the applicant to the Planning Inspectorate – and subsequently failed to publish two key documents connected with the appeal for the public to see.

Resident John Ferns, who lives in nearby Tongham, began following the application after it went to appeal in November 2023.

In parallel, the matter has been watched closely by Cllr Sue Wyeth-Price (R4GV, Ash South). Contacted by The Guildford Dragon NEWS, she revealed that she had now made an official complaint to GBC about its own planning department. She has declared an interest, acknowledging that she lives in the area of the planning application.

Middleton would be demolished under the proposals and replaced with nine houses. Most of the site subject to the application is open land behind the house

The issue began in May 2023 when Runnymede Homes Ltd applied to demolish “Middleton”, a house in White Lane, Ash Green, and build nine new houses. Residents living nearby strongly opposed the application.

GBC was required to make a decision by August 4 but failed to do so.

On November 30, 2023, the developer gave notice of appeal to the Planning Inspectorate based on non-determination within the statutory eight-week period and the appeal was set in motion by the Planning Inspectorate in February 2024.

Mr Ferns’ concerns were triggered when, as time passed, he realised that no statement of the developers’ case had appeared on the GBC online planning portal, and the council’s case was also absent. It now transpires that Cllr Wyeth-Price had the same concerns.

The area of land behind Middleton. GBC Planning Portal.

The Planning Inspectorate’s deadline for comment was March 8, 2024. This deadline came and went. Local people who opposed the application needed to know the council’s stance and – even more importantly – the case that the developer was putting forward.

Ground level view looking east across the site. GBC Planning Portal.

But neither document appeared on the GBC planning portal. It wasn’t until June 10 that GBC published the developer’s statement of case, and it wasn’t until the following day that it published its own response, in which it opposed the development. The council has admitted that it missed the March 8 deadline for comment.

Mr Ferns said: “Questions have raced through my mind, leading me to conclude that GBC planners have probably compromised the position of Ash Green residents. No amount of party political posturing by the Lib Dem front bench will undo the lack of confidence and trust GBC has engendered in this part of the borough. Heaven forbid that similar incompetencies are affecting other areas.”

The same area of land behind before trees were felled.

Mr Ferns was stunned when he realised that the applicant, too, had been frustrated by the lack of communication from GBC. The applicant’s opening paragraph in their Statement of Case says:

The appellant has sought to make contact with the case officer at Guildford Borough Council on a number of occasions seeking an update on the application. However, no feedback to these requests has been received, and there has been no explanation regarding why the application has not been determined within the 8-week statutory period. The Council has not sought an extension of time either. Therefore, the appellant is left with no alternative than to lodge an appeal on the grounds of non-determination. The appellant considers that the absence of feedback on progress on the application constitutes unreasonable behaviour on the part of the Council.”

 “I almost felt sorry for them,” Mr Ferns said, “until I thought about the havoc that developers have already wrought upon the residents of Ash and Ash Green. Even more shocking was the utterly craven and pathetic opening sentence of GBC’s response to the Planning Inspectorate.”

This said: “The Council is aware that the deadline for the submission of the Council’s statement has passed but would be grateful if the comments set out in this statement could be taken into account in the determination of the appeal.”

Pedro Wrobel, GBC’s CEO

The Chief Executive of Guildford and Waverley Borough Councils, Pedro Wrobel, told the Guildford Dragon: “We are carrying out an investigation into a formal complaint that the council has received. It is inappropriate to comment further until this investigation has been completed.”

An official complaint by a councillor against council officials is a rare event, but Cllr Wyeth-Price said she felt she had no other course of action.

She said: “The council’s Statement of Case for the appeal was only submitted to the Planning Inspectorate  on June 10 – three months past the March 8 deadline. I have asked the council several times since March to publish this and to provide me with a copy, but I received no response until Saturday, June 8.”

She said she has been told by the Planning Inspectorate that they have already reached a decision. This will have been without the input of GBC, which opposes the application.

Cllr Sue Wyeth-Price

But she said regardless of whether a decision has been made, the planning team failed to meet deadlines, failed to provide key documentation and failed to respond to enquiries she made on this application for three months. She said the planning department persistently failed to return her emails or phone calls.

Like Mr Ferns, Cllr Wyeth-Price’s concern was triggered originally because she could not see GBC’s statement of case, and says she enquired about this several times – but received no reply. She wrote to the Planning Inspectorate informing them of this fact, and says that the Inspectorate instructed GBC to publish its statement of case. This didn’t happen, so she wrote again. Still, GBC’s statement of case remained unpublished.

Unable to persuade the council to show her its statement of case, she has even gone to the step of issuing a Freedom of Information request.

The essence of her official complaint is that her own council failed to decide on the application within an eight-week statutory period – thus triggering the appeal– failed to publish two key documents and compromised the efforts of Ash Green residents who oppose the application.

During the course of the planning application, 23 objections were received. Fortunately, the residents resubmitted their objections directly to the Planning Inspectorate before the March 8 deadline and these have been seen by the Inspectorate, but the objectors were unaware of the case being put forward by the applicant and were unable to counter any of the points the applicant made.

Objectors say the site falls within the area designated as Open Space in the GBC Local Plan.

They argue that the area is ecologically important, with local wildlife including deer, stoats, dormice, moles, tawny owls, little owls, barn owls, a variety of bats, a large variety of birds, stag beetles, reptiles and amphibians.

They also contend that the surrounding land is designated as ancient woodland, and claim it is likely that the site itself is also ancient woodland, as yet undesignated.

It is alleged that the applicant has already cut down existing trees, depleting the biodiversity.

Other points included in their argument are:

  • Inappropriate design, completely out of character with other buildings
  • Increase in surface water flooding
  • Harmful impact on amenities of neighbouring residents
  • Inadequate access
  • Insufficient parking
  • A precedent set for further similar proposals
  • Danger from additional traffic
  • Inadequate sight lines at the access
  • Inadequate access for refuse and fire vehicles

Recommending dismissal of the application, GBC says: “The application site lies within the urban area but is designated open space for planning policy purposes. The application fails to demonstrate the open space will be protected or enhanced. Furthermore, it is considered that the proposed form of development would be harmful to the character of the area and that the impact of the proposal on protected trees would be unacceptable.”

Cllr Wyeth-Price is seeking an explanation on why her e-mails to the planning team were repeatedly ignored. She also wishes to see process improvements put in place. And she wishes to see written apologies sent to all residents who lodged objections to the application.

 

 

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Responses to Updated: Resident’s Investigation Reveals GBC Failings over Ash Green Homes Application

  1. Paul Spooner Reply

    June 22, 2024 at 11:10 pm

    Why does this not surprise me? Things go from bad to worse at GBC. Cllr Wyeth-Price genuinely has my sympathy. She can only do so much when she is outnumbered by the Lib Dem administration and appears to be blocked by officers despite being an elected representative.

    I suspect Planning (Developmemt Management) are significantly under resourced and lack direction. If Cllr Wyeth-Price is conflicted due to living close to the site then officers should communicate with an alternative councillor nominated by her party’s group leader.

    Paul Spooner is a former Conservative leader of Guildford Borough Council.

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