Tax “Buy To Leave”

It could be argued that the pressure for housing is coming not only from a genuine need for affordable homes but also from international investors. It is estimated that non-resident investors currently buy approximately 85% of new homes in London, and they are now casting their eyes on the home counties.  These investors leave homes empty – these are not Buy To Let homes, which are homes for rent; these are Buy To Leave. Apparently, it is possible to buy a flat in London from China or Hong Kong with a 10% deposit, with an option arrangement so that the price is paid for by the increase in capital value over a lengthy period, provided that the home is left empty and unspoiled by residents. No one will live in these homes – no one may even visit them – they are left empty, with an impact on neighbourhoods, services, shops.  Central London has increasing numbers of empty luxury flats; this problem is  noted, but the Mayor of London is not at present resisting this because the “growth” that comes from building those empty flats is seen as desirable. However, because there are homes in central London that are unavailable to those who actually live in this country, those resident in London are looking to move outward, perhaps in greater numbers than would otherwise be the case.  And, in turn, that pushes more people into the next area – and so on. This means that our countryside is being eroded in order to provide a safe investment for overseas buyers. These properties will even be exempt from capital gains tax until April 2015, so this huge gain for overseas investors is virtually tax free – at our expense.

I would argue that one solution might be that we should have an aggressive tax on “Buy to Leave” properties. Obviously significant safeguards would need to be built in – holiday or second homes are in a different category – and there would need to be proper provisions for protection in the context of selling a home after bereavement, divorce, or where a home was difficult to sell. Holiday and buy to let homes are different from investment only properties, and should not be included in this category.  These have a place in our society.  But there is no place for the empty home which is a tangible bank account for overseas investors who don’t even come here, staying empty and unused but wrecking our cities. So it would be possible to construct a system where a home that had not been inhabited for more than – say 12 -18 months (to allow for those exceptional circumstances)- could be subject to Empty Home tax. This could be punitive, because there is no national interest in conserving this empty status – it could, for example, be as high as 25% of the current market value.  This would quickly trigger a response among owners.   One solution for the empty home investors would be to make homes available for rent – but that would be beneficial for us as a society, because the homes would be used, and rents will fall to more affordable levels.   Some of these homes would be sold, in order to avoid the problem, and so house prices in London would stabilise.  Provided safeguards are in place (e.g. short term dispensations for those who inherit property and have to deal with probate), such a solution would free up empty homes very quickly – and would probably help to solve both our housing crisis and the affordability issue.

Over to you, Mr Osborne.

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GGG open letter to councillors 29 May 2014

Dear Councillor

You may have seen the summary of the agenda for the Executive Committee on 4th June. If you are not on the Executive Committee, you may not have seen this, or yet taken the time to read it. GGG feels that it merits serious criticism, and actually represents a serious failure of the democratic process.

We would therefore ask you to challenge it, as it requires reconsideration.

You will be aware that planning is a matter of major concern nationally, with many people terrified about an apparent assault on the countryside and apparent reluctance among house builders to consider the prioritisation of brownfield land. This has been a topic that has led to comment by a number of significant experts, including Sir Simon Jenkins, Dame Helen Ghosh, Shaun Spiers, Sir Andrew Motion, Sir Richard Rodgers and others. Civic Voice has expressed concern regarding a democratic deficit in the planning process. Greg Mulholland MP has a private member’s bill requesting a revision of the NPPF, with a second reading on 6 June 2014 (GGG has asked all 4 MPs to vote in favour). There is a parliamentary select committee currently reviewing the efficient operations of the NPPF. You may also be aware that there is much comment about a housing bubble in London and the South East, likely to be near the top of the market at present and that mortgage approvals are currently falling; house building is at a periodic high, where the current constraint on the number of homes being built is the national supply of bricks. Not all those homes will be lived in: 18% of homes built in London are sold to non-resident buyers and stay empty; this too calls into question the real need, national or local. Further there are, nationally, 1 million empty homes (not 2nd homes).

This situation is currently fluid and there is scope for political decision-making as part of this process, as the Scrutiny Committee noted. It is arguable that the impact of concern about this issue has already affected elections, both locally and the European elections. As you may be aware, both the Green Party and UKIP are staunch supporters of the countryside and, from different standpoints, oppose greenfield building; and the impact on the recent elections of this matter has perhaps not yet been fully considered by the main political parties. This is not a simple and straightforward procedural planning matter. It requires your judgement.

For your information, we are including a note on the use of brownfield land in Guildford prepared by GGG, which we consider indicates that there is substantial brownfield land within the borough that could be utilised for the purposes of development. It is an illustrative brief document, but we are in the process of preparing a more detailed work. We do not consider that there is a need to consider greenfield sites in preference. Conversely, there is precedent that Local Plans have been subjected to judicial review if there has not been a proper review of the alternatives to use of the Green Belt. We would also note, if you were not aware, that Mole Valley initially considered that it needed to plan to use 2% of its Green Belt for housing, but MVDC is now implementing its Local Plan well in excess of its housing target using only brownfield areas.

If you are not on the Scrutiny Committee, you may not have seen the results of that Scrutiny Committee, and so for your information we are attaching a GGG press announcement summarising the conclusions of that meeting.

The draft local plan report is here: http://www.guildford.gov.uk/media/17112/Item-3—Draft-Local-Plan-Reportpdf/pdf/pdf46.pdf

Scrutiny Committee decision disregarded
We note that agenda item 8 reiterates the conclusion of the Scrutiny Committee:
“To express concern over the housing number as set out in the Draft Local Plan and to ask the Head of Planning and the Lead Councillor for Planning to review the housing number before going to Executive for consideration on 4 June and Council on 19 June 2014″.

The officer response does not indicate that such a review has been carried out, but states: ” A meeting is being arranged [ie has not yet taken place] between the Lead Councillor, the Head of Planning Services, the Executive Head of Development, the Head of Housing Advice, the Managing Director, members of the Policy Team and appointed advisers such as GL Hearn and Edge Analytics to review the housing number for inclusion in the draft Local Plan. A full and detailed explanation of how the housing number was arrived at is attached to this note as Sub Appendix A”.

The Scrutiny Committee required review of the planning number. That has not taken place and there has not even been a preliminary meeting. It is not clear how the Local Plan can be processed for approval by the Full Council without the revision of the housing number as required by the Scrutiny Committee. We would question what the function of the Scrutiny Committee is when its conclusions can be wholly disregarded by the Executive Committee. Far from being revised and reviewed, the number is unchanged, with an intention to hold a meeting at a future date and a series of apparently spurious justifications given for not revising the number as the Scrutiny Committee required.

No constraints applied, with no justification given
In Appendix A it is stated, as if a matter of fact, that
“If it can be demonstrated that we can meet our objectively assessed housing need over the plan period, using suitable and deliverable land, then a housing number lower than our objectively assessed housing need will not be found sound at examination.” This assertion is not demonstrable from the evidence of other areas and is not necessarily valid. No evidence is adduced for this statement. It would appear to contradict ministerial advice and the letters sent to our MPs by Nick Boles and the written advice from Nick Boles to the Planning Inspectorate in relation to the application of constraints arising from the Green Belt. It is a further demonstration that there has been no attempt made to apply any constraints whatsoever to the planning process. No such constraints have been applied relative to the number generated by the revised SHMA.

Conversely, there is precedent that Local Plans have been subject to judicial review if there has not been a proper review of the alternatives to use of the Green Belt.

It would appear from ministerial advice that there is not a requirement to meet objectively assessed housing need in full if Green Belt constraints apply (see letters from Nick Boles previously circulated). There is no suggestion in those letters that these requirements are just transferred into an adjacent area, but that Green Belt is a justification for actual reduction of objectively assessed housing need. This might arguably seem to be a grey area in terms of ministerial advice, but is certainly not merely a process of reallocation to adjacent authorities as the officer’s report would seem to suggest. This, like other remarks made on an advisory basis by the planning department, does not seem wholly accurate. Councillors should note that there is a precedent for judicial review of a Local Plan on the basis of poor advice by a planning department, if that advice is not demonstrably accurate and impartial. It is not clear that this advice is accurate.

Objectively assessed need was inflated, but has not been revised
In any event, it had been extensively argued at the Scrutiny Committee meeting, by councillors, that the objectively assessed housing need as arrived at in the SHMA is overstated. The numbers use an inflated trend – if necessary we can reiterate these arguments. This conclusion has been disregarded. The ONS data has been revised and the preliminary conclusions from The Guildford Society on their website indicate that this would give rise to an even lower estimate of housing need than should have been considered. However, this is not taken into account in the documents, which were published on the same day as the ONS data and therefore presumably have not yet taken these into account. Case law differentiates between housing need (the core data), housing requirement and housing targets. Constraints apply to the housing requirement (as generated by the SHMA) to arrive at the housing target (lower than the SHMA almost everywhere, but not here- the numbers are the same; the applicable constraints are not applied). The preliminary view that housing need can be justified at a SHMA number of around 470 should fall therefore, and with the application of constraints the combined residents’ view that the housing target numbers should be 300-345 remains constant.

5 year supply of housing land not in place
It has also been argued to the Council that there is in fact a 5 year supply of housing land and the arguments set out in relation to this matter have been ignored. Existing planning permissions are, by definition, available, suitable and achievable (with some small exceptions). When these are added to student housing permissions, there is already a very substantial supply of housing, before any new sites are considered. If the available brownfield sites within the town are included, even taking into account only those available within the initial 5 years, then there is a 5 year supply.

Existing planning permissions total 1480 (source: revised SHLAA). Student housing permissions total 2121 (source: UniS planning officer) (these specifically count towards the housing total, per Nick Boles’ letter to Sir Paul Beresford). The total is therefore 3601 (1480+2121=3601). Using the SHMA number (itself overstated) of 652, with a 5% uplift, gives a total of 3423 (652 x 5 x 105% =3423). It is therefore demonstrable that existing permissions exceed even the high objective assessment of need (3601>3423). Why, therefore, is it repeatedly stated that there no 5 year supply? Even if some of the existing planning permissions should be deferred (which must in itself imply that the developers are engaged in land banking which will distort the planning process) there is surely some land that is available so that a 5 year supply can be recognised? This is clearly the case.

The reiteration that this supply does not exist as if it is a given fact seems to imply a predetermined choice of course of action, and seems to suggest some desire to uplift the requirement by 20% to distort the decision making process, which is not acceptable.

In addition, there has been an elaborate game of double and negative circular counting to demonstrate that the current estimate of need should be backdated to 2011 to create a shortfall that could never have been anticipated. This is patently ridiculous, and throws the whole assessment and calculation into disrepute. Who are the numbers designed to persuade?

It is clear that using the previous local plan numbers and then the agreed interim measure of 322 – as agreed by the High Court – means that for the 10 year period to 2011 (or, if you prefer, the 10 year period to 2013) there was no historic shortfall. These numbers too can be supplied again if you wish.

Lack of revision as required by Scrutiny Committee
As we have seen previously, both in relation to the proposed involvement of the public in the scrutiny of the evidence base and the revision of the SHMA, the later drafts of parts of the Local Plan documentation seem to be revised remarkably little from the initial drafts, and the process of consultation and review, either with councillors or members of the public, does not appear to result in any modification.

This is unacceptable. It has been repeatedly stated by council officers that planning is not a referendum. Neither, however, is it the preserve of the planning department alone. The Localism Act enjoins a duty of consultation, and the right of communities to be heard. This does not mean that consultation with those communities should be an empty process.

Furthermore, and even more significantly, the choices of elected representatives should not be ignored. The decisions made by the Council should not just be set aside as if merely consultative.

It is not clear whether this failure to respond to the decision of the Scrutiny Committee is an abuse of Executive Committee power within the council, or whether the Planning Department are acting independently without the Executive Committee’s remit. In either event, we consider that the formal decisions made by councillors at the Scrutiny Committee should be followed and respected. As accepted by the Chief Planning Officer at that committee, political decisions are a matter for elected councillors, but, once made, they must be carried out and not ignored.

If there are areas within this document that you would like to discuss further, do please contact us.

With regards

Guildford Greenbelt Group

Executive Committee agenda for 4 June 2014

Guildford Borough Council will be holding an executive committee meeting on 4 June 2014.

The agenda has been published in relation to that meeting, and it can be viewed on a webcast.

This is the page with the agenda and supporting documents:

http://www.guildford.gov.uk/article/12314/Special-Meeting—Executive—4-June-2014

Note that this is the discussion on the deliberations of the Scrutiny Committee, including the revision of the housing number (item no. 8)

http://www.guildford.gov.uk/media/17116/Item-34—Appendix-4a—Joint-Scrutiny-Committee-resolutions-and-officers-responsepdf/pdf/pdf46.pdf

with the Appendix A which is referred to:

http://www.guildford.gov.uk/media/17117/Item-35—Appendix-4b—Sub-Appendix-A-Joint-Scrutiny-Committee-Resolution-8pdf/pdf/pdf46.pdf

The housing number has not yet been revised from the planned 652 per annum.

Brownfield land IS available

Guildford Greenbelt Group has published a paper on the brownfield land which is available in the borough, describing how the land at Walnut Tree Close could be used for a combination of affordable housing and private property, so that there is no need to attack the Green Belt in the borough.

This is reproduced here:

Guildford Green Belt Group (GGG)

Housing Solutions: Brownfield or Greenfield?

There can be little question that Britain needs more homes, and that affordable and social housing must be a large proportion of new dwellings built. This need is particularly acute in the south east, with the demand for housing being driven largely by London. Guildford is not immune to this, and so there is considerable debate about what would be an appropriate housing target for Guildford. Irrespective of what this is, Guildford Borough Council has adopted the position that much of this target will have to be built in the Green Belt or countryside within the borough. In addition, GBC have identified large swathes of Green Belt land that they think should be released for commercial and industrial purposes. So is the answer to all of Guildford’s development problems really to be found in the borough’s green fields?

GGG say that this is not the case; that the key to the housing problem and the supply of future sites for employment is recycling. Not the recycling of household goods, but the recycling of land – land that has been used being reused; but more efficiently. Using green fields to solve today’s problems is simply not sustainable; we have to use our resources more efficiently, and one of our most important resources is land. So we should use new, innovative designs to ensure that we maximise the efficiency of land use. Without doing this, we will not prepare our town or its residents for future success. Land recycling and use efficiency are key differences between Guildford Borough Council and Guildford Green Belt Group.

Efficiency of land use – what does this mean?

This is a very simple concept. We have to do more to recycle land, and when it is available for development, to use it more efficiently. Good design and high construction standards are key. The picture below shows an example of what this means.

This new development is close to the River Wey and Power Close. It is a mixed development of light commercial and residential. However, a great deal of the ground area is given to car parking. Efficient land use would ensure that car parking was provided underneath buildings, whether for residents or employees. Given that this development is about 1 mile from Guildford station, this is an area that could have been considered for residential use only, with commercial premises provided in some of the under-occupied industrial parks in and around Guildford. This development is a mix of 2, 3 and 4 storey buildings, with the commercial buildings primarily being 2 storeys. This makes no sense at all. Where site factors (such as topography, perspective relative to other buildings, etc) permit, building height should be the maximum possible, though some leeway should be given so that the design can encompass differing roof levels. In terms of efficient land use, zoning should be important, so that sites within walking distance from important infrastructure elements, such as the railway station, the town centre, hospitals, parks, etc should be primarily used to provide homes. This would help to reduce the traffic load in the city centre. Commercial uses (other than retail) could be confined to sites alongside major roads and within commercial and industrial parks – to minimise traffic entering the town centre. Park and ride car parks absorb huge land areas, there is no reason why multi-level car parks could not be provided, with the remainder of the area currently under tarmac being used to provide mini malls, devoted to e-tailing “click and collect” collection points, so that people only interested in collecting pre-ordered goods do not have to enter the centre of the town.

What is Brownfield? What is Greenfield?

The term brownfield applies to land that has previously been used – for housing, by industry or for commercial premises. There are numerous issues that may present obstacles to the recycling of these brownfield sites, but for the sake of future generations, surely it is better to find ways to overcome these obstacles, rather than simply identifying new green field sites for development? One of the dangers in using new green field sites is that some already built areas will become rundown and derelict. Equally, it is important to plan for the changing pattern of retail shopping, to embrace the changes that shopping on line will bring. Our cities and town centres have yet to reflect these changes. In Guildford, we have a once in a century opportunity to build a town centre fit for the new century; looking forward, not based on the past. Unfortunately, based on current GBC policies, this opportunity is likely to be lost, with their single minded pursuit of “rolling back the Green Belt”, to the detriment of the future of the town and its environs.

One of the brownfield areas that has great potential for residential redevelopment is the area approximately centred on Walnut Tree Close. As this area is close to the railway station and town centre it should be redeveloped as a residential area, with pedestrian and cycle paths within a green corridor (to include Dapdune Wharf, etc) alongside both river banks. There are parts of this area; including car parks alongside the railway station, within Walnut Tree Close and Woodbridge Meadows that are ripe for redevelopment. On the other side of the river, there are areas that could also be considered for redevelopment as well as disused buildings (owned by GBC) that should be revitalised. Some of these areas are shown below.

These redundant sites, and others, could easily provide large numbers of new homes, in a beautiful riverside setting. Compare these sites, as well as the picture of the disused building below, with a riverside development which could result from a planned and phased large scale redevelopment of this area. This is just one site of several that would lessen or even eliminate the need to build on green field sites within the borough.

or

If you would like to learn more about Guildford Green Belt Group, visit our website – http://guildfordgreenbeltgroup.co.uk/home/4581459298

If you want to ensure that Guildford moves forward whilst ensuring future generations do not suffer from decisions that will be made over the next few years, then join our “land recycling first” campaign – and sign the GGG petition on the Guildford Borough council website http://petitions.guildford.gov.uk

GGG open letter to councillors on 15 May 2014

This open letter was sent to all councillors just before the Scrutiny Committee on 15 May 2014

Guildford Greenbelt Group

 

 

 

15 May 2014

 

Dear Councillor

 

Scrutiny committee

 

Susan Parker will be speaking on behalf of GGG at the Scrutiny Committee this evening. Various concerns will be raised.

 

However, as background, this letter deals with some of the numerical concerns that GGG have with the current draft Local Plan. As a 3 minute presentation is not the best format for delving into figures, it may be helpful to run through some of those numbers in advance of tonight’s committee meeting so that you are all informed of the detail.

 

The Local Plan draft that you will be considering has, in the foreword, the comment that “The plan has to take into account our persistent under-delivery of housing and the almost complete absence of a 5 year land supply.”

 

We feel that both these statements are fundamental to your understanding of the proposals and the decisions that you will be making. We also feel that both are factually incorrect.

We would like to demonstrate both points – for those of you who are more comfortable with Excel, we are attaching an Excel spreadsheet with the source analysis included so that you can review the calculations.

Persistent under-delivery of housing

GGG does not believe that this statement is true or fair.

We consider (as noted below) that the draft SHMA has many faults. However, it is useful for some base data, and we would note that the consultancy employed by GBC to prepare this document, GL Hearn, comment in paragraph 2.44 on page 27 of the draft SHMA

“Over the 2001-11 decade housing delivery totalled 3187 homes in the Borough (net) relative to planned housing delivery of 3180 homes. The planned housing provision was based on the former RSS housing target which was capacity driven. In the period preceding the demographic projections in this report (which start from 2011) there was thus no net shortfall in housing provision”.

Further, GL Hearn comment in paragraph 2.46 on page 28

“Guildford Borough.. did meet its housing target for the 2001-11 decade as a whole”.

There is a reference to undersupply for the 12 year period to 2013. But this doesn’t arise, since the plan is for the 20 year period to 2031, backdated to 2011. So it is wrong to take the incremental period 2011-13 into account here.

Just to clarify that statement more fully: the draft Local plan suggests a housing need of 652 (this number is not accepted, and more discussion on this later). This translates in the introduction to the draft Local Plan to a total housing requirement of 13040 (which is derived as 20 x 652 = 13040). The plan runs until 2031. So the 20 year period concluding in 2031 must start in 2011. As a result, the supply that needs to be appraised in terms of historic underperformance prior to the plan period must be the supply until 2011.

There is an alternative scenario, where we stop pretending that the plan should run from 1 January 2012. If the inspectors and you as councillors are only looking forward, and not backdating the plan then the supply that we will need to consider will only relate to 16 years, not 20 years. As a result the total would not be 13040 (20 x 652) but would be 16 x 652 = 10432.

We have accepted the backdating as a principle, since this is proposed by the Council, but this principle, if accepted, must be consistently followed. You cannot backdate the requirement, but ignore the historic supply which relates to that requirement, and have a series of mismatched time periods. It must therefore be accepted that there is no historic undersupply, as confirmed by GBC’s own consultants.

Furthermore, you could not assert that the historic housing needs should be backdated, and that because it is now higher, you failed to deliver against a hypothetical, unrecognised housing target. This is an exercise in the ridiculous. No authority in the country can supply against hypothetical retrospective targets – are we supposed to build now on a wholly unrestricted basis in case someone at some stage in the future might possibly apply some higher hypothetical target? Why should you even assume that targets will continually rise? What if some targets, in the future, were perhaps to restrict housing supply or fine you for excessive use of agricultural land – might you then be penalised retrospectively for oversupply or excessive land use now? Clearly, this would be wholly unreasonable, and obviously ridiculous. So, how, in 2011, could you decide that the housing target in 2014 would in fact be retrospectively applied to 2011 and so you needed to build double the amount the High Court agreed?  You cannot assume the impact of future targets when making decisions. You have to compare against actual targets at the time. Compared to actual targets in place there was no undersupply, as confirmed by your own consultants.

And, with all due respect to the planning department, the fact that they assert a thing does not demonstrate the fact. You as Councillors need to interrogate them and require that they prove assertions; because if you do not, an Inspector will.

GGG would prefer not to backdate the requirement, and only to look at the plan going forward. We would prefer to recognise that the date is 15 May 2014 and that we are looking at actual supply for the future, not historic supply. We would prefer a total housing target on the basis of 16 years supply, not 20 years, which is the consequence of that recognition. (16 x 652 = 10432 – ie a reduction from 13040). The Council want to backdate the plan instead, and we have accepted this. But consistency must be applied. If you want to backdate the requirement, then you have to look at historic supply up to the date of that requirement.

 

 

 

Absence of a 5 year land supply

Again, this statement does not seem confirmed by the documents prepared on behalf of Guildford Borough Council.

The SHLAA (current draft) notes (page 9) that existing planning permissions include

Guildford urban area 1480
Ash, Tongham and villages 830
Subtotal 2310
Disputed permission re Ash & Tongham 400
Revised subtotal 1910

 

As previously noted, this plan is backdated to 2011. We are therefore in a position where we are including (in the forward plan) the housing requirement for the years 2011-13. We are effectively pretending that we are in 2011. As a result, looking forward, we should also deduct the actual completions in that period, since these are also relevant to the calculation.

If we cease to pretend we are in 2011, three years’ housing requirement fall away, and the total housing required falls to a total of 10432 by 2031. (16 x652 =10432)

Historic completions are:

2011/12 source – SHMA draft p26 261
2012/13 source – SHMA draft p 26 230
2013/14 tbc 0
Total historic completions (plus 2013/14) 491

 

These can either be deducted from the requirement or added to the “5 year supply”.

Added in there should also be the number in relation to student housing which has been confirmed as applicable to the calculation by Nick Boles in his letter to Paul Beresford (copy letter attached).

This gives the following subtotals:

Historic completions 491
Existing planning permissions 1910
Student planning permissions 2121
Current housing supply 4522

 

This is before any new sites are taken into account at all. This is just existing planning permission and existing completions.

The SHLAA seems to adjust existing permissions in order to suggest that many will not be completed within a five year period. However, since these are in the control of the local authority this should not be acceptable. The University, for example, has suggested that they may choose not to build until 2017; but all these homes could be built tomorrow if the builders so decided. Why should the local authority, and the community, be held to ransom by builders deciding not to build when they have existing permissions? The permissions exist; they must be taken into account.

If there is no shortfall, it is necessary to provide a 5 year buffer of 5%. If there is a shortfall, then the buffer becomes 20%. However, there seem to be sufficient existing planning permissions. The five year housing supply may be calculated – using the disputed SHMA number – as follows:

5 years x 652 homes per year x 105% = 3413

It will be noted that 4522 exceeds 3413. Just to nail the sum

4522-3413 = 1109.

In other words, 1109 of the existing planning permissions would have to be unavailable in the five year period, and there have to be would be NO available extra land on which planning permission is being sought, before there is any question of a failure to provide a 5 year housing supply.

It is therefore demonstrable that before any additional sites are taken into account, the borough does have a 5 year housing supply.

This matter is particularly fundamental. Where local plans are not finalised, the existence of a sufficient 5 year housing supply provides protection against the prospect of planning by appeal, which we have repeatedly been told is of major concern to councillors. We consider that it can be demonstrated that (even on the basis of the draft SHMA, itself open to question) a 5 year supply is in existence. As a result, there should be a sufficient defence against possible appeal by developers in relation to prospective planning proposals being rejected prior to the implementation of the Local Plan.

SHMA basis

It has been noted by many commentators that the SHMA numbers are incorrect and overstated. They rely on 5 year demographics rather than 10 year demographics, and this results in an exaggeration of the blip from boom years when the university has grown. While this is no doubt to be applauded, the regression trend cannot be extrapolated from one year’s blip – it distorts a total. There are a number of other anomalies and errors.

This has been picked up by Edge Analytics in the review commissioned by Guildford Borough Council and included on the evidence base, which notes that it can only give “an amber tick” to the statement that “assumptions, judgments and findings are fully justified and presented in an open and transparent manner”. It further notes that this arises because the choice of scenario assumptions has an important bearing on the housing numbers.

So the housing numbers only have an “amber” tick, and the 10 year comparables that Edge suggest (see page 17 of their report) would show a range of alternatives. We would propose that the “migration led” scenario of 470 is most appropriate. This is of course comparable to the 652 number that is generated by GL Hearn.

However, note also that the GL Hearn number is that generated by the SHMA. As noted in the press by GGG, that number should then be subject to constraints (as noted also in the letter from Nick Boles to the planning inspectorate). No constraints have been applied; it is unclear why this decision has been made.

It has been asserted by the planning department that constraints have indeed been applied. If so, no reduction has been made, so the constraints do not appear to have constrained anything. The number generated by the SHMA is the unadjusted housing need number from the SHMA. If constraints have indeed been applied, why is the number unchanged?

The NPPG envisages that a SHMA number will be generated to demonstrate housing need; that the SHMA will then be subject to review and constraint due to local circumstances; and that this will result in a housing target. This process is neatly discussed, with useful definitions of the various categories, in the recent legal case Gallagher Homes v Solihull. The SHMA result, and the actual housing target, should be different in almost all cases. Why, for Guildford, which has an exceptionally high anomalous number in the draft SHMA (disproportionate to that of adjoining authorities), is there no constraint applied? Is it that the planning department want to find the highest possible housing number? Why?

We would suggest that taking constraints arising from capacity into account would generate a number in the region 300-345.

NB if the 345 housing requirement number were to be used, this would generate a consequential 5 year supply number of 1811 homes (including the 5 per cent.uplift).

5 years x 345 homes per year x 105% = 1811

Duty to cooperate

GGG have noted that GBC has a duty to cooperate and has made this point repeatedly since formation last year, in its letters to Councillors (including our first letter, in December 2013) and in its formal submissions and press announcements, together with a concern that this duty is not being properly fulfilled.

We do have much sympathy with the administrative difficulties of managing a duty to cooperate in the context of a timing mismatch in plan preparation with neighbouring authorities. GGG has noted in the context of our submission to the parliamentary committee reviewing the NPPF that this is effectively almost unworkable.

Notwithstanding this, inspectors are likely to pay particular attention to this requirement, and we would note that Runnymede has now joined Waverley as an authority that has failed in its duty to cooperate. As we have repeatedly stated, not in a spirit of delaying this process but in the spirit of seeking to facilitate the best possible local plan, it is important to get it right, and a rushed plan is a plan that might fail.

We would note that if councillors had listened to GGG in relation to this in December 2013, rather than dismissing our point, the Local Plan would have been somewhat more advanced at this stage. We would urge you to listen to our concerns, and those of other residents’ groups, rather than to press on regardless with a plan that has so many flaws.

Summary

We consider that the Local Plan has a number of failing elements, which must be tested and challenged by councillors, not merely accepted.

We consider that councillors have not been well advised, and that they have placed too much reliance on the unsupported statements made by the planning department, some of which have proved unreliable.

We also consider that it is the responsibility of the Scrutiny Committee to make those challenges (and consequent corrections) at this time, with the utmost speed, rather than to proceed with a failing plan now.

These include:

  1. The assumption that the SHMA number is correct (we know it is not)
  2. The failure to apply constraints to the SHMA number (this must be constrained)
  3. The failure to meet the duty to cooperate (this must be done or the plan will fail)
  4. The belief that we do not have a 5 year land supply (we do and this is demonstrable)
  5. The belief that we have had persistent under-delivery of housing (no underdelivery)

Please make these corrections before the draft Local Plan is put forward as part of the consultation exercise.

Yours faithfully,

 

Guildford Greenbelt Group


 

Appendix 1

Letter from Nick Boles MP to Sir Paul Beresford MP 7 February 2014

Letter attached in full but note in particular:

Can student housing be included in a local authority’s Local Plan housing numbers?

Yes. Student housing makes a significant contribution towards housing supply by taking pressure off housing stock. The Government has clarified guidelines to make it clear that local authorities can include student housing in the calculation of, and the monitoring toward, housing needs regardless of whether they are communal or sited on a university campus.”

 

Scrutiny Committee want housing number revised

Guildford Borough Council Scrutiny Committee met on 15 May 2014.

You can watch the webcast here:

http://www.guildford.public-i.tv/core/portal/webcast_interactive/135899

The councillors passed a motion, which was unopposed, to revise the housing number.

Guildford Greenbelt Group issued a press announcement about this committee which is copied below:

 

Guildford Greenbelt Group

Press announcement

 

21 May 2014

Councillors change direction of local plan

 

In an astonishing and dramatic U-turn at the Scrutiny Committee last Thursday (15 May 2014), elected councillors challenged the Executive’s direction on the Local Plan for the first time. The councillors voted for the housing numbers to be revised within the draft Local Plan, with massive consequences for the impact on the Green Belt and the future of Guildford.

 

A surprise vote was called, which was not on the agenda. The motion was not formally worded, but on an ad hoc basis was “to express concern over the housing number set out in the draft Local Plan and to ask the Head of Planning Services and the Lead Councillor for Planning to review the numbers before it comes back to the Executive”. This motion was passed, with no dissenting votes, by the combined Scrutiny Committee.

 

The Scrutiny Committee meeting can be viewed on a webcast on the Guildford Borough Council website. http://www.guildford.public-i.tv/core/portal/webcast_interactive/135899

 

Cllr Jennie Wicks opened the debate with brilliant and dramatic effect by saying “I think that the housing target here is too high, it will have a devastating effect on some parts of the borough. I am reprising… what a couple of our speakers referred to… the comments of Edge Analytics who said that the SHMA housing numbers result from the choice of data and the housing numbers used…Edge said that further scrutiny was needed. Will this be done – and how will we be informed of the outcome?.. I hope we will be doing a reassessment as they recommended, and I hope that…the information will be made properly available to councillors…

 

She continued: “In estimating the housing target, it seems to me that little account has been taken of constraints particularly Green Belt. The current proposed distribution of sites just uses Green Belt as land available for development… The NPPF says that Green Belt boundaries should only be altered in Exceptional Circumstances … and we have Ministerial statements that housing need of itself will not justify incursion into the Green Belt for houses or travellers’ sites. Why haven’t we referenced those Ministerial statements in our evidence?.. Why have we chosen to renounce any inclusion of windfall sites?…Now we have the conversion of office space to residential which is in addition to the type of windfall that used to come forward, which the Reigate and Banstead Inspector recognised… And why nothing for bringing back empty homes into use?,, I have to comment with considerable sadness about the imbalance of the distribution of the proposed housing. It is proposed that there should be more than 6000 houses on our precious Green Belt between Burpham and the M25, a distance of less than 6 linear miles.”

 

Cllr Bob McShee said “It is unsustainable and damaging to the Green Belt and our infrastructure.. It is far too much for Worplesdon to absorb…This committee has been asked to consider the draft Local Plan and as far as Worplesdon is concerned, it is unacceptable at this stage.”

 

Cllr Jennie Powell said: “Why have the sustainability indicators been ignored?” and asked a number of specific questions about the flood risk in West Horsley which had been disregarded.

 

Cllr Andrew French said: “This is not a wholly democratic process… If we really do have to build this out as planned in here it is going to do huge and irreparable damage to this borough. .. Around the NPPF… I recognise that we as a borough need to do a strategic review of the Green Belt. We have done that. However, I don’t think the Green Belt at the moment is being used as a constraint at all. What we seem to have done is taken the view that any site that has been identified in the SHLAA as developable can be developed regardless of whether it is in the Green Belt or not.

 

“If our housing number was double, would we therefore say that’s fine, we’ll develop twice the number? At what point do we apply constraints here?

 

“There’s a great deal of pain elsewhere as well, we have to look at the constraints again… That to me is a political judgment, it is not a judgment for the planners to make, it is for us to make as a local authority. I now think we need to exercise that political judgment as to what approach we are going to take. We should not be attempting to send a Local Plan to the Planning Inspector gift-wrapped… we should be getting a Local Plan which is as challenging as possible. We need a plan which simply gets over the line with the minimum possible, not something that is gold- plated.”

 

Mrs Carol Humphrey, Head of Planning Services, spoke several times. She said: “We think we can accommodate the numbers that we are suggesting”…and ”it is inevitable that the Green Belt will be realigned to allow for the accommodation of some growth”.

 

Cllr Pauline Searle said “As a councillor of an urban area… all of Guildford is important be it the town, urban area or Green Belt. This is Guildford and it is what we are all proud of…”

 

Cllr David Wright said: “What is robust, what is strong, what is defensible is really a matter of judgment… Such matters of judgment are partly technical and they are partly political. I think there is no councillor who has any appetite for large numbers of additional houses that will be indigestible and that will not in general be welcomed, despite what has been said about the relationship between housing and growth. There is nowhere in this plan a strong causal argument that shows that direct connection and whenever it is challenged it always boils down to anecdotal statements by businessmen. We know the economy of Guildford does well and 50% of the people who work in Guildford live outside, and vice versa. It is the judgments that members of the public will question…The possibility of building on large areas of Green Belt remains a very strong possibility for one basic reason which is the numbers we are being asked to accommodate…The word “objective” in objectively assessed needs can be challenged because it is based on human judgments which are not objective and I think that the public would like a little more transparency about how the objective judgments ultimately were arrived at. I would like to see…the extent to which they were challenged.   I would hope that process is not at an end and I would hope that we can still get the basic number down – because it is that basic number which minimises our ability to protect the character of Guildford which we all want to maintain. So I would put in a plea for that.”

 

One councillor asked Cllr Juneja to comment on the duty to cooperate. She noted “I have spoken to parish councils, tried to go round all residents’ associations… I’ve also spoken to the Lead Member for Woking, have tried to speak to Rushmoor and Waverley but obviously they are in different situations and sometimes come over later on in the day as have Woking… I have been to a Duty to Cooperate conference which we led ourselves, we led that and invited a number of different authorities, many still not willing to really come round the table at this stage… We also had an event with all leaders of all districts and boroughs and also had the senior politicians for Surrey County Council and we tried to move that forward in terms of looking at Duty to Cooperate not just for housing. But if indeed we don’t accept other authorities’ housing numbers then we should be certainly looking at infrastructure whether it is schools, roads, doctors’ surgeries, or hospitals…”

 

Cllr Tony Philips said: “I like others am extremely concerned about the high housing numbers. Now, tonight we have had good questions, and reports and statements from members of the public, and Flo [Churchill] and others from the top table have chanted off chapter and verse.   Unfortunately we haven’t had sight of these responses, and I think we should have had sight of these responses to enable us to digest them properly and form our own opinions. I’d ask if we can have all the responses that we have been given.

 

“Having said all that, I, like Councillor French and others, am still not happy with the housing numbers, and I think that the report for the recommendation that goes back from this joint committee should be that we are still not happy with the housing numbers – and ask the Lead Member for Planning and others to have another look at this. That’s what I’d like to propose.”

 

It was therefore decided that it was necessary to have a vote on Cllr Tony Phillips’ proposal, and Mr John Armstrong, Head of Democratic Services for the borough, proposed the following wording, and noted this proposal is fundamental to the plan:

 

“To express concern over the housing number set out in the draft Local Plan and to ask the Head of Planning Services and the Lead Councillor for Planning to review the numbers before it comes back to the Executive (presumably)”.

 

There was a show of hands. No councillor on the joint Scrutiny Committee voted against the motion.

 

 

GGG chair Susan Parker said:

 

“People in Guildford are delighted with this result and GGG is grateful to the councillors who spoke so effectively last Thursday. It is good to see that the councillors have listened to the submissions made by GGG and by the combined residents’ groups.

 

We hope that the Executive Committee will now listen to councillors, apply the necessary constraints and use a realistic housing target that will benefit rather than harm Guildford.

 

But this vote, welcome as it is, is not in itself enough.  We have seen tokenism before (for example, in the councillors’ vote for full public involvement in the scrutiny of the evidence base, which ended up as just a token representation).

 

We need a revision of the housing number. We need a radical consequential change to the draft Local Plan. The previous numbers were too high with disastrous consequences for everyone in the borough – now they must come down. It is now the Council’s responsibility to make the required changes in time. “

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

NOTES FOR EDITORS

 

Edge Analytics report on the GL Hearn draft SHMA:

 

See link:

http://www.guildford.gov.uk/media/16934/Edge-Analytics-review-of-the-Guildford-SHMA-March-2014/pdf/Edge_Analytics_review_of_the_Guildford_SHMA_(March_2014).pdf