Last night the Full Council voted to approve the Local Plan for consultation.
You can view the webcast here: http://www.guildford.public-i.tv/core/portal/webcast_interactive/139101
(It takes a minute or two to get started!)
It resulted in a vote with 28 councillors voting to approve the plan going to consultation, 14 opposing, and one abstention.
Both our local ward councillors, Richard Billington (who is on the Executive) and David Wright (who is on the Scrutiny Committee) voted to approve the plan going forward for the consultation process.
That sounds more definitive than the (very long) debate would imply.
Most of the public speakers were subjected to some questioning, but it wasn’t all hostile -although a student who said that she would rather commute than build on green fields was subject to a fairly savage technical grilling, which seemed rather unfair given that she must be around 20 years old and just expressing a personal view (but she held her ground brilliantly). If you want to see this, it’s not flagged (perhaps the councillors were actually ashamed of the treatment they gave her – they should have been!) – but if you set the timer to about 1 hour 17 minutes you can find that speech. On the other hand the consultant acting for the University of Surrey, who may not even be resident in the borough (he refused to answer a private question on this) was given some fairly easy questions. No councillor even asked him if he was resident, despite the crowd asking for that information. Bias? surely not. See what you think.
Many councillors expressed concern about the current content of the plan and said that they would not approve it if it were the plan as it stands, but it would be acceptable as a consultation document. That does slightly beg the question about when the housing number will fall, since it has been at this level since around January, despite a lot of comment and criticism.
“We’ve got the biggest programme of new social housing in a generation; we’re regenerating the worst of our housing estates; and we’ve got the first garden city for almost a century underway in Ebbsfleet.
Now we need to do more. Much more.
We have beautiful landscapes, and they too are part of the inheritance of the next generation. To preserve them, we must make other compromises.
If we want to limit development on important green spaces, we have to remove all the obstacles that remain to development on brown field sites.
Today we do that with these radical steps.
Councils will be required to put local development orders on over 90% of brownfield sites that are suitable for housing.
This urban planning revolution will mean that in effect development on these sites will be pre-approved – local authorities will be able to specify the type of housing, not whether there is housing.
And it will mean planning permission for up to 200,000 new homes – while at the same time protecting our green spaces.
Tomorrow, Boris Johnson and I will jointly set out plans for new housing zones across London backed by new infrastructure, so that we see thousands of new homes for London families.
And we’ll take the same approach in the rest of the country; with almost half a billion pounds of financial assistance in total set aside to make it work.
Now I suspect there will be people who object to new building, even on the brownfields of our cities.”
This is good news. It was followed by a statement by Eric Pickles, Secretary of State, who gave this press announcement:
“We’re determined to make the very best use of derelict land and former industrial sites to provide the homes this country desperately needs in a way that protects our valued countryside. By ensuring commitments to housing development are in place early and having dedicated housing zones, building becomes, quicker and easier for homebuilders, businesses and councils.”
He also was quoted in the Daily Telegraph on 14 June 2014 as saying “We’ve always been a green and pleasant land and we must stay that way, prerving the best of our countryside and other green spaces…we’ve also been facing a serious housing shortage in this country, and we’ve got to increase supply in line with demand. I’m determined that we rise to that challenge without building unnecessarily on undeveloped land. The way to do that is to use brownfield better”.
Guildford Greenbelt Group (GGG) Press announcement 13 June 2014
GUILDFORD GREENBELT GROUP TO SEEK PUBLIC REFERENDUM TO REMOVE GUILDFORD COUNCIL’S EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE AND RESTORE DEMOCRACY
Move is result of Executive Committee’s failure to follow procedures and respond to its own Scrutiny Committee’s demands for revisions on housing numbers ahead of Guildford Plan consultation
Guildford Greenbelt Group (GGG), the organisation representing residents concerned by Guildford Council’s plan to build major developments on Surrey’s Green Belt, is to petition for a referendum to remove the council’s Executive Committee and restore a more democratic system.
The Group says it has been left with no alternative following the Executive Committee meeting on Wednesday 4 June which ignored demands by the council’s own Scrutiny Committee to revise the Plan’s inflated required housing number of 652 per year before the Plan goes to public consultation.
Instead the Executive Committee went ahead and approved the current Plan for public consultation – meaning that the public will be told that 652 is the required figure for housing each year.
Susan Parker, Chair of GGG, said: “The Executive Committee has ignored calls from the council’s own Scrutiny Committee to review the housing target and the housing requirement calculations it is based on.
“As a result, we feel we have no option other than to petition for a Referendum to return the Council to a more democratic structure which will better respond to residents’ and councillors’ concerns.
“Guildford area residents who want to ensure the Council’s decision making process is more accountable and transparent, and that the law protecting the Green Belt is properly applied, can start now by signing this petition which will be posted on our website at http://guildfordgreenbeltgroup.co.uk/ “
The Metropolitan Green Belt was created in the public interest by national planning policy to prevent urban sprawl and stop towns merging into each other. An inflated housing number is not in the public interest and jeopardises the permanence and credibility of our Green Belt.
Under the Localism Act, councils have to hold a referendum if five per cent of the electorate sign a petition calling for one – in the borough of Guildford, that would require 5243 signatures.
The referendum will enable the people of Guildford to choose to support either the Executive system in place at present or a committee structure where the decisions of committees shape policy.
At present, the Council is governed by an Executive system, which means the Leader (appointed by the largest party) and nine other councillors (appointed by the Leader) make all the significant decisions.
Under the committee system all elected councillors are able to participate in the process of local government, which would mean that the decisions of councillors would be followed and respected.
Since 2011, when the Localism Act came into force, nine councils have scrapped the executive for a committee system and at least seven others are considering it. If enough signatures are collected in the borough of Guildford, a referendum vote must be held.
On Wednesday 4 June, the Guildford Borough Council (GBC) held an Executive Committee meeting which unanimously approved the Local Plan for public consultation with an unchanged housing requirement figure of 652 houses per annum, which, backdated to 2011, gives a minimum new housing number of 13040. Over the next 17 years that would result in the housing stock in the borough increasing by approximately 25%.
On 15 May, GBC’s Scrutiny Committee voted to revise the housing number. It was agreed that this revision should to take place before the Executive Committee meeting on 4 June. GGG therefore considers that Executive governance has ceased to work in Guildford.
Cllr Phillips, who proposed the formal recommendation from the Scrutiny Committee that the numbers in the draft Local Plan be revised, asked at the Executive Committee meeting as the first speaker in the Councillors’ part of the debate:
“I was pleased that the joint Scrutiny Committee accepted my suggestion… to have another look at the housing numbers. …It was hoped that we would have an answer by today. Can you tell me, has this happened? Have you looked at this yet? If you have, what is the housing number and has it reduced as we were hoping it would be?”.
It was confirmed that the meeting had not yet taken place. Cllr Juneja indicated that a meeting would take place on Friday 6 June, that the number had not been reduced at present but would be “challenged” by the Executive.
That meeting has now taken place and there is still no change to the proposed housing number. It seems that 652 will be included as the housing target in the draft Local Plan.
GGG is concerned that the Executive Committee has chosen to ignore the valid recommendation from its own Scrutiny Committee in terms of the plan process.
Councillors at that committee appreciated constituents’ and residents’ groups’ genuine concerns at the calculation of the housing numbers, and argued cogently for a consequential revision.
The figure for Housing Need is set out in the Local Plan Evidence base in the Strategic Housing Market Assessment or SHMA prepared by GL Hearn. Following public demands for a review of the evidence base, Edge Analytics have reviewed GL Hearn’s original SHMA, and only given it “an amber tick”. Residents and campaign groups have questioned the calculations behind the housing number, and noted specific errors. Despite this the housing target number has only gone down by 18 houses per annum (from 670 to 652).
As a result the extent of the reliance that can be placed on the Executive’s challenge is limited.
This is not the first time that the process of democratic decision-making within the council has been set aside as a result of the decisions of the Executive.
Previously, on 13 January 2014, GBC agreed by formal vote that
“The Council will enable full public involvement in this reappraisal of the evidence base, especially the Green Belt and Countryside Study, by holding a special joint meeting of the two Scrutiny Committees”.
In response to this on 4 March 2014 GBC held the Local Plan Scrutiny Forum to discuss the evidence base.
The Forum consisted of two parallel mass workshops, each lasting around 2 hours, with no formal record of the comments made. GGG does not consider that this met the undertaking of full public involvement in the reappraisal of the evidence base, but instead represented a measure of tokenism which has been previously displayed in the consultation process.
As a result, GGG is calling for a change in the operations of local government and will present a petition calling for a public referendum on the governance of Guildford Borough Council. This formal petition is available to download from http://guildfordgreenbeltgroup.co.uk
You can comment by letter, by email or using the online comment documents. If you comment, then it may be possible to request involvement in the decision process involving the Inspector; if you do not comment, you will not be able to do so. Even if you commented on the Issues and Options document you must PLEASE comment again. Only these comments, in relation to this draft, can be taken into account by an Inspector (there is nothing to stop you making the same comments or using your previous draft notes in relation to the comments before).
When this process is over, the draft will be revised. There will be a second draft but changes at that stage may be minimal, (unless the process is overturned). Local plans are overturned only when
a Planning Inspector rules that it is required
a judge rules this – following a judicial review (for which cause needs to be demonstrated)
the Secretary of State “calls in” a local plan
the Council themselves decide to withdraw the Local Plan (perhaps due to a change in the Council membership after an election)
This is our chance to change the Local Plan using the formal planning process as part of the consultation. While consultation has been largely ignored at the earlier stages, there is a duty to consult with local communities and local communities should be listened to as part of the consultation process; therefore it is REALLY important that as many of us as possible comment over the 12 weeks to 22 September 2014.
As we have a chance to study the document, we will post details of key issues on this website.
Planning law makes it clear that only the comment in blue boxes (actual planning policy) applies for the purpose of planning decisions. The narrative, the description, and the subsequent notes can all be set aside in planning decisions. This was decided by the Appeal Court in the recent case re Cherkley Court. SO it is really important to focus on the planning policy blue boxes; and if the blue boxes do not contain something that is essential, then this is worthy of comment. It is something that is easily missed.
So, for example, in relation to the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (Policy 8), the policy box does NOT contain the words:
4.105 The NPPF is clear that AONB should be afforded the highest level of protection in terms of landscape and scenic beauty. As the local planning authority we have a duty and an opportunity to ensure that this regard is enshrined in our Local Plan.
This comes just below the Policy – but it is not included within it. These words should be included as part of the policy. Otherwise they may have no effect in future planning decisions. This is important – so if you want these words to be part of the policy they must be included in the blue box – you need to say so!
Comments will be posted on this website in terms of points of detail, which may be useful to all.
Note also in relation to Policy 2 that Shere is marked as a potential new rural urban centre. (!). This means that it will take a place in the hierarchy of potential development that we may feel is not appropriate.
When you click on the link above, you can comment on most pages, giving responses to detailed points of policy.
This is probably designed to make it easy to “support” policy, and not to get detailed comment, but if you have no time for any more response, then this would be better than nothing!
Ideally, perhaps one person in a household could respond in detail and another respond to the abbreviated questionnaire. The key thing is to respond, and for all interested people to do so.
Guildford is accepting responses from any interested parties, including students who studied at University of Surrey but have now moved away, people who want to live here, builders and developers. If you care about the AONB, care about the Metropolitan Green Belt or use the countryside as a tourist or occasional visitor, you are a stakeholder too and you should feel free to express a view to Guildford Borough Council.
If you object to a policy, make sure that you say so.
(Just in case you used these for reference):
The Full Council approved this draft for consultation, subject to further small changes at the discretion of the Planning department:
using these maps
You may have downloaded a plan from this page earlier, which was a slightly earlier draft. The changes are itemised here, plus there are some other changes to some maps.
Just in case you need to check which version you used, this is the earlier draft that councillors approved at the Executive Committee – so if you downloaded this version, be aware that it has since changed!
and these are the maps that they were using (again since changed)
The draft proposed 13040 new homes to be built by 2031, on the basis of 652 homes per year, backdated for some reason to 2011. There is no need to backdate to 2011; in fact planning advice indicates that this is not a requirement because the plan will take effect from the date of adoption. If not backdated, even using 652 as a housing number, the plan would only run for 16 years, triggering a housing requirement of 10432 (16 x 652 =10 432). However, despite this, the plan chooses to backdate, perhaps to increase the number of required homes?
The Scrutiny Committee voted on 15 May 2014 to revise the housing number from this target because they accepted the argument that this number was too high, and they agreed it was calculated on a flawed basis. However, while the Executive Committee said they would “challenge” this number, they have not revised it as the Scrutiny Committee voted for. The Executive Committee voted unanimously to approve the result on 4 June 2014.
The Executive Committee met on 4 June 2014- the meeting was broadcast on a webcast, and can be viewed here:
While the Executive Committee still claim that they will “challenge” the number, they have claimed this since the first draft SHMA in January, and the number has so far been reduced from the original 670 homes per annum to 652 per annum after “challenges”. The Scrutiny Committee, campaign groups, CPRE, residents associations and MPs have all questioned this number but despite that the Executive Committee remains obdurate; it is seeking to justify 652 come what may.
Policy 18: Sustainable transport for new developments
Response Type OBJECT
There are a number of problems with this policy.
Congestion is a widely recognised factor in the local area of Guildford, and this is a major factor in the public response to the proposed housing numbers, which represent approximately a 25% increase in housing numbers in a borough that is already profoundly congested. The population recognises that to increase the population by this level within the existing transport provision is not feasible, and this informs much of the public response to the proposed level of housing accommodation.
It is not clear that this recognition, which is widespread through the borough, is shared by those who have drafted the Local Plan. Most of the suggested solutions are ostrich like, in that they fail to recognise the realities of the situation.
Guildford is a commuter town, which (compared to London) offers better quality of life and lower house prices, so it will continue to be a commuter town for the foreseeable future. As a result, access to the stations for commuting is of significance. It is not realistic to assume that traffic to stations for commuters can be replaced either by bus services (slow, intermittent, expensive, and in many cases absent completely) or by cycles (what if if is raining? can a city executive be expected to cycle to the station in the rain in order to catch a train for a day’s work? Hardly).
The comment made above in note 4.216 “For the average person cycling has the potential to substitute for short car trips, particularly under five kilometres, and walking for trips under one kilometre” is utterly unrealistic for many sectors of the population. Cycling is attractive, and, for the urban young, especially students, it is both practical and cheap, and can be quick. However, as noted, those en route to work cannot be assumed to be able to cycle in working clothes. Elderly members of the community, those transporting small children, and the disabled cannot participate in cycling except to a limited extent. Effectively the “average” person deemed to be capable of travelling 5 km to substitute for car trips is an able bodied adult not travelling to somewhere where smart clothing is required, not needing to arrive clean (or with showering facilities on arrival, not provided by all employers); this is not sufficiently widespread in terms of the local demographic for travellers that it should be allowed to determine policy – and of course, not needing to transport, for example, supermarket shopping after the trip. What about the disabled? the elderly? those looking after more than one child? Are they to be housebound? This is not a reasonable strategy.
Before transport and buildings are determined on the basis of such a policy, it is also imperative that safe cycle routes are implemented through the borough. Cycle lanes which disappear, which travel over potholes and which allow cyclists to be threatened by HGVs are not conducive to wider cycle usage, nor should wider cycle usage be encouraged until it can be demonstrated that it is safe.
The concept of the park and ride, (Policy 1d “secure appropriate improvements to public and community transport, including infrastructure and park and ride requirements”) with access into the town limited for those who live outside the town, is similarly flawed. Park and Ride is, however, expensive, cumbersome and slow. It should be noted that in Oxford it has had a disastrous impact on small local retailers, who may have a strong view in terms of objecting to this. Most of the facilities required by rural residents are in the town and so the town is the only place that they can be obtained. Supermarkets, most schools, workplaces, medical facilities (except for GPs) even dentists are not available outside the Guildford urban area. So access to the town is essential and this is desirable –most rural residents do not want to see the urbanization of the countryside, and that view is shared by most of the residents of the Guildford urban area too.
Use of park and rides, with the consequential disruption and inconvenience, might be more acceptable as part of the cost of protecting the Green Belt, if the current Green Belt were to remain unchanged. But under the current proposals, the Green Belt is being aggressively eroded, with the bulk of the proposed population increase being dumped on the countryside around Guildford. This proposal is combined with aggressive exclusion from the town of those who are living in peripheral communities, which will increasingly resemble housing estates. This is a strategy for sink estates through Surrey instead of the Green Belt – this is not a strategy for growth. Head offices will choose to go elsewhere, because Chief Executives will not choose to live in a housing estate.
A further bizarre aspect of this policy is the way in which it is suggested that it be monitored, which is indicative of extraordinarily muddled thinking.
It will be monitored only by:
• CIL receipts and expenditure
• Planning obligations delivering infrastructure
In other words, it will be monitored not in terms of traffic flows, nor in terms of time taken on journeys, nor in terms of increased pollution, but only in terms of the money received by the local council. These monitoring criteria are indicative of the nature of the choices made and exhibit the reasons for those choices – which are unacceptable. The people who live in the borough have a need to use roads. The public transport links are expensive and inefficient, and as a result, cars are used. Buses are slow, and very expensive.
Of additional concern is the element of the policy which states: “We will expect new developments to demonstrate adequate provision to mitigate the likely impacts, including cumulative impacts, of the proposal on the performance of the Local Road Network and Strategic Road Network. This provision should include the mitigation of environmental impacts, such as noise and pollution, and impact on amenity and health. This will be achieved through direct improvements and/or Section 106 contributions and/or the Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL), to address transport impacts in the wider area including across the borough boundary.”
Cross subsidy in terms of infrastructure is envisaged and must be challenged. In other words, the funding of the new developments through CIL and S 106 is expected to contribute to the transport impacts across the borough, and there is negligible concern for the transport problems created within those new developments or in areas adjacent to them. This is not acceptable to existing residents and is likely to cause some problems with the future residents too, who may arguably feel aggrieved that the road funding associated with their developments is being subverted to other areas. While this may be permissible under the revised CIL regulations it is questionable whether it is morally acceptable to grant planning permission to build on the Green Belt in order to cross subsidise the building of roads or other infrastructure in the town centre or elsewhere across the borough or outside it.
S 4.219 states “In assessing whether the development proposal is likely to give rise to a material increase in travel demand, the Council will consider the existing use of the building(s) and/or site, existing transport conditions in the immediate and wider area, and likely transport generation from the development proposals.” This is a subsidiary proposal not part of the core policy – but it is surely much more important than that. Surely the essence of sustainability must be to minimize inessential carbon use, and the highest possible increased carbon use must be derived from incremental and unnecessary dormitory accommodation? Urban building must be inherently more sustainable, especially in the context of transport provision and increase. This must be taken into account in the granting of permission, and to disregard this issue is to minimise the impact of incremental building, especially of dormitory suburbs, on climate change. The fact that there may be a small amount of available funding to pay for a bridge or some improvements to the gyratory is not an acceptable reason to allow permission for building housing estates in the Green Belt.
Guildford Borough Council have put in place a draft Local Plan. Some of the proposals from the issues and options consultation have changed. It is no longer proposed (at present) to remove Shere or Gomshall from the Green Belt – the proposal known as “insetting”. Also, the settlement boundaries of the villages will be changed less than previously proposed (although there will still be changes, both to Gomshall and to Shere, and the boundary changes do extend the edges of the villages quite markedly). This change may be due to the extent of public comment previously, so do keep the letters going! The boundaries will be re-drawn to include adjoining fields surrounding both villages but the area is smaller. The maps are shown on the Local Plan page.
Guildford Borough Council is still asking if it should do more work to assess potential development areas around other villages and settlements, including Albury, Shere, Farley Green, Gomshall, Peaslake (which has suddenly been reclassified as a “large” village) and Holmbury St Mary. (p 78). This means putting development – buildings – in the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty outside the settlement areas. We do not want them to consider this, because when the development consultant looks at fields, they find sites for houses. The answer to this is NO.
Also note that both Peaslake and Holmbury St Mary have had very substantial increases to the settlement area. Please don’t think that because Peaslake seemed unaffected by the first Issues and Options consultation this means that there is no cause for concern; the boundaries have increased, and any area within the settlement area is now able to be considered for development. You can object to this through the consultation process.
One way we have to resist this is technical. We need to give evidence to the planners that the open character of our villages contributes to the openness of the Green Belt, and also that the existing settlement boundaries are real boundaries to the villages. To keep the existing boundaries – we have to show that the existing boundaries are definite, and capable of being “permanent”. But we also have to point out the stupidity of these rules to the politicians that drafted it so that the law is changed. It currently means that small compact villages may not be included in the Green Belt because they are not “open”. We should not be looking for possible new boundaries to villages – if they have existing boundaries, these should be recognised.
The planning consultants chosen by Guildford Borough Council specialise in assisting developers – Pegasus, GL Hearn, Edge Analytics, Churchill & Churchill. Some of these planners advertise their success in getting development into AONB areas, acting on behalf of developers. Why did GBC choose them? They are proposing to spend more of our public money in using these consultants to promote the plan that theses consultants have drawn up at the public enquiry. Why? This is not impartial evidence sifted and weighed by politicians on our behalf – this is a developmental agenda, driven by developmental consultants and supported by a passive council.
Most of the Green Belt villages in the borough are in a worse position than Shere, Gomshall, Peaslake or Abinger or our other villages. While we should be pleased that our particular back yard is threatened less at present, we should remain vigilant. The extent of the problem is NOT A GOOD THING! 16 villages are being taken out of the Green Belt out of 24 villages in the borough. There are threats to put around 9000 on Green Belt land between Leatherhead and Aldershot, 6000 of which would be between Leatherhead and Guildford. Guildford Borough Council are proposing to put 13040 homes in the borough over the next 16 years, in the period to 2031. This could turn the north of our borough into a conurbation like the corridor through Kingston and West Byfleet to Woking and Camberley.
The plans which they have put forward in the consultation document include the old Wisley Airfield at Ockham – now open fields – which is proposed to take a new town of 2,100 houses, “absorbing” the idyllic hamlet of Ockham, which is currently a conservation area. Effingham (310 new houses ) is struggling to stop merging into Bookham. At Bookham, landowners and developers have offered a total of 25 Green Belt sites, most of which are situated in the gap between Effingham and Bookham. At Effingham itself, there are proposals that the Howard of Effingham school might be moved on to green fields, and if so the existing school site and playing fields would be used for new houses. The pretty village of West Horsley is expected to take 534 houses. East Horsley is expected to take more. Clandon is expected to take a new secondary school next to the station, with huge consequences for traffic along the main road. There are 2500 houses proposed for Gosden Hill Farm on the outskirts of Guildford, and more for Shalford and for Chilworth. Chilworth will expand eastward toward Shere and westward towards Shalford. At Shalford, there are proposals to build on 174 homes on Chinthurst Hill, currently managed by the Surrey Wildlife Trust, which will damage the view from the Chantries – from there, Guildford will have a view over housing. On the other side of Guildford, heading west, UniS wants to build ~2500 homes at Blackwell Farm on the slopes of the Hogs Back. The area includes ANOB and AGLV land and is green belt, but more importantly, the entire farm forms part of the spectacular panorama that can be seen from the top of the chalk ridge – an iconic landscape feature and reputedly England’s oldest road. There are plans to put many more houses near Normandy and Flexford, Fairlands and Compton, and to put a large amount of land in that area into “safeguarded” status – which in this Orwellian world means available for developers if other land is not used or becomes unavailable.. Compton – another AONB village which has the Watts Gallery – have 5-6 million vehicles passing through each year already, and the buildings on the Hogs’ Back (partly in the parish of Compton) would mean another 3,000-4000 cars joining the network each day. We should not look at each field as a separate matter, but look at the consultation as a whole. We should look at the incredible scale of the damage that is being proposed. This damage will be in the next 16 years- and it will be reviewed again in 5 years. We cannot be complacent.
If this development is allowed, then the Green Belt around London will be destroyed, and forever. What EM Forster – an Abinger resident – called “the creeping red rust of London” will cover the beautiful Surrey Hills. They will be gone, and London will join up with Aldershot.
We are not NIMBYs. We do not just care about this because we live here but because we know how important the Green Belt is, to us and to everyone else who comes here, and for all the residents of London. All the residents across this borough, in both town and countryside, are joining together to campaign against this appalling damage to the Green Belt. We do not accept that there is not enough brownfield land for new homes – we have looked at GBC’s studies. We think that they need to do their sums again.
WE NEED TO ACT NOW.
The consultation document by Guildford Borough Council is the draft Local Plan published on the Guildford local plan website. This will also link to a detailed questionnaire from early July when the formal consultation opens.
WE CAN BUILD HOMES- ON BROWNFIELD LAND
The Government wants to build new homes. Partly this is because we do need a lot of new homes. These are needed for an increased population, for young families, separated families and those who don’t have homes at present. Some are wanted by overseas investors. The Government also see new home building as an engine for Growth so they want as many homes as possible. (Perhaps they didn’t notice what happened eventually in Ireland, Cyprus and Spain when the government saw housebuilding as the main driver for growth?).
As a society, we do need new and affordable homes, but do we really need empty homes for overseas investors throughout our towns and countryside? And – however many homes we need – we don’t need to build them in the Green Belt. There are brownfield sites in London, in Guildford and in other towns which would experience urban regeneration from a building programme. There are acres of empty building plots within 1/2 mile of Canary Wharf, waiting for property prices to go up, and miles of empty plots along the Thames regeneration zone http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thames_Gateway. It would be good to build on derelict land in those areas (although their Green Belt and open spaces are important too).
This supersedes most previous laws (although it doesn’t supersede the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949 http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/Geo6/12-13-14/97 which includes Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty). There is a requirement in the NPPF to follow UN Resolution 42/187 which states that sustainable development is meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. We’d argue that building in the Green Belt isn’t sustainable. We think we shouldn’t use good agricultural land for buildings in an era of climate change when we need more food security here and more food grown in the temperate zones generally. We think that trees – in our woods and hedgerows – are a more efficient “carbon sink” for mopping up carbon dioxide than anything else we have found. And we think that people in cities need space to get out into the countryside easily. The Green Belts act as a “green lung” for the cities. They are a place to relax, and to exercise. Would the Olympic road cycling races have been the same around London streets, without the Surrey lanes? The cycle races around the Surrey hills are now an annual fixture because they were so popular – and because the area is so beautiful.
You may feel that we may need to have local affordable homes for local people. But in our local villages we have already taken large numbers of new homes over the past twenty years under the old planning regime- at Cricket’s Hill near Pathfields in Shere, at Wellers Court and the Shere Arts site; at the Archery site, the Tannery site and along the A25 in Gomshall. Some of these houses were built as affordable housing under the rural exceptions scheme. The area along New Road in Gomshall – which connects up along footpaths to the Pilgrim’s Way- is currently a building site where all the homes in local authority ownership are being demolished and – roughly – two new homes put in the place of each one. But despite all this building, there has been no extra infrastructure for the villages. Our broadband is very slow, and we have power cuts in high winds – we all lose power each winter in the power cuts. Our roads are potholed and narrow (we’ve been waiting for essential pothole repairs for many months); our road access to Guildford is along the dangerous and narrow A25 over Newlands Corner. We have one train an hour in either direction in the rush hour, and no trains in the middle of the day. We have no more places at the school, and the doctors’ surgery is getting busier. Water pressure is low in summer and the drains struggle in winter. There won’t be any new money for infrastructure here. We can’t take any more. Any more would not be sustainable.
There is a Master Vision plan, commissioned by Guildford Borough Council from Allies & Morrison, which suggests that there is real scope for building a sustainable residential area along Walnut Tree Close (and the other bank of the Wey) on the derelict and run down commercial sites there. This could be a beautiful residential area, between the railway station and the A3, and it offers real scope to protect the countryside (because housing can be built in the town) to provide sustainable homes, including affordable homes, on a big site, which could create a real future for Guildford, meeting our housing need without destroying our environment. At a Scrutiny Committee meeting John Rigg, Chairman of the Guildford Vision Group, and a director of Savills, stated that he thought that this would be achievable and that 4000 homes could be provided in that area within 5 years. This could include desirable smart homes facing the river, and more affordable homes and homes for rent further from the river. This, together with other brownfield sites, could meet Guildford’s needs.
This was completely rejected by councillors, who seem wedded to the idea of building on the Green Belt.
Our local government seems to wants to build on as much land as possible because they think this will bring us prosperity and “growth” – which is not defined as economic growth but just building more – they aren’t interested in building a knowledge economy with more home working, for instance. They don’t seem to care about not compromising the needs of future generations, and they don’t share our concerns about this area or other Green Belt areas. There is political pressure to build. Guildford Borough Council is accepting that pressure and seem to be welcoming it; they are certainly resisting any possibility of using brownfield land or applying the required constraints for Green Belt development. Certainly there seems to be a reluctance to consider the prospect of effective brownfield development.
The combined residents’ groups throughout Guildford – Guildford Greenbelt Group (GGG), Guildford Residents’ Associations (GRA), East Guildford Residents’ Associations (EGRA), CPRE, The Guildford Vision Group (GVG) and The Guildford Society (GSoc) published a combined press announcement about the housing number being too high, and constructed on the wrong basis. (see posts).
The Master Vision document – commissioned from planners Allies & Morrison – has now been published and you can read it here:
This sets out a number of issues including proposing housing in the Walnut Tree Close area, protecting the green surroundings of the town, and some issues concerning road traffic, the planning of the Gyratory in Guildford Town Centre etc.
The vision for increased residential housing on brownfield in the town centre is excellent and warmly welcomed. This document was approved as a draft by the Scrutiny Committee on Wednesday 11 June, so this document will go to consultation to be included within the Local Plan, and it is of course possible to comment on this separately too.
There were 7 public speakers at the Scrutiny Committee. All but one thought that the Walnut Tree Close area should be used for primarily residential development and was a potentially very sustainable site for medium density housing, which could present a very exciting opportunity for Guildford both as a town (more cohesive, less poor quality land in the centre of town) and as a borough (the potential use of previously developed land in the town centre could allow protection of the Green Belt). Even the spokesman for the business community, who wanted office usage near the station, agreed that it was a poor site for industrial units and that there should be HGVs going along Walnut Tree Close, and that those existing industrial units could constructively be moved. So the public response was unanimous in agreeing that industrial units should be moved from Walnut Tree Close.
Last night (4/6/14) the Executive Committee at Guildford Borough Council voted unanimously to approve the draft Local Plan.
The draft local plan still contains the housing number of 652 homes per annum, which, backdated to 2011 (why?) gives a total until 2031 of 13040 homes to be built – which represents approximately one quarter of the existing number of homes in the borough.
It seems that the Scrutiny Committee requirement to revise the housing number has been disregarded. At the Executive Committee, Cllr Phillips, who proposed that revision as a recommendation, said: “I was pleased that the joint Scrutiny Committee accepted my suggestion… to have another look at the housing numbers. We have in here in Appendix A the detail of how you arrive at the housing numbers and [that].. a meeting has been arranged..between the lead councillor, the head of planning services, the managing director.. [etc] and members of the policy team and appointed advisers such as GL Hearn and Edge Analytics to review the housing numbers. It was hoped that we would have an answer by today. Can you tell me, has this happened? Have you looked at this yet? If you have, what is the housing number and has it reduced as we were hoping it would be?”. It was confirmed that the meeting had not yet taken place,. Cllr Juneja, the lead member for planning, noted that the number had not been reduced at present but would be “challenged” by the Executive.
A private meeting was held on 6 June 2014 to review the housing number. Anne Milton MP arranged for some of her constituents to meet with GL Hearn, the consultants who prepared the report; but those who are not Mrs Milton’s constituents were not been invited to that meeting. (Mrs Milton seems not to have realised that the parliamentary constituency of Guildford, and the borough of Guildford, have different boundaries, and other MPs’ constituents are not included in that consultation.)
The numbers may change – but they will not change before the draft that goes to public consultation. And, at a guess, substantive change may be unlikely thereafter.
We were also told at the Executive Committee meeting by Cllr Mansbridge and others that:
electrification of the North Downs line is possible (or maybe probable)
brownfield land is being considered, and that there will be a parallel document to consider the brownfield land “by the river” (this may be the Walnut Tree Close area, or perhaps Slyfield) as a master vision document, to be consulted on possibly in parallel with the Local Plan
there may be prospects from the Highways Agency for new and improved roads (location unspecified – and actually that doesn’t excite me at all; roadbuilding is not an enticing prospect)