Guildford BC consultation on the Community Infrastructure Levy

The “Community Infrastructure Levy” or CIL  consultation seems dry as dust, and unbearably technical.  But do please give it a glance.

It’s important to focus on the key issues, and what the problems are.  GBC’s website link is here: http://www.guildford.gov.uk/cil

Note the map of CIL zones on page 3.

CIL is money that developers have to pay to the local council in order to develop land. They pay at the rate below per square metre.  The Council are obliged by law to consult on the levels of tariff (don’t think they are asking out of the goodness of their hearts!).

However, we need to be aware that the differential levels of tariff imply certain levels of predetermination about the local plan, and the tariff rates will have an impact on planning.

The politicians may have told us that the local plan is subject to complete revision – but vote for the existing parties and the plan will go ahead in the version we’ve seen already.  That’s clearly implied by the CIL rates, which are set MUCH lower for greenbelt land than for urban land, and which still show the 3 “Strategic sites” of Blackwell Farm, Gosden Hill Farm and Wisley Airfield as though these have already been agreed (which they have not). The rates are as follows:

Residential:

  • Guildford Town £500
  • Ash & Tongham £100
  • Rural areas and villages £300
  • Slyfield £150
  • Strategic sites £400

Purpose built student accommodation: £75

Assisted care housing £100

Retail £200

Other forms of floorspace £0

What this means is that town centre development will almost all be “other forms of floorspace”, or retail, or student accommodation, because it is so much cheaper to develop that than residential accommodation.  So all residential units will be forced into Ash, Tongham, Slyfield, the rural areas, and the strategic sites. That’s neither in the interest of the residents of the town nor of the country; the town is going to stop being a place to live, and become a major commercial centre with housing squeezed to the periphery.

Note that as ever the online consultation system is “sticky” but you can send your responses as an email.

The GGG response I’ve drafted is as follows:

Qu1:  Charging rates:

Rates for residential (Use Class C3) floorspace
Zone 1 – Rural areas and villages

The rural CIL is too low at £300/m2; it is not clear why this is lower than urban development which is £500/m2. This is not a comment about the absolute quantum, on which we don’t necessarily have a view, but on the relative amounts.  This becomes an incentive to build on the countryside, and is contrary both to NPPG which states that there should be a prioritisation of urban development and to Guildford Borough Council’s stated policy. This rate relates to all land in the borough outside the urban area, proposed strategic sites and area outside the Green Belt. Together with the proposals for development on those strategic sites and on Ash & Tongham, it provides an incentive to build on all areas outside the town. This is contrary to the stated hierarchy of need in the draft Local Plan. It becomes clear that the Council’s plan is to develop the town centre for commercial/industrial/retail use, with some student accommodation, and to force all residential development outward.

It is noted that the land costs for urban brownfield and east Surrey rural greenfield are comparable, and that the remediation costs for urban land are higher; why then have a further cost loading to make building on urban land less attractive compared to rural land?

It should be noted on page 39 point 5.5.14 notes that the rep0rt assumes 14% of dwellings will be allocated to rural and village sites, and 56% to “strategic sites” (most of which are in fact greenfield); so it is likely that around 70% of dwellings will be sited on rural sites.

It is noted that the rural proposed rate “provides a comfortable buffer margin for most developments, with further scope for achieving some site specific S106 contributions.” Why should rural development provide such a buffer to developer’s profitability?

 

 

Rates for residential (Use Class C3) floorspace

Zone 2 – Ash and Tongham (excluding strategic location for growth)

he rate for Ash & Tongham, at £100/sq metre, forces development into the area beyond the Greenbelt. Where the area is urban, this may be an acceptable practice. However, in the rural sections of this area, this is forcing development that is unnecessary and inappropriate on to green fields. There needs to be much greater differentiation within this area of the urban and non-urban sections; this is particularly important here since this is land beyond the Greenbelt which is unprotected by primary legislation, but is still of significance as agricultural land. Agricultural land should probably have a comparable CIL rate to the rest of the Green areas of the borough, and this should be significantly higher than urban land.

 

Rates for residential (Use Class C3) floorspace

Zone 3 – Guildford town (excluding strategic sites)

At £500/sq metre the CIL rates for Guildford town present a serious disincentive for building residential accommodation in the urban area. This is the highest CIL rate in the borough.  It means that any urban redevelopment, throughout the whole urban area of Guildford, is incentivised to be retail, commercial, industrial or student accommodation, but that residential development is being forced into greenfield areas outside the town. This is a prescription for urban sprawl and huge urbanisation of our county town by the back door.  This rate  must and should be lower than the rates for building on strategic sites or on greenfield land.  If the rate for building residential accommodation on urban sites is £500/sq metre, then the rate for building on greenfield land in the borough (whether on strategic sites, outside the Greenbelt or on the Greenbelt) should be set higher, say at £600/sq metre (or, conversely, lower the urban CIL rate to a lower amount than the other rates). This as it stands is a perverse incentive – and, coupled with the proposals for student accommodation at £75/sq metre will force out residential accommodation from the town.

Furthermore, it is noted that this particularly high CIL rate will apply to the entirety of the Walnut Tree Close/Woodbridge Meadows areas, thus creating an incentive for a student housing zone here with industrial and commercial units, rather than the urban regeneration that would be better for existing residents and the town as a whole.

 

Rates for residential (Use Class C3) floorspace

Zone 4: Slyfield

Zone 4 rates for urban renewal zones should indeed be lower, and therefore the rate of £150 /sq metre is welcomed as a relatively lower amount for non-student housing. It is not clear however, why, even in this zone, it is higher than the greenfield areas of Ash and Tongham, or higher than student accommodation, or other uses.  This again is an inconsistent policy which is likely to generate perverse incentives.

 

Rates for residential (Use Class C3) floorspace

Zone 5: Strategic sites

This is odd. Firstly no strategic sites have yet been agreed, because the local plan is not confirmed.  However, the strategic sites are shown on the map, as Blackwell Farm, Wisley Airfield and Gosden Hill Farm, as though they had been agreed – surely a clear case of predetermination, which we had thought was not permitted.

Second there seems a desire to spread dissension between the various campaigning groups, in that the tariff for the strategic sites is set higher than for other greenbelt areas.  It is important to note that the tariff is still lower than for urban areas and so still represents a significant incentive for developers to attack these sites rather than to focus on urban land.  This is not a good thing; and it should not be seen as desirable from the point of view of the strategic site residents either.  The lower tariffs for industrial and commercial use are likely to force such other, undesirable uses on to the strategic sites, encouraging housing into the general greenbelt – with the consequence of appalling urban sprawl and congestion throughout the borough.

 

Rates for purpose-built student residential (Use Class C3/C2/sui generis) floorspace?

It is not clear why the rates for building student residential floorspace are so much lower (£75/sq metre) than other residential use, irrespective of location. If that use were assumed to be on campus, that might seem acceptable and appropriate -but for the rate to be set at this level irrespective of where it is in the borough. This is inappropriate – we need incentive for student accommodation on campus, not incentives to build student accommodation instead of other residential accommodation.

 

Rates for assisted living / extra care floorspace?

No comment – this seems an appropriate form of development in all settlement areas and an incentive for this form of development is not inappropriate.

 

Rates for retail floorspace?

It is not at all clear why this is £200/sq metre, compared to building residential accommodation at £500/sq metre in the urban area. Retail floorspace, whether in or out of the town centre, is lower than any other usage. We do not have a screaming need for more retail, but we do need more housing. In fact, retail commentators have noted that retail operations will shrink in the next few years and less floorspace will be needed for this; why then do we need this perverse incentive?

 

Rates for all other liable uses?

At £0 /squ metre, this is the oddest of all.  Residential accommodation is to be subject to aggressive and punitive disincentive, especially in the town- but “all other uses” – which are not fully explored – are without any cost whatever.  This has to be inappropriate.

These uses include town centre and out of centre offices, industrial factories, warehouses, stores and budget hotels. It is not clear that this is something that the residents of Guildford want to be either imposed on the town centre or the rural areas.

 

Qu 2

Do you have any comments regarding Map 1 in the Preliminary Draft Charging Schedule (PDCS) for the charging zones for residential (Use Class C3) floorspace?

See the comments in relation to Qu 1 above.

It is not clear why the strategic sites are differentiated from existing greenbelt, since until a Local Plan is approved, these strategic sites cannot be so designated.  Until it has been agreed that there are exceptional circumstances which justify their removal from the Greenbelt, the sites of Blackwell Farm, Wisley Airfield and Gosden Hill Farm are all  Greenbelt land.

It is also noted that there is no differentiation whatever in relation to building on the AONB.

It is also not clear why Ash and Tongham are undifferentiated between the urban areas here and the residential greenfield areas, which should be at a substantially higher tariff. There should be a demarcation between settlement areas (which could have an urban tariff) and greenfield sites.

It is not clear why the urban area as a whole is marked as a very high tariff for residential use with incentives for retail, commercial and student accommodation only. First, the desire to expand the retail and commercial activities within Guildford is an aspiration of the current council, which has never been subject to any form of consultation. Second, the residential areas of the town will find themselves swamped with more and more large retail and commercial sites. Better, surely, to opt for medium density housing as proposed by GGG than ever larger centres like the Friary, the new North Street redevelopment, the Quadrant, Solum, etc.

Q3 Economic Viability

Local Plan countdown 3 Do you agree that the proposed rates would not threaten the economic viability of development across Guildford borough?

No. We do not agree with this statement.

The very high rate of CIL attached to urban residential development challenges its viability. We have been repeatedly told that the reason that urban residential development is not achievable – for example along Walnut Tree Close- is that it is not commercially viable. Now GBC is proposing to use inflated rates – among the ten highest CIL rates in the country – not to act as a disincentive for using greenfields or Greenbelt, but as a disincentive to use urban land for accommodation. This is to make clear the intentions of Guildford Borough Council and the current administration, which intends to have the town of Guildford as a commercial, industrial and retail hub, forcing all accommodation into the periphery and triggering urban sprawl. This is not growth but a recipe for congestion, stagnation, pollution and ultimately decay.

Q4 Draft 123 List
Local Plan countdown 4Do you have any comments on the infrastructure included in the infrastructure/ draft Regulation 123 list?

It is concerning that the largest component of the CIL contributions will be allocated to Suitable Alternative Natural Greenspace (“SANG”) and Thames Basin Heath Special Protection Area mitigation measures.  While SANG sounds superficially innocuous, what is implied is a designation of an area of existing green land, probably farm land, as Suitable Alternative Natural Greenspace (ignoring the fact that it was green space already, or it wouldn’t qualify), building a car park next to it, and then using this amount of land as a “mitigation measure” in order to allow building within an otherwise protected distance of the internationally protected Thames Basin Heath.  So this contribution will allow building on green space which is designated as important. This is an almost wholly undesirable measure.

The second  item on the 123 list relates to transport and infrastructure intervention, then other items are also covered. This is perhaps what most would expect CIL contributions to cover. It is of course important to ensure that the impact of the additional building (i.e. the costs of the associated infrastructure) will not outweigh the CIL tariff. GGG does not have the skills to appraise this fully, but it is important to ensure that the actual costs of infrastructure associated with new development are all covered in full by the contributions from the developer. Anything that imposes a cost burden on the existing community can be argued to be unsustainable.   This would include roads, water management including supply, drainage and flood risk, community facilities including education, health service and fire service. Unless these costs are fully met by new development, that development should not proceed because it is imposing a burden on existing communities, which outweighs any cash benefit that is given by CIL.  Why should communities, who are disadvantaged by additional congestion and problems with increased pollution and poorer services, also have to pay for the cost of the new services for the new housing, effectively cross subsidising developer profits?

Q5 Development Viability Study
Local Plan countdown 5Do you have any comments on the Development Viability Study, and in particular on the methodology and assumptions of the study?

GGG has not undertaken a detailed technical appraisal of the viability study. However, certain points are worthy of note.  These demonstrate that there is a considerable degree of pre-determination in the study; that the study is assuming that the superseded, withdrawn local plan will be implemented as put forward last summer, which cannot be a valid assumption; and it assumes that it is acceptable for existing residents to subsidise the cost of development.

Paragraph 2.4.4. notes

“The revised Regulation 14 requires that a charging authority “strike an appropriate [undefined] balance between:

a. The desirability of funding from CIL (in whole or in part) the .. cost of infrastructure required to support the development of its area.. and

b. The potential effects (taken as a whole) of the imposition of CIL on the economic viability of development across its area. ”

In other words, it is national policy (or at least GBC’s consultants assert so) that the existing residents should subsidise developers for wrecking their area. (As glossed by the subsequent paragraphs).

NOTE the clause, in this research commissioned after the local plan was put on hold, in 3.2.1:

“the average annual target for completions in the Local Plan will be around 650 dwellings per annum” – which, given that the SHMA is still in draft, the constraints have not been applied, and the local plan and brownfield land available have not been subject to the promised appraisal, looks remarkably like adherence to the predetermined trajectory.

On page 22 there is a reference to the implications of the draft local plan policies – not that these are the policies in the draft that has now been WITHDRAWN. However, there is reference to spatial development, rural exceptions homes etc.  The council’s own spatial development strategy, or at least promises in relation to this, have not been taken into account in the charging regime.

Q6 Instalments Policy
Local Plan countdown 6What is your opinion of Guildford Borough Council introducing an instalments policy as we suggest in paragraph 22 of the background document?

No comment

 

Q7 Draft Infrastructure Schedule
Local Plan countdown 7Do you have any comments on the infrastructure projects and their costings set out in the draft Infrastructure Schedule?

In relation to the proposed amendments to the gyratory system, and the road systems in central Guildford, it is vital that there is a much wider consultation system for the community as a whole.  It is premature to propose infrastructure projects, much less to put forward costings, without consideration of what is desirable for the borough.  Why are projects being put forward that would facilitate the development of strategic sites before those sites are approved?  Why is there no proper consideration of the cost of the huge population uplift and its impact on the population as a whole? It is unacceptable to mark costs such as “new primary school” or “GPs surgery” as “TBD” (presumably “to be determined”) with the allocation of the cost as “developer contributions”. It is important, before any projects are approved, to determine whether those projects are sustainable from the viewpoint of the existing residents, and to ensure that they are not unduly burdened with the incremental associated costs.  If the developer will not be bearing the full cost of the incremental requirements, which seems likely in most cases from the context of the report, it must be questioned whether those projects can be deemed to be viable not from the viewpoint of the developer but from the viewpoint of the community -and so they should be subject to fundamental challenge.

As an aside, the borough has a habit of recruiting key chosen representatives who are deemed to represent the community as a whole, notably the Guildford Society (GSoc) and the Guildford Vision Group (GVG). It should be noted that neither of these entities has any form of democratic mandate, and that GVG in particular is a strictly limited group of self appointed experts; there is no general acceptance within the borough that they are suitable experts for consultation.  It is noted that a meeting was convened on 16 February involving the GSoc Chairman, Anne Milton MP, Penny Mordaunt MP, Chris Mansfield (head of development), Stephen Mansbridge (leader of the council) and Sue Sturgeon (managing director) to discuss proposed changes to the town’s infrastructure. Such a meeting cannot discuss the best infrastructure for the town and the borough without a wider consultation on what the best infrastructure should be.

Q8 Any other comments
Local Plan countdown 8Please let us know of any further comments you have on our CIL proposals or any of the supporting documents.

The CIL proposals need to be based on a current local plan document, but the local plan on which they have been based has already been withdrawn as unsound and based on inadequate evidence. There is an undertaking to review that local plan and all component elements of the evidence base in order to consider its direction.  These CIL proposals have not taken that undertaking in relation to fundamental redirection into account, and so are not in themselves fully supported.

The fundamental requirements in assessing CIL should be to:

1. ensure that the existing communities will not bear the incremental burden of cost associated with development

2. provide an incentive to use brownfield land for the required housing need.

It is not necessary to provide an incentive for economic growth in an area which is already thriving and economically vibrant, and certainly there is no reason for the local community to subsidise the provision of budget hotels or out of town offices or warehouses on precious agricultural or wild land.

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