Call for a referendum on Local Governance

Guildford Greenbelt Group (GGG) Press announcement 13 June 2014

RESTORING DEMOCRACY

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.

BACKGROUND

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

 

-ends-

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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

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.

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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.”

 

GGG open letter to councillors dated 25.4.2014

Dear Cllr Juneja

 

Thank you very much for your lengthy and considered response, which is appreciated.

 

Since our original letter was an open letter to councillors, and you have copied your reply to all councillors and MPs, this reply is also an open letter.

 

GGG has a few remarks:

 

Housing need

 

GGG notes your comment below “We are therefore bound, by the NPPF, to meet in full our objectively assessed housing needs.”  You may wish to reconsider this statement – we believe that it is misleading.

 

Paragraph 14 of the NPPF ( https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/6077/2116950.pdf ) states of course that:

 

At the heart of the National Planning Policy Framework is a presumption in favour of sustainable development…

 

For plan-making this means that:

 

  • local planning authorities should positively seek opportunities to meet the development needs of their area
  • local Plans should meet objectively assessed needs, with sufficient flexibility to adapt to rapid change, unless:

o   any adverse impacts of doing so would significantly and demonstrably outweigh the benefits, when assessed against the policies in this Framework taken as a whole; or

o   specific policies in this Framework indicate development should be restricted.

As clarified by Nick Boles in both his recent letters to Planning Inspectors (both the first included by us and the reply to inspectors included in your email below), misinterpretation of Government policy in the context of the NPPF is to be avoided.  As set out in the NPPF, there is no requirement to meet objectively assessed housing needs in full. And, as Nick Boles made clear in his original letter to the PINS, and did not retract,

 

The special role of Green Belt is also recognised in the framing of the presumption in favour of sustainable development, which sets out that authorities should meet objectively assessed needs unless specific policies in the Framework indicate development should be restricted. Crucially, Green Belt is identified as one such policy”.

 

In other words, there is no requirement to meet objectively assessed housing needs in full.  

 

Green Belt is a constraint on sustainable development under the NPPF.

 

This has been supported by recent Planning Enquiries, Secretary of State’s decisions, and recent case law.

 

SHLAA (Strategic Housing Land Availability Assessment) – brownfield study still required

 

GGG notes that the SHLAA does not consider primarily brownfield sites but considers all developable land in the borough, including greenfield sites. It was not a brownfield site review; this has not been done.

 

The SHLAA was accompanied by the GreenBelt and Countryside Study that looked at the potential for utilising greenbelt and countryside land for development.

 

GGG  appreciates that this was a historic planning requirement but the resulting study is flawed, and has been heavily criticised by councillors, who voted for a reappraisal of the evidence base.   The requirement for a GBCS is no longer in place per guidance to PINs (although this is a recent development).   The resulting report does seem to have been welcomed with disproportionate enthusiasm, and its flaws and errors are still not being corrected. It was clear from the Forum that Pegasus have not been asked to review or revise their work, and the supposed public involvement in the reappraisal of the evidence base, particularly the Green Belt and Countryside Study, has not taken place.

 

This is ironic, especially given that the last election was won on the basis of strong protection for the Green Belt (see the Conservative manifesto which gave the key pledge of “Continue to protect the Green Belt” and which stated “Following the successful defeat of the South East Plan by Guildford Borough Council and Guildford residents, we will continue to fight to preserve the character of our town and villages. To preserve gardens and the Green Belt we will continue to work on finding brownfield sites that can support housing instead. Our main site is around Slyfield”).

 

GGG has proposed an equivalent investigative study of brownfield land, in order to identify prospective plots.  Indeed, this would seem to have been an implied manifesto commitment.  Given that the GBCS involved consultants over several years in order to identify possible greenfield plots, this does not seem unreasonable.

 

Even without such a study, GGG considers that revision of the SHLAA is required.  Brownfield sites can be utilised at varying densities, and planning controls can be used to ensure that densities are set to utilise brownfield sites efficiently. This has not yet been done in Guildford, and there have been a number of planning consents (eg the Aldi site in Burpham) where there was considerable opportunity to use those brownfield sites for high quality, reasonably high density housing in keeping with the locality, which have been used for other purposes. Planning controls could have required underground car parking and flats above the car park, for example, or use of the site exclusively for housing.

 

It is notable within the SHLAA that the proposed densities vary very widely. Some (extremely small) sites are at high densities of the kind that is typical in urban areas. (As has been noted, Notting Hill with its Georgian squares is at 200 dph). There are one or two high density urban sites in the proposals, but these are all small.   Conversely, the largest brownfield sites most suitable for urban development are often at very low densities indeed (Slyfield (25dph), Walnut Tree Close, and Merrow Depot – both 11 dph). This distorts the overall perception of required land.

 

GGG would agree that it is always appropriate to consider the location when considering the density. Urban densities are typically higher; and GGG would support generally lower density in a rural context. However, it does not seem appropriate to reduce densities on very large sites and this has the impact of increasing apparent need for greenfield land.  Underuse of key brownfield sites has a major impact on the requirement for greenfield sites, and this is critical in the planning decision process. It is not acceptable to force development on to greenfield sites because the brownfield sites have not been utilised intelligently.

 

The extraction of data from the SHLAA to inform the Issues and Options consultation chose to exclude a considerable number of brownfield sites that had been identified in the SHLAA, on the basis that these were “reserved” for commercial development.  This is both contrary to the policies of NPPF and more specifically the M3 LEP, and is not advantageous to the borough as a whole.  Arguably it will also imperil the Council’s planned investment strategy which we understand involves substantial investment in commercial property; an “overhang” in this area will reduce the value of the Council’s investments.

 

The SHLAA also identifies a very considerable number of small housing sites which were not included in the Issues and Options consultation at all.  While each site may be small, in aggregate these sites represent a significant area of brownfield land not included in the  Issues and Options consultation. GGG considers that they should therefore be taken into account in the proposals (the SHLAA identifies small urban or settlement sites which may give rise to housing in excess of 450 dwellings at the proposed densities not including any garden development).  These have been excluded from the Issues and Options consultation and this should be corrected.  The fact that such sites will not trigger a new homes bonus because the sites are small does not mean that they do not exist; and they should count towards the available land totals.

 

As previously noted, there is also a requirement to include existing planning permissions as an offset against the actual net housing requirement, and this will have an impact on the requirement for land.

 

The Issues and Options sites should be utilised at reasonable brownfield densities, and the omitted brownfield sites should also be taken into account.  On this basis, even with the highly inflated and (as previously noted) inaccurate SHMA (Strategic Housing Market Assessment) numbers, there is almost no justification for use of green field sites, and as noted by Nick Boles, Green Belt does represent a real planning constraint in terms of restricting development.

 

Brownfield sites and CILs

 

Thank you for the clarification in relation to brownfield sites.  We don’t think that GGG was suggesting that these charges were nil. It is clear from the revised guidance that it is possible to vary these charges as an incentive for brownfield site development.  While we would agree that  it is indeed within the discretion of local councils to set the infrastructure levy, it is not acceptable to set this at a level that will discourage brownfield development, but there is an onus on local government to set the level to optimise and maximise brownfield development, as you helpfully note below: “Particular consideration should also be given to Local Plan policies on planning obligations, design, density and infrastructure investment, as well as in setting the Community Infrastructure Levy, to promote the viability of brownfield sites across the local area.” 

 

GGG concludes that while you can set this levy at your discretion, you are required to do so to promote brownfield development, not restrict it, and there is a obligation to utilise such brownfield land first.

 

Localism

 

While recognising that Localism is difficult to implement in practice, GGG notes that the Parliamentary statement by Nick Boles, covering the new NPPG (National Planning Policy Guidance), stated:  We are also committed to ensuring that countryside and environmental protections continue to be safeguarded, and devolving power down not just to local councils, but also down to neighbourhoods and local residents

 

As a result we would hope that councillors would all recognise their obligation to consult, formally or informally, with groups which represent parishes, neighbourhoods and community associations, such as GGG.

 

Budget initiative

 

The 2014 Budget Red Book includes various measures to support use of brownfield land.  Clause 1.75  states

“The government’s.. Land and Property review has..identified scope to generate £5 billiion of receipts from land and property. A significant amount of this will be brownfield land”

 

There are incentives and reduced planning constraints for conversion of existing commercial units to residential use but not the converse (Clause 1.147 Red Book).   It should also be noted that areas where infrastructure is to be provided for growth (and the areas where growth has been considered desirable in the national interest) are the HS2 corridor, Greater Cambridge and Wales.  Government policy does not seem to consider excessive further growth in the overheated South East to be a desirable planning focus.

 

Discussion

 

We would welcome the opportunity to discuss this further with you or with any other councillors that wish to discuss anything with GGG.

  • Representatives of GGG would be happy to meet you, and as previously indicated would be willing to do so at a time that you propose; please let us know when you suggest
  • GGG believe that it may be appropriate to have a formal meeting discussing the limitations of the SHMA, and as previously noted would welcome a detailed working meeting on this topic with GL Hearn and other representative groups.  GRA have also indicated that they would be willing to participate in such a workshop.
  • As noted formally, GGG considers that the Forum to review the evidence base conducted by the council  was of little use, and suggest public representation in the Scrutiny Committees as was approved by the full Council voting for the amendment in the recent petition debate (for full public involvement in the Scrutiny Committees in the reappraisal of the evidence base).
  • GGG would welcome the opportunity to meet with Allies and Morrison as part of the proposed public discussion of the requirements for their review.  Clearly the review of the town and town centre are fundamental to the Local plan, and it is hard to see how it is possible to prepare a revised draft of the local plan until the town centre review has been completed; and, as for the SHMA, it seems appropriate (arguably a requirement) to consult with local representative groups as part of the setting of the parameters for such analysis
  • GGG would welcome a detailed public consultation on the pro-growth agenda that seems to be underlying much of the Local Plan philosophy.

 

With best regards

 

Guildford Greenbelt Group

 

 

GGG open letter to councillors dated 4 April 2014

Dear Councillor

I feel I need to write to express my view on some specific advice you were given by the planning department yesterday evening, since I was not permitted to express this view in the council chamber.

St Albans

It was stated yesterday evening that the St Albans (Hunston) decision only relates to a specific planning decision.

This is correct, but its interpretation of the law relates also to local plans. So that you can read the Appeal Court decision in full and form your own view, I am sending this to you again.

See in particular paragraph 6 (my highlighting):

“6. There is no doubt, that in proceeding their local plans, local planning authorities are required to ensure that the “full objectively assessed needs” for housing are to be met, “as far as is consistent with the policies set out in this Framework”. Those policies include the protection of Green Belt land. Indeed, a whole section of the Framework, Section 9, is devoted to that topic, a section which begins by saying “The Government attaches great importance to Green Belts”: Paragraph 79. The Framework seems to envisage some review in detail of Green Belt boundaries through the new Local Plan process, but states that “the general extent of Green Belts across the country is already established.” It seems clear, and is not in dispute in this appeal, that such a Local Plan could properly fall short of meeting the “full objectively assessed needs” for housing in its area because of the conflict which would otherwise arise with policies on the Green Belt or indeed on other designations hostile to development, such as those on Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty or National Parks. What is likely to be significant in the preparation of this Local Plan for the district of St Albans is that virtually all the undeveloped land in the district outside the built up areas forms part of the Metropolitan Green Belt.”

Further I would note that paragraphs 27-33 are relevant, especially paragraph 29, which notes that the objectively assessed housing need is what should be considered, but that this should be considered in the context of the geographical area:

“29. But there may be other factors as well. One of those is the planning context in which that shortfall is to be seen. The context may be that the district in question is subject on a considerable scale to policies protecting much or most of the undeveloped land from development except in exceptional or very special circumstances, whether because such land is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, National Park or Green Belt. If that is the case, then it may be wholly unsurprising that there is not a five year supply of housing land when measured simply against the unvarnished figures of household projections. A decision-maker would then be entitled to conclude, if such were the planning judgment, that some degree of shortfall in housing land supply, as measured simply by household formation rates, was inevitable. That may well affect the weight to be attached to the shortfall.”

As a result I think that the assertion made by Carol Humphrey (Head of Planning Services) that St Albans has no relevance in the context of the Local Plan is not correct. Furthermore I think that recent case law and recent Secretary of State decisions demonstrate that the shortfall in housing supply does not provide a sufficient justification to override the protection of the Green Belt not only in relation to specific planning appeals, but also in relation to any review of boundaries too.

Nick Boles letters

It was stated this evening by Carol Humphrey that the most important letter from Nick Boles was that on 13 March. It was implied that in some way this undermined any advice given in the first letter (which I have sent to you previously, which states “the Framework makes clear that a Green Belt boundary may be altered only in exceptional circumstances” ). You have all been sent all three letters, but I am sending the two letters from Nick Boles to you again. The first letter was clear advice specifically given to planning inspectors. The letter from planning inspectors queried this, and then Nick Boles stated that the advice given was a clarification of existing rulings. You wouldn’t expect a politician to admit to a U-turn in writing, I presume?

Nothing in the second letter undermines the clarification in the first. The first letter states that Green Belt is a policy that indicates development should be restricted. To quote again:

“local authorities should meet objectively assessed needs unless specific policies in the Framework indicate development should be restricted. Crucially, Green Belt is identified as one such policy”

As noted in my open letter to you, this is a word for word quotation from paragraph 14 of the NPPF. So Nick Boles is right, it is clarification not change. The second letter from Nick Boles confirms that the NPPG “provides useful clarity on the practical application of policy. It should provide helpful support for Inspectors and should not normally be considered a reason for extending examinations.” I don’t see that this is a withdrawal of the original advice. He is stating that it isn’t the policy but the Inspectors’ interpretation of that policy that has been wrong. The fact that Nick Boles is suggesting that the rules were always as they are now doesn’t mean that his guidance on the current rules should be ignored.

The extremely clear statement about the Green Belt in these letters are that Green Belt is a policy which restricts development – and, as Nick Boles rightly notes, that policy is stated in the NPPF. You should be entitled to rely on this guidance from the Secretary of State, which he put out as an open letter with a view to its influencing local plans and the inspection process.

With kind regards

Susan Parker

GGG open letter to councillors 12 March 2014

Guildford Greenbelt Group

12 March 2014
Dear Councillor

Planning issues

GGG has been criticised publicly for not discussing matters with Councillors. We welcome any opportunity to do so. The formal debates that have arisen in the context of petitions have not allowed exploration of many points of detail.

As a preliminary, we feel it may be helpful to prepare a digest of some recent cases and statements to send to you in an open letter. We feel these are material in the context of the Local Plan. We would be pleased to meet any councillors to discuss local concerns in some detail, in an informal discussion; please let us know if you would be willing to meet us.

We would note that we have also proposed having a detailed working meeting on the SHMA (Strategic Housing Market Assessment) which is currently being revised. GRA (Guildford Residents’ Association) have agreed to join with us in proposing a combined meeting in order to meet the Council’s undertaking for full public involvement in that reappraisal. We have asked Cllr Mansbridge to hold such a meeting , involving the SHMA consultants GL Hearn, together with such members of the executive committee as Cllr Mansbridge feels appropriate.

Some of the key recent developments are:

NPPG

The National Planning Policy Guidance has been recently revised (on 6 March 2014). The weblink, if you wish to read this guidance in full, is here: http://planningguidance.planningportal.gov.uk

The changes include lower CIL charges for developers of brownfield sites as an incentive to build on brownfield land. The covering Parliamentary statement written by Nick Boles notes:

The Coalition Government is committed to reforming the planning system to make it simpler, clearer and easier for people to use, allowing local communities to shape where development should and should not go. Planning should not be the exclusive preserve of lawyers, developers or town hall officials.
We are also committed to ensuring that countryside and environmental protections continue to be safeguarded, and devolving power down not just to local councils, but also down to neighbourhoods and local residents.

The new guidance also includes scope to block potential development of greenfield sites if the infrastructure is insufficient, including sewage outflows.

The comments in the parliamentary debate by Greg Clark giving the definition of sustainability are also useful:

“We followed the suggestion of the Communities and Local Government Committee and used the classic Brundtland definition, which is about protecting the ability of future generations to enjoy the benefits that the present generation enjoys. We have also included the five principles of the UK’s sustainable development strategy. In practice, the policies outlined in the national planning policy framework will determine, in each case, what is and is not sustainable. For example, it is not sustainable to have a shopping development outside the town centre and it is not sustainable to build in the green belt.”
Saltford Decision

This decision was a decision called in by the Secretary of State in relation to an appeal by Crest Nicholson (who you may know are partners on the M3LEP (the Local Enterprise Partnership covering Surrey and Hampshire) Land and Property Group and developers of a large site in Waverley), advised by Pegasus (who of course prepared GBC’s Green Belt and Countryside Study). Crest Nicholson’s appeal was rejected.
See the letter sent by the Secretary of State on 4 March 2014 in relation to this:
https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/286967/14-03-04_3-in-1_Manor_Road_Saltford_2195351.pdf
The Secretary of State considered that a site of 99 houses in the Green Belt adjacent to a settlement was a significant development within the Green Belt and so was calling in this policy.
Note that Bath and NE Somerset has an inadequate land supply and does not have a 5 year supply of housing land.

Whitchurch decision

This decision (5 March 2014) was recovered for the Secretary of State’s determination because it involved proposals for significant development (295 houses) in the Green Belt, which was re-considered on the basis that the proposal was reduced to 200 houses. This letter was also addressed to Pegasus (see above). The written Ministerial Statement on the Green Belt of 17 January 2014 is a material planning consideration in this regard. There is no 5 year housing supply, there is significant and acknowledged shortfall in the 5 year supply, and the local plan is not yet finalised, with housing policies not yet up to date. This appeal was rejected, and planning permission refused, because of the substantial harm to the openness of the Green Belt, the visual harm to the Green Belt, and harm to the character and appearance of the area.
See
https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/287070/14-03-05_3-in-1_Stockwood_Lane_Whitchurch_2199958.pdf

Natural England letter re Thames Basin Heath Special Protection Area

Natural England have noted general objections to developments in the TBHSPA.
A letter is attached in full as Appendix 2. This notes the obligation to protect the habitats of the nightjar, Dartford warbler and woodlark in the TBHSPA. This covers much of the northern part of the borough from Ash to Effingham.

Letter from Nick Boles to Planning Inspectorate

In addition to the revision of the NPPG, Nick Boles has written a letter (3 March 2014) to the Head of the Planning Inspectorate (attached in full as Appendix 1). This notes that protections for the Green Belt remain in force through the NPPF. In particular, it states:
“The Framework makes it clear that a Green Belt boundary may be altered only in exceptional circumstances and reiterates the importance and permanence of the Green Belt. The special role of Green Belt is also recognised in the framing of the presumption in favour of sustainable development, which sets out that authorities should meet objectively assessed needs unless specific policies in the Framework indicate development should be restricted. Crucially, Green Belt is identified as one such policy”.

St Albans case: Hunston Developments

The Discussion, especially paragraphs 26 and onwards, is of particular relevance. As you will note, St Albans had a very out of date plan and no five year housing supply; therefore the developer contended that the green belt provisions could be set aside to justify building. The Court of Appeal has revised the High Court decision and determined (to quote):

28. The crucial question for an inspector in such a case is not: is there a shortfall in housing land supply? It is: have very special circumstances been demonstrated to outweigh the Green Belt objection? As Mr Stinchcombe recognised in the course of the hearing, such circumstances are not automatically demonstrated simply because there is a less than a five year supply of housing land. The judge in the court below acknowledged as much at paragraph 30 of his judgment. Self-evidently, one of the considerations to be reflected in the decision on “very special circumstances” is likely to be the scale of the shortfall.
29. But there may be other factors as well. One of those is the planning context in which that shortfall is to be seen. The context may be that the district in question is subject on a considerable scale to policies protecting much or most of the undeveloped land from development except in exceptional or very special circumstances, whether because such land is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, National Park or Green Belt. If that is the case, then it may be wholly unsurprising that there is not a five year supply of housing land when measured simply against the unvarnished figures of household projections. A decision-maker would then be entitled to conclude, if such were the planning judgment, that some degree of shortfall in housing land supply, as measured simply by household formation rates, was inevitable. That may well affect the weight to be attached to the shortfall.
30. I therefore reject Mr Stinchcombe’s submission that it is impossible for an inspector to take into account the fact that such broader, district-wide constraints exist. The Green Belt may come into play both in that broader context and in the site specific context where it is the trigger for the requirement that very special circumstances be shown. This is not circular, nor is it double-counting, but rather a reflection of the fact that in a case like the present it is not only the appeal site which has a Green Belt designation but the great bulk of the undeveloped land in the district outside the built-up areas. This is an approach which takes proper account of the need to read the Framework as a whole and indeed to read paragraph 47 as a whole. It would, in my judgment, be irrational to say that one took account of the constraints embodied in the polices in the Framework, such as Green Belt, when preparing the local plan, as paragraph 47(1) clearly intends, and yet to require a decision-maker to close his or her eyes to the existence of those constraints when making a development control decision. They are clearly relevant planning considerations in both exercises.
Hunston cannot appeal since they technically won the case, which has been referred back to the PINs with the specific guidance that they must decide the case on the basis of the law as defined in this case. The law may be subsequently varied, but only by primary legislation, a subsequent Court of Appeal judgment, or a Supreme Court judgement.

Conclusion

Our view is that, taken in conjunction, there is much protection for the Green Belt which should be recognised in the Local Plan. We think the Council should not plan on building on Green Belt areas to meet housing need, and that to plan to build most new housing on the Green Belt is in contravention of planning guidance. The requirement to utilise brownfield land for housing, and to utilise it efficiently, has recently increased. We think this must become a material consideration in the context of how this resource is viewed and how the Local Plan is applied.

It perhaps seems time for GBC to consider formalising a brownfield site review along the lines of the Green Belt and Countryside Study previously undertaken, to be undertaken in conjunction with the progress of the Local Plan. GBC has spent much of our money in funding a Green Belt study; and has just reacted to this proposal by suggesting that it is our (GGG’s) responsibility to suggest brownfield sites. This is not the responsibility of the public or its representative groups, but the duty of the Council acting for its electorate. It is the legal responsibility of the Council, under NPPG, furthermore, to consult with the public in relation to matters of policy, such as the priority to be allocated to brownfield land in relation to development.

Yours faithfully,

Guildford Greenbelt Group

Appendix 1

Letter from Nick Boles to the Planning Inspectorate 3 March 2014

Appendix 2

Letter from Natural England re Thames Basin Heath SPA