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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Master Vision for Guildford

The Master Vision document – commissioned from planners Allies & Morrison – has now been published and you can read it here:

http://www.guildford.gov.uk/media/17154/Item-7—Guildford-Town-Centre-Vision-2014/pdf/Guildford_Town_Centre_Vision_2014.pdf

This sets out a number of issues including proposing housing in the Walnut Tree Close area, protecting the green surroundings of the town, and some issues concerning road traffic, the planning of the Gyratory in Guildford Town Centre etc.

The vision for increased residential housing on brownfield in the town centre is excellent and warmly welcomed.  This document was approved as a draft by the Scrutiny Committee on Wednesday 11 June, so this document will go to consultation to be included within the Local Plan, and it is of course possible to comment on this separately too.

There were 7 public speakers at the Scrutiny Committee.  All but one thought that the Walnut Tree Close area should be used for primarily residential development and was a potentially very sustainable site for medium density housing, which could present a very exciting opportunity for  Guildford both as a town (more cohesive, less poor quality land in the centre of town) and as a borough (the potential use of previously developed land in the town centre could allow protection of the Green Belt).  Even the spokesman for the business community, who wanted office usage near the station, agreed that it was a poor site for industrial units and that there should be HGVs going along Walnut Tree Close, and that those existing industrial units could constructively be moved. So the public response was unanimous in agreeing that industrial units should be moved from Walnut Tree Close.

 

 

Full steam ahead

Last night (4/6/14) the Executive Committee at Guildford Borough Council voted unanimously  to approve the draft Local Plan.

The draft local plan still contains the housing number of 652 homes per annum, which, backdated to 2011 (why?) gives a total until 2031 of 13040 homes to be built – which represents approximately one quarter of the existing number of homes in the borough.

It seems that the Scrutiny Committee requirement to revise the housing number has been disregarded.  At the Executive Committee, Cllr Phillips, who proposed that revision as a recommendation, said:  “I was pleased that the joint Scrutiny Committee accepted my suggestion… to have another look at the housing numbers. We have in here in Appendix A the detail of how you arrive at the housing numbers and [that].. a meeting has been arranged..between the lead councillor, the head of planning services, the managing director.. [etc] and members of the policy team and appointed advisers such as GL Hearn and Edge Analytics to review the housing numbers. It was hoped that we would have an answer by today. Can you tell me, has this happened? Have you looked at this yet? If you have, what is the housing number and has it reduced as we were hoping it would be?”. It was confirmed that the meeting had not yet taken place,. Cllr Juneja, the lead member for planning, noted that the number had not been reduced at present but would be “challenged” by the Executive.

A private meeting was held on 6 June 2014 to review the housing number.  Anne Milton MP arranged for some of her constituents to meet with GL Hearn, the consultants who prepared the report; but those who are not Mrs Milton’s constituents were not been invited to that meeting.  (Mrs Milton seems not to have realised that the parliamentary constituency of Guildford, and the borough of Guildford, have different boundaries, and other MPs’ constituents are not included in that consultation.)

The numbers may change – but they will not change before the draft that goes to public consultation. And, at a guess, substantive change may be unlikely thereafter.

We were also told  at the Executive  Committee meeting by Cllr Mansbridge and others that:

  • electrification of the North Downs line is possible (or maybe probable)
  • brownfield land is being considered, and that there will be a parallel document to consider the brownfield land “by the river” (this may be the Walnut Tree Close area, or perhaps Slyfield) as a master vision document, to be consulted on possibly in parallel with the Local Plan
  • there may be prospects from the Highways Agency for new and improved roads (location unspecified – and actually that doesn’t excite me at all; roadbuilding is not an enticing prospect)

You can view the webcast of the meeting here:

http://www.guildford.public-i.tv/core/portal/webcast_interactive/137661

Executive Committee agenda for 4 June 2014

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

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

This is the page with the agenda and supporting documents:

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

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

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

with the Appendix A which is referred to:

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

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

Housing numbers are too high

Key Local Groups Combine on

New Homes Target for Guildford

 

For Immediate Release: Wednesday 7 May 2014

 

Eight key local groups have come together to agree a target new homes figure of 300-345 per year for the life of the new Guildford Local Plan. The groups are The Guildford Society, Guildford Vision Group, Guildford Residents’ Association, East Guildford Residents’ Association, Save Hogs Back, Guildford Greenbelt Group and CPRE Surrey.

Publication of the first consultation Draft of the Local Plan is expected today. Once approved, the Plan will shape the future development of the borough and determine the new annual housing target for the next 20 years.

The arguments used by the group to arrive at a proposed 300-345 housing target for the Local Plan are based on the rationale of the National Planning Policy Framework & Practice Guidance. Please see attached reasoning.

The groups all agree it is important to take account of Guildford’s unique combination of characteristics to ensure the evidence properly assesses housing need for the Borough.

  • Guildford is a highly interconnected town which is not only influenced by London but also has its own high value economy and a student population.
  • Guildford is also a special case due to its topography as a gap town complete with converging road, rail and river routes, the surrounding Green Belt and the plethora of special designations such as ‘Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty’ and ‘Special Protection Area’.

Says Bill Stokoe, chair of The Guildford Society: “The group considers that, although it would be challenging to identify sufficient land to accommodate 300-345 homes a year, a target in this range would allow us to meet the social and economic obligations of the Borough without harming the value of our countryside and built environment. Debate could focus how to accommodate new development with minimal harm to character and how to open up opportunities for positive change.”

Ends

 

Housing Provision in Guildford Borough

 

The Guildford Society, Guildford Vision Group, East Guildford Residents’ Association, Guildford Residents’ Association, Guildford Green Belt Group, Save Hogs Back and CPRE Surrey all agree that a housing target in the region of 300-345 homes a year is the maximum appropriate for Guildford. This is based on an assessment that the Strategic Housing Market Assessment (SHMA) figure should be in the order of 450 a year and that once constraints are taken into account, an annual figure of 300-345, although hard to deliver within the constraints, could be achieved over the life of the plan until 2031.

 

Housing Need Assessment

All groups have previously submitted reasoned responses on housing need. We consider that once the inflationary distortions have been removed from the draft SHMA, the figure should be in the order of 450. Corrections required include basing general forward projections on a more representative historical 10 year period, projecting realistic student growth not based on a one off increase, disaggregating the student population from forward housing demand and from net international migration, reflecting increased birth rate in household size, and removal of the biased, one way application of the duty to cooperate.

 

Demographic/ Migration Drivers

Guildford Borough Council’s report “How Many New Homes” identifies that “International migration is estimated to have had the most significant impact upon population in recent years”. Edge Analytics (July 2013 report) advise that “Adopting long term growth assumptions for Guildford Borough based on uncertain estimates of international migration is not recommended, particularly given the evidence suggested by the 10 year migration history, with a lower annual net impact evident.”

 

The Guildford Society has carried out a high-level analysis of the Communities and Local Government/ Office for National Statistics (ONS) household projections to demonstrate that they over-estimate the number of new homes required. This analysis shows that the projected need for homes is c. 500 per year. However, there are also further questions over the ONS data that need professional demographic analysis to resolve, but which point to a lower need per year. For example, ONS overcrowding data has been updated showing the suppressed household formation is not as bad in Guilford as expected, migration projections based off 5-years cause the recent increase in overseas students to be projected forward contrary to the University’s expectations, etc.

 

Similarly, the Guildford Residents’ Association and Guildford Greenbelt Group show that excluding the effect of student population change completely results in a more accurate prediction of the true needs of the Borough. The migration-led ten year figure of 470 homes per annum is considered a much more robust starting point for the analysis, as it is relatively less affected by the isolated high-growth in student numbers from 2008-11. A proper and robust analysis of demographic drivers is expected to reduce the true need from the “raw” starting point of 470 to a figure around 400.

 

Economic Growth and Employment

The Guildford Society response to the Draft SHMA takes account of employment growth and shows the need arising from employment to be 463 homes. Given the constraints, we consider the Local Plan needs to improve Guildford’s transportation hubs to ensure in-commuters can easily access places of employment so as to ensure that the economy is not restricted by the housing constraints.

 

 

Affordable Housing Need

Care needs to be taken in translating a register of demand for affordable homes into an annual need figure. The Save Hogs Back Campaign contend that affordable need is accommodated within the overall figures we propose. Using data from the 2014 draft SHMA, it can be shown that the affordable need is between 170 and 257 pa. This is based on GBC’s current assumptions that 35% of income is the maximum that can be spent on housing and that the maximum affordable rental should be 70% of the market value, and also assumes that GBC will continue to make use of the private rented sector.

 

Methodology, Assumptions and Sensitivity Testing

Local circumstances can lead a Local Authority to adopt a methodology that is appropriate to its area and to undertake sensitivity testing of assumptions based on the underlying demographic projections. The National Planning Practice Guidance recognises preparing a SHMA to assess housing needs is “not an exact science” and the House of Commons Library has made clear that the “Government does not want to lay down in detail the method of calculating housing need”, except that this must be based upon evidence.

 

Given Guildford’s unique combination of characteristics (a highly interconnected town with its own high value economy, student population and proximity to London) it is reasonable for GBC to ensure evidence properly assesses housing need for Guildford Borough rather than rigidly following one standard methodology. GBC should use the provisions in the NPPG to ensure the methodology and assumptions in the need assessment are appropriate for Guildford as well as being robust.

 

Taking the different approaches together, the groups agree that a SHMA properly reflecting Guildford Borough is in the region of 450 per year.

 

Built Housing Targets

GBC does not need to make any adjustment for historic under performance. As noted by GL Hearn (p27 paragraph 2.44), housing delivery totalled 3187 homes in the Borough compared to planned housing provision of 3180 homes. In the period preceding the demographic projections in this report (which start from 2011) there was thus no shortfall in housing provision.

 

Clearly the significant constraints in the Borough need to be taken into account when determining the target for homes to be completed per year. These constraints are well known and include:

  • National landscape designations such as AONB and potential AONB
  • International and national biodiversity protection including the Thames Basin Heaths SPA, SACs, National Nature Reserves, SSSIs,
  • Ancient woodland and Sites of Nature Conservation Importance
  • Ancient monuments, National Trust properties, historic gardens and other archaeological sites and built heritage of importance (eg Conservation Areas)
  • Metropolitan Green Belt
  • Topography of a gap town with a river, rail and roads running through it
  • Floodplain, waterways, Wey Navigation & protection of aquifer water sources
  • Ministry of Defence Land
  • Registered commons
  • Provision for critical infrastructure (water supply, power, sanitation, waste) including safeguarded sites
  • Strategic agricultural land for farming

 

Once these constraints are overlaid, this reduces the ability to fulfil unconstrained identified need to the region of 300-345. In reality, it will be a challenge to identify sufficient land to meet this annual target. However, we believe a figure in the order of 300 can be met and potentially exceeded periodically with a visionary and creative partnership between the Council, other authorities and other partners. This will allow us to meet the social and economic obligations of the Borough without harming the value of our countryside and built environment.

 

Comparison with other authorities

Whilst not a formal step in the Local Plan process, it is well worth comparing Guildford’s targets with those of other neighbouring authorities. Those with agreed targets include:

Epsom 181

Tandridge 125

Spelthorne 166

Mole Valley 188

Surrey Heath 190

Rushmoor 374 (includes a major brownfield opportunity)

Elmbridge 225

Woking 292

This benchmarking demonstrates that a target for GBC of 300-345 is in line with other neighbouring authorities and demonstrates to the public that Guildford is delivering its “fair share” of housing.

 

April 2014