Eagle Radio interview with Stephen Mansbridge and comment from Anne Milton MP

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7:42am 24th September 2014
(Updated 12:02pm 24th September 2014)

Leader of Guildford Borough Council, Stephen Mansbridge, has revealed on the Eagle Radio Peter Gordon Breakfast Show this morning, that there is to be a big delay to Guildford’s controversial Draft Local Plan.

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The document, which suggests building on the Greenbelt, has been out for consultation for 12 weeks.

Now the council says it needs more time to go through the thousands of responses.

However, leader of the council, Stephen Mansbridge has told Eagle Radio, it’s going to cost taxpayers up to £500,000.

That is on top of the £1.5 million it has already cost.

Councillor Mansbridge says the money is worth it in the long run: “If we steamed through with a plan that was destined to failure, we would waste £1.5 million and have to start again from scratch and spend another £1.5 million.”

“So I would prefer to spend a little bit more on this plan and get it right.”

Before the delay, the next draft of the document was due to be released in March.

There is now no set date on this new document, but Councillor Mansbridge has said it will definitely be after the elections in May next year.

Councillor Mansbridge said: “We’re hearing what you’re saying, we’re listening to the communities and we are understanding that you have got some deep, deep concerns about a number of issues.”

“The key headline issue is concerns about infrastructure.”

It is yet another twist in the story of the Local Plan, which has faced stiff opposition throughout.

Yesterday Eagle told you there was confusion over the time the 12 week consultation into the draft ended on Monday (22nd September).

The council website said the consultation ended at midnight but when people were emailing comments after 5pm they were getting replies saying they had missed the deadline.

After complaints from campaigners the consultation period has now been extended until midnight this Friday (26th September).

A spokesperson from the Guildford Greenbelt Group, who have been against the Local Plan, said they were “delighted” with the delay.

However, Councillor Mansbridge has admitted the delay does not mean they won’t be building on Greenbelt land in the future:

“We have always had in our plan that we will soak up Brownfield sites first. But, despite the protestations of some people saying you can build across Walnut Tree Close, you have to look at the timing of when you can do these things.”

“We are constrained by the first five years of the plan and that is part of it which means we face difficult decisions in relation to the Greenbelt.”

The Leader of the Conservative Group released the following statement this morning:

“The consultation period for the draft Local Plan has been extended to take into account the level of interest.   The volume, quality and wisdom of public response is high and reflects the strong concerns that exist in our communities about the very difficult choices that we are being obliged to make in relation to both sites to build and housing numbers.  We thank you all for the public spirited way in which you have participated in this important process so far.  Your views are an integral part of it and highly important to us.”

“2873 residents and stakeholders offered 6,006 responses so far to the draft Plan in its present form and we hope to be able to give you an initial view as to the themes that have emerged within the next 6 weeks. You have expressed understandable concerns about the new proposed housing need number that has emerged from the formula laid down in the Local Plan process and many of you gave strong reasons why not to build on some of the nominated sites under current consideration. We have decided that we will need more time to take full and proper account of all these views which will demand response, and of the constraints that are emerging from the process of bringing together all the various elements of the Plan.  As a result we will seek to extend the current timetable for producing the next revised draft.”

“The planning process requires that we cooperate as fully as we can with our neighbouring Councils in Waverley and Woking in order to arrive at a defensible housing need number for each borough. The final number will also take into account the recently revised Office of National Statistics population projections which reflect population growth and the resulting pressures for new housing this places on all Councils. We will publish the West Surrey Strategic Housing Market Assessment with our own new housing need number well before Christmas.”

“Like most Councils in the South East, we are placed in a difficult position. On the one hand we are being asked to make a proportionate contribution to the national housing shortage, on the other hand 89% of any new land in our Borough is Green Belt. We plan to put forward the strongest possible case for ensuring that we protect our beautiful countryside, acknowledge and act on the constraints, and at the same time satisfy the Planning Inspector that we have done all that could reasonably be expected of us to meet the housing needs of our area. We intend to do our very best to achieve this but we are under no illusions that there are some very difficult choices ahead. We thank everyone engaged in the process for helping us arrive at the best possible outcome for the future of our Borough.”

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‘I think the plan needs more ambition’

Guildford MP Anne Milton spoke to Eagle earlier (24th September) about how she feels about the delay: “It’s absolutely right that the council takes a step back, and in taking a step back, it needs to consider a proper vision for the town; what we want Guildford Borough to look and feel like in 20 or 30 years from now.

“Then you can write a plan that actually makes that vision a reality.

“I think they will have a huge number of responses to analyse.

“I think the plan needs more vision, I think it needs more ambition.

“We need the time to have a proper conversation about how we want Guildford to look and feel.

“It’s not clear at the moment where we want to end up.

“It’s not fit for purpose as it is at the moment.”