Guildford Borough Council green belt assurances receive mixed reaction

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Campaign to Protect Rural England said councillors must understand the “strength of feeling among local people”

Green belt land at Pewley Way, Guildford

Assurances that plans to surrender Guildford’s green belt for housing will be reassessed have received mixed reactions from campaigners.

In September, council leader Stephen Mansbridge announced that the draft local plan, setting planning policy until 2031, will be revisited and redrafted after the elections in May.

He sought to reassure voters this week that development sites would be looked at again in light of the most recent government guidance.

The production of a local plan has been a difficult process for the council, with many people angered by proposals to redraw green belt boundaries and to build settlements at the University of Surrey’s Blackwell Farm site and on the former Wisley Airfield.

The Surrey branch of the Campaign to Protect Rural England welcomed Cllr Mansbridge’s ‘U-turn’.

Branch director Andy Smith said: “Councillors must come to terms with the strength of feeling among local people. The green belt is cherished as a vital safeguard for our countryside and open spaces. It should not be compromised.

“The council, after trying for so long to force local communities to accept its plan for a massive roll-back of the green belt, now appears to have ditched this unpopular and discredited plan.

“It is a very welcome U-turn. It is late in the day but better late than never.”

Susan Parker is chairman of Guildford Greenbelt Group and leader of the new party, with the same name, formed to field candidates in the council elections.

She questioned the decision not to publish another draft until the public had been to the ballot box.

“If they were serious about it, it would be published in April – if it really was going to be different,” she said.

“I don’t think we can trust the council because they said in their election manifesto last time that they would protect the green belt and unless we can actually see proposals put forward that are different to previous proposals, the promises are empty.”

She said she was sceptical as to whether there would be substantial changes in the new draft.

“I suspect he is rattled politically. I think Rochester rattled everybody and they are responding – and also our forming a political party,” she said.

About 15,000 of the 20,000 responses to the draft local plan consultation have been processed by the council.

A spokesman said it is clear there is widespread opposition to development on the green belt.

Cllr Mansbridge said no site would be proposed for development within the green belt, any Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty or area of flood risk unless it has been reassessed against the updated guidance issued in October.

“We have been given a clear steer from the government in its revised guidance for making a significant change in direction on our strategic housing land availability assessment (SHLAA) and draft local plan, which can now be fully reassessed against constraints.

“The housing number, land availability and each development site will be rigorously reassessed against the test of harm set out in the revised guidance,” he said.

The current SHLAA suggests a housing target of 652 homes a year, before constraints such as the green belt are considered.

Development could also be constrained by the pressure it would put on the borough’s congested road network.

A new joint study, expected to be published shortly, has been produced in conjunction with Waverley and Woking, and could mean amending the housing figure.