Anne Milton – Guildford’s MP has called for more time to fix a draft local plan setting the borough’s housing targets, saying it ‘lacks vision and ambition’.
A borough-wide consultation about the future of Guildford drew to a close on Monday (September 22) before work begins on a document for submission to the secretary of state.
The draft plan outlines sites for the building of 652 homes each year until 2031 – 13,040 in total.
Residents’ associations, parish councils and campaign groups have criticised the figure and the evidence behind the plan, with concerns about development on the green belt and extra pressure on the borough’s strained infrastructure.
MP Anne Milton has joined the debate, calling for council leader Stephen Mansbridge to extend the timetable for the plan which, if approved by the inspector, is scheduled for adoption in autumn 2015.
“This is the chance for the council to take on board those concerns. It’s not just about being seen to listen to people – it’s about actually listening to people,” said Mrs Milton.
“Where people have raised objections, questioned the evidence base, questioned assumptions – what’s critical is that if the council disagrees, they put forward the case and the explanation of why they haven’t changed it.”
Campaign groups formed last year in response to proposals for a significant reduction in the borough’s green belt, including major developments of thousands of homes at Wisley Airfield and the University of Surrey’s Blackwell Farm site.
Mrs Milton said the case has yet to be made for much of what is proposed and there has not been a proper discussion about ‘what we want Guildford to be’.
“If we need more houses, there has to be a discussion of why we need them,” she said. “In my view, a local plan needs a vision. What do we want Guildford to look like and feel like in 20 years’ time? That’s missing from the plan.”
Cllr Mansbridge has argued that the plan needs to stay on schedule and be accepted by the planning inspector or developers will be able to push through unwanted plans on appeal.
“I think more work is needed,” said Mrs Milton. “I feel there have been sufficient concerns raised, by a lot of groups and individuals, to suggest the evidence base for the local plan, as drawn up, is insufficient.”
She said the ‘jury is out’ about whether the council will listen and respond properly to people’s concerns.
“What matters to me now is that they do listen. I personally think there is considerably more work needed,” she said. “It is not clear how much co-operation there has been with other boroughs and the county council.
“I can’t help but think it needs considerably more time than the original timetable allows. This is the blueprint for the next 20 years.”
An assessment of housing need suggested the borough may need as many as 800 homes built each year but the council settled on the figure of 652 – 50% greater than the South East Plan target of 422, which the council successfully challenged in 2010.
Mrs Milton said there was certainly a need for affordable housing but that there had been no discussion of why much of the housing was needed. “It is limited, and lacks vision and ambition. I would expect a borough like Guildford to produce the very best innovative and imaginative plan,” she said.
“Do we want Guildford to grow bigger in population or do we want an area that’s economically active but with people commuting in and out? That conversation hasn’t been had.”
Much of the criticism of the plan revolves around a lack of detail about how overcrowded roads and oversubscribed schools would deal with additional demand.
Mrs Milton said more time was needed to resolve these issues and Liberal Democrat Parliamentary candidate Kelly-Marie Blundell added her voice to concerns.
“With the A3 at capacity, and frequent problems throughout the town, any extra housing will need a far better infrastructure,” she said. “We hear promises of better roads linking parts of Guildford but the local plan is sadly lacking in these areas.”
The deadline for submissions to be made was 4pm on Monday.