Letter and comments from Guildford Dragon:
From Susan Parker
It is good to know that GBC Conservatives have started to listen to the comments from their constituents. I am glad that they have noticed the overwhelming response from the people of Guildford. I do hope that the review of consultation replies by the planning department will pay the same attention to the detailed arguments made by residents.
The arguments in response that I have seen are much clearer, and better argued, and better evidenced, than the documents it apparently took Guildford Borough Council (GBC) more than three years to collate.
It is still interesting to note that we were not informed about the direction of these proposals by our councillors before the last election, even though presumably the process had then started and therefore councillors who were already on the council must have been aware of them.
It is also concerning that some specific queries – e.g. in relation to the value of the settlement hierarchy or the Green Belt and Countryside Study – have been dismissed, at least initially, by the planning department.
We need our councillors to read the detailed submissions that their constituents have sent, and ensure that the planning department does heed the arguments that have been made. We do not want our responses to be summarised inappropriately.
We welcome the desire to “do all we can to guard” the green belt. (Green belt is of course protected as a matter of law anyway. As I am sure Cllr Mansbridge is aware, it is only at the Local Plan stage that green belt boundaries can be revised, and there is no comment in his statement about a reluctance to change settlement boundaries ).
There is not, at this stage, any note from the councillors that it is inappropriate to inset villages from the green belt, and the proposals to amend village boundaries have not yet been set aside. There is also no reference to respect for the Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), which, of course, has the same legal status as a National Park, in Mr Mansbridge’s response.
We note that GBC Conservatives will be meeting with key ministers in the near future. We will look forward to the clarification of policy that will arise after that meeting. Local and national government have blamed each other for this.
Fundamentally we are not concerned with the blame for this initiative. What we need our representatives, both national and local, to do is ensure that the green belt is protected for posterity and that the affordable homes which we require are built on the brownfield sites that are available.
In particular, as this process continues, we will pay very close attention to the revision of the Strategic Housing Market Assessment (SHMA) which is currently being prepared by GBC in order to assess its validity. Clearly it is critical in determining how many houses should be built, and this will have an impact on where they will be sited.
The residents of Guildford might be concerned to note that I have been informed that the instructions for this work have not been subject to any committee review or appraisal by any councillors, but have been issued by the planning department without scrutiny by the council.
In particular, they may be concerned to note that the terms of reference of this study requires consultation with house builders and local councils as “stakeholders” but do not require any formal consultation with local people. It is not clear to me at least why house builders are stakeholders in the borough.
I have suggested to Cllr Mansbridge and others that GBC should review this remit but have not yet had a reply.
Mr Mansbridge and the GBC Conservative group should be aware that the people of Guildford will not be satisfied with platitudes. This response is a good start, but it is not sufficient.
We have asked for affordable housing to be on existing brownfield sites, and consider that there is no evidence in the extensive documentation prepared that suggests this is not feasible. We do not feel that there is any evidence for any exceptional or special circumstances that could possibly justify any use of greenfield sites at all, certainly not in the green belt or the AONB.
Susan Parker is a chairman of a residents’ association near Shere, and a campaigner for Save Shere, Gomshall and Abinger.