Calls for greater scrutiny of the housing numbers

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In a letter to the Guildford Dragon online newspaper Councillor Susan Parker (Leader of the Guildford Greenbelt Group) calls for greater scrutiny of the housing numbers being set for the Local Plan

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Susan Parker

Cllr Parker wrote in the Guildford Dragon Newspaper to say  that setting a housing target for our borough is probably the most important decision Guildford Borough Council will take over the next decade.  She asks how many homes should we build and goes on to say that the decision will affect how our borough looks and what it will be like to live in for the foreseeable future. There will be no going back.

“At the council’s Overview and Scrutiny Committee, last week, I proposed that the committee should scrutinize the assessment of housing need as set out in the the  Strategic Housing Market Assessment or “SHMA” and the derived housing target. That housing target will be used in the Local Plan. The next version, incorporating that target, will be published in draft form in April.

I believe that we review the housing target. It is crucial. A major role of councillors is to scrutinise decisions. We have a moral responsibility, and right, to examine that number.

The proposed target for new homes will affect living in or around Guildford.

GBC has handed over responsibility for the SHMA to consultants GL Hearn. Their calculation of Guildford’s “need” is 693 homes per annum. This may well also be the possible target or requirement for the next 20 years covered by the Local Plan.

Some members of the Executive have indicated, in public meetings, that constraints, such as 89 per cent of our borough being designated green belt, won’t be applied to housing need to give the target…

The first draft of the Local Plan is due to be published in a few weeks. 693 homes every year. If the plan runs 20 years from approval, it would mean a total of 13,860 homes.

This is an increase in housing compared to current homes of more than 25 per cent.

To add 25 per cent to the stock of houses in the borough without any meaningful increase in existing infrastructure will result in more traffic jams and more pressure on school and health resources.

The target will not be just an aspiration but a binding commitment. Such an increase will change our area completely: any decision must be subject to proper scrutiny.

The numbers are not being debated publicly.  No members of the public are allowed to review the GL Hearn model used to calculate the housing number, despite Freedom of Information requests taken to the Information Commissioner. My request to run sensitivity analyses on the model has been rejected.

The previous draft SHMA, in 2014, gave rise to a target of 652 dwellings per annum, that number caused concern at the time. If we re-calculated the number on roughly the same basis as 2014, we would now have an “Objectively Assessed Need” (OAN) number of 517 dwellings per annum.

But the housing target has not gone down because the basis of computation has been changed. It now includes an extensive component for “growth”, generating a revised number which we are told we have to consider “objective’.

How do we know GL Hearn’s calculation of the OAN is correct? Many questions remain:

Are the assumptions valid and what are the assumptions?

Why has extra growth been added in to the calculations?

Why has the number gone up, when it would be lower if you used the same methodology as last time?

Why was publication of the assessment, and its “objectively” assessed number proposal delayed until December, when the document was prepared in September?

Why has there been no consideration of the SHMA in any council meeting, despite publication in December? Why was my proposed scrutiny rejected by all the other parties? What are they scared of?

Why should we not apply green belt and infrastructure constraints as legally allowed?

What will be the implications for our borough?

Why are we not debating this in public? Why are we not even debating this within the council?

I wanted to consider the assumptions, the mechanism, and look at some sensitivity analysis so we could have a democratic decision as to whether these numbers were right.

The scrutiny committee is the only part of the council that can legally scrutinise or challenge the decisions of the Executive. If it does not debate this important issue it will have failed, failed the people of Guildford Borough.”

Editor’s comment

It seems the more we complain about the housing numbers the faster they rise.

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