Green belt group questions need for John Lewis or Waitrose in Guildford

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Guildford Greenbelt Group (GGG) attract more than 100 members and supporters, voicing their concerns about proposed developments in the area

Green belt land

Green belt land

The leader of the political party formed to protect the green belt has questioned whether Guildford needs a John Lewis or the new Waitrose.

Speaking at the first public meeting since the Guildford Greenbelt Group (GGG) was registered as a political party by the Electoral Commission, Susan Parker called for brownfield sites to be used first for housing.

GGG

The meeting at the Social Club in Send was attended by more than 100 members and supporters of the new party, as well as villagers concerned about proposed developments in the area.

Mrs Parker said there are enough sites in the town to fulfil housing need without removing protection from areas of the green belt.

“Let’s only build the homes we really need – ensuring that homes are not left empty,” she said. “Do we really need two more supermarkets in Guildford, when Waitrose is discussing supermarkets needing to close due to economic conditions, on land that could have been used for homes, in an era of internet shopping?

“The Waitrose site was earmarked for housing. Why do we need a John Lewis in North Street?”

GGG argues that the housing need figure of 652 new homes a year, which could soon be superseded by a new study by Guildford, Waverley and Woking councils, is too high.

Mrs Parker said the party supports a number no higher than 322 – the figure settled on after the council successfully challenged the South East Plan in the High Court in 2010.

“In Guildford, we have an estimated 60 hectares next to the station suitable for homes,” said Mrs Parker. “Stephen Mansbridge has said that Berkeley Homes estimate that this has the capacity to take 15,000 homes.

“I don’t want 15,000 homes in central Guildford – but if this is the capacity of the town, why are we considering any green belt development at all?”

Cllr Mansbridge said the 15,000 figure for Walnut Tree Close was a ‘throwaway comment’ by the developer. He said a more realistic figure would be between 2,000 and 4,000 new homes and that there would be issues around home ownership and economic viability.

The recent decision by the council to rewrite the last draft local plan followed guidance from the Secretary of State, Eric Pickles, reiterating government guidance on development in the green belt.

The decision to postpone the next draft until after the elections next May, when GGG will field candidates in most rural wards, and some urban ones, followed a year during which the process and evidence base were widely criticised.