As noted in the press, I’ve said that I don’t think Julian Lyon is a suitable chairman for the planning forum.
This is not a personal criticism in any sense – I have a very high regard indeed for Julian’s professional expertise and I like him very much personally. He should certainly be a participant in the forum. I have merely stated that he is not impartial, because he has a particular vision for Guildford, and indeed, as Chair of the Guildford Society and part of the central committee of the Guildford Vision Group, he has put forward his own “vision” for Guildford both in publications and in public meetings.
I respect that, and I respect him. But I made my comments because I felt the chairman of such a forum should ideally be independent and not have a particular viewpoint.
Gordon Bridger is a member of The Guildford Society, and possibly the Guildford Vision Group, and is therefore not an independent commentator. He has made it clear in previous comments, and above, that he is very willing to sacrifice countryside for housing. I believe he has made it clear elsewhere that he can’t see that the views of the Hog’s Back are beautiful. Many residents of Guildford – and many people elsewhere – would say that he was wrong.
Gordon says that we should not “exclude” greenbelt on the basis, that this is “premature” – and that if the housing numbers are high we should build on green belt (rather than apply constraints as the government allows us to do).
Premature? We have spent at least the last year and a half reviewing the Issues and Options consultation, and the first (abortive) Draft Local Plan – which suggested putting 70% of a very high new housing number on green belt land. That was emphatically rejected by many respondents.
The responses to the consultation were a high number in the context of local consultation – people are angry. We do care about the countryside – not because we live in it, but because it is beautiful. Is it really premature for the planners and politicians to start listening to the people?
Guildford Greenbelt Group (GGG) has formed a political party. We have been campaigning for about a year, and found that the politicians who are in power are very slow to appreciate how strongly people care about their environment. Perhaps our councillors, too, consider that it is premature to form a view.
We have been told that Guildford Borough Council (GBC) is planning to put out a revised plan in June, after the next election. Unless there is a clear change of direction in terms of the plan – which is certainly not evident so far – we have to assume that the revised plan will be very similar to the plan that we have seen before. So we formed the party to give the voters of Guildford a genuine choice next May.
Members of GGG think that the countryside matters, and that it is the countryside that makes our town distinctive. If there is no countryside – or it is eroded, piecemeal, as Gordon Bridger wants – then, before very many years pass, the town of Guildford will be swallowed up by London. Not now, and not in the lifetime of the plan (only 15 years), but perhaps in 100 years, or less.
It is the green belt that has preserved our hills and fields. London’s conurbation has already reached Ashstead. Those who have lived all their lives in Guildford are perhaps unaware of what an oasis we live in – and how very fragile it is. EM Forster (a resident of Abinger Hammer) wrote – roughly 100 years ago in “Howards’ End” about the “creeping red rust of London”.
Together with Ralph Vaughan Williams he campaigned to protect our Surrey Hills and helped to establish the green belt protection that we now enjoy. Forster said: “If you want to ruin our Surrey fields and woodlands it is easy to do, very easy, and if you want to save them they can be saved.”