Changes to the “most valuable green belt” will be ruled out in a new draft of Guildford’s local plan to be released in April, according to the council’s leader.
The document which sets out planning intentions for the borough up to 2033 will be released following extensive public consultations, before heading out on a final consultation in the summer.
The first draft local plan received around 20,000 comments from 5,000 respondents, with heavy criticism focused around proposals to build on the green belt.
Leader of Guildford Borough Council, Paul Spooner, discussing the local plan
At a press conference on Tuesday, Paul Spooner, council leader and lead councillor for planning, outlined the status of the plan, saying: “When the plan comes back into the public domain, you will notice some changes.”
He said the most valuable green belt would be a ‘no, no’ this time round, which is based on the protected land being assessed using a ‘traffic light’ system of ‘red, yellow and green’.
“Officers were very careful to ensure none of the ‘red’ sites went forward into the next iteration of the local plan,” Cllr Spooner said.
“You will find some sites have changed.”
The local plan will go before the borough, economy and infrastructure executive advisory board in April, and later the executive and full council in May.
It is then intended to go to a final consultation period in June for six weeks.
Once finalised, it will be up to a planning inspector to determine whether the local plan can be adopted and used as planning policy by the council.
Cllr Spooner was keen to stress that the local plan is just part of the planning process, and any homes proposed in the document will still have to go through the usual application process.
“It still has to go through all of the tests any other application would have to go through,” he said.
“One would hope the plan process is enabling to a point and managing the housing growth, but also employment numbers and the retail across Guildford over the plan period, but by no means is it a done deal by appearing in the local plan.
“Getting it right for absolutely everybody will be impossible, because people have different views, but getting it right broadly for Guildford is important for me.
“A better place to live, work and visit is where we want to be in 20 years time.”
He said traffic congestion was a “complete nightmare” and that part of the plan was to “alleviate some of the difficulties” the borough has and “certainly not make them worse”.
Last year, the West Surrey Strategic Housing Market Assessment (SHMA) found that 1,729 homes needed to be built in the region from 2013 to 2033.
The highest need is in Guildford, with 693 homes. The housing need for Waverley is 519 homes per year, while for Woking it is 517 homes per year.
A Surrey County Council-commissioned document, which is yet to be signed off by Guildford Borough Council, recently highlighted a £518 million gap in the budget to improve Guildford’s infrastructure to cope with the anticipated population swell.
This is based on a growth of 9,300 homes in Guildford until 2030 and a population rise of 20,301, with the authors of the study putting the total infrastructure costs for the borough at £1.162 billion.
Susan Parker, leader of the Guildford Greenbelt Group, said the borough council should use the green belt as a constraint to the housing number, which she said it is not intending to do.
“I don’t have a lot of confidence in the judgement system or the criteria that they will be applying,” Cllr Parker said.
“The green belt and countryside study previously was deplorable in terms of the way they were assessing green belt.
“All the words said in the election campaign about wanting to protect the green belt were just spin.
“I have not seen anything that leads me to believe there is a genuine change of heart in terms of the desire to build on the green belt from the previous plan.”
Cllr Parker maintains that if brownfield land was used for housing, as opposed to retail and commercial office space, a reasonable housing need could be met.