The vast majority of parish councils and residents associations in the borough are “firmly opposed” to much of Guildford Borough Council’s (GBC) Draft Local Plan, including plans to build on the green belt. So says a report published this week by the Guildford Parish Forum.
The protest by the forum was “understandable”, according to the leader of the Lib Dem Group at GBC, Cllr Caroline Reeves (Friary & St Nicolas), “especially where the proposals had been prepared with little consultation with local communities.”
The report, which analysed responses from 45 parish councils and residents groups to the Local Plan consultation, shows almost unanimous support for protecting the green belt and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB).
There was no support from both parish councils and residents’ associations for the developments proposed at the three strategic sites at Blackwell Farm (on the Hog’s Back), Wisley Airfield or Gosden Hill. Blackwell Farm received the highest number of objections.
The report suggests that the key reason for the lack of support for developing these sites was because the need for the level of growth planned had not been proven and that social and infrastructure impacts had not been properly assessed. In areas where parish councils and residents associations felt regeneration was needed, for example at Slyfield and land at Westborough for allotments, they did express support for development.
Policies relating to regeneration, protecting the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) and green-blue infrastructure received more support.
The report also showed general opposition to the overall vision of the Draft Local Plan, including the housing number, the sustainability argument and the habitats assessment. There were also concerns over the interpretation of the guidance used and its compliance with the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF). The plan is to be reassessed following the May elections.
Commenting on these findings, Fiona Curtis, chair of the Guildford Parish Council Forum, said: “Whilst the comments received from parish councils and residents’ associations represent a relatively small proportion of the 20,000 received, clear patterns can be drawn from this analysis due to the repeated nature of comments, which Guildford Borough Council also highlighted in its interim summary.
“The similarities … suggest to me that Parish Council and Residents Association responses reflect the opinions of the residents they represent. The plan appears to have combined local need with wider economic demand. Given our proximity to London, this demand cannot be satiated and there are concerns that attempts to do so will have a devastating impact on Guildford, as we know it.
There is no support for the strategic sites and widespread objection to the proposal at Blackwell Farm in particular.
There was considerable frustration that the consultation had gone ahead without first correcting known errors and shortcomings and without fully explaining the housing figure. The plan should differentiate clearly between that which is needed to fulfil local need and that which is desirable for additional growth”.
Karen Stevens, spokesperson for Save Hogs Back, a campaign group set up to fight development at Blackwell Farm, added: “It is absolutely clear from this analysis that the people of Guildford value the borough’s exceptional countryside and its villages and want to see them protected. It is also clear that this sentiment is not confined to local areas, for example, groups in the town centre and right across the borough are just as opposed to losing the landscape of the Hog’s Back as those living near to the proposed development site.”
Cllr Reeves, speaking on behalf of the Liberal Democrat group at Millmead said: “It is understandable that parish councils and residents’ associations protested so strongly against the disproportionate over-development of some of the proposals in the Conservatives’ draft Local Plan, especially where the proposals had been prepared with little consultation with local communities.
“The Liberal Democrats have had many conversations with parish councils and residents’ associations across the borough, to find out their views about the needs of their area. Many of these organisations, both in town and villages, tell us there is a genuine requirement for more homes to meet the needs of their own communities: affordable homes for young families for rent or shared ownership, or smaller properties to allow older people to down-size.
“For communities where there is little brownfield land available, the only way to provide those homes for local need is to allow some development in the green belt. Some parish councils are now leading the way by producing their own Neighbourhood Plans, which will set out how many extra homes their villages need and where they should be built. Liberal Democrats thoroughly support this approach of giving a strong voice to local communities, not imposing top-down plans for disproportionate over-development.”
The leaders of a range of political parties expected to stand for seats on Guildford borough Council were invited to comment.