The pros and cons of the impact of proposals for eight potential development areas in Flexford and Normandy for over 700 new houses, and a hint of a whole lot more, featured on the front page of the Ash & Farnham News & Mail today.
The various comments in the article provided a snapshot of the uneasy balance between the anxieties caused to residents by the release of information in the Local Plan consultation (aka “the evidence”) showing all eight sites to be Green Belt land intended to prevent development sprawl and act as a buffer against merging of areas of built development, and yet to be overrun by new housing, and the inability of the representatives of Guildford Borough Council to assuage those anxieties. The words of the lead councillor with responsibility for selling the plan to the entire borough, ‘there is no plan’, had a hollow ring.
Indeed, the devil is in the detail. The article outlined how the sites identified in and around the Flexford settlement would receive more than 550 new homes and four smaller sites in and around the Normandy settlement would receive a further 200. This would be a significant addition to the 1,300 homes in and around the two settlements. But how good is the evidence produced by consultants on behalf of the council to justify development on these eight sites? According to many community groups around the borough and the Council for the Protection of Rural England the recommendations of the settlement hierarchy are ‘biased’ and simply ‘a desk study that’s not for real’. The ‘sustainability’ evidence is similarly flawed. So why are we where we are?
The borough seems scared witless that if it doesn’t beef up its housing targets its Local Plan will be rejected by the Planning Inspectorate acting on behalf of ministers, just as they have for neighbouring authority Waverley, that has had its plan rejected three times. Communities like Normandy need to send a message back via their MPs to ministers that current government targets for house building (targets supported by both main parties, so don’t think things will change in 2015 after the election) are a step too far and trying to hide behind devolving responsibility to local planning authorities won’t wash.