New group to protect Guildford Green Belt emerges

A new grouping of residents associations, community groups and parish councils has formed to promote protection of the Green Belt in the face of the intent of the Guildford Local Plan (Draft) to take 16 of the borough’s 24 villages out of the Green Belt and stuff them full of new houses.

Nominally “Guildford Green Belt Guardians” [GGBG], they will first challenge the basis of the new Strategic Housing Market Assessment [SHMA] study commissioned by Guildford Borough Council.  The SHMA will determine objectively assessed housing need and the future number of new homes to be built over the 15 year period of the Guildford Local Plan.

The first shot in the campaign ranged over the bows of all elected members today (12 December 2013) when they received an email launching the group and containing a detailed critique of the way the SHMA has been commissioned and consequently the possibility of it failing assessment by the Planning Inspectorate.  A key complaint is that borough officers and councillors have failed properly to consult residents and communities as required by the National Planning Policy Framework [NPPF].

This important evidence is being collected after the Local Plan consultation closed on 29 November 2013 and would otherwise avoid public scrutiny.  Well, that would be rather convenient for officers and councillors who really don’t want to be asked why the indications are they are attempting to maximise the number of new dwellings to be built in the Green Belt when there appear to be more than enough brownfield sites and land in the town.  Is it that they favour the plans of developers and the profits house-builders can make out of what some have called the “Cobham-isation” of Guildford’s green fields, over the real housing needs of the community?

The second shot came as one of GGBG’s member organisations had their e-petition, requesting protection of the borough’s designated Green Belt, debated by the full council (12 December 2013).  Reportedly this had councillors squirming in their seats as they were found wanting in their understanding of the law and the planning process.

This issue isn’t going away.  When Guildford Borough Council opened their so-called evidence base to public scrutiny they opened a can of worms and they won’t be able to put the lid back.

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