When I first read the Guildford Borough Corporate Plan a number of things struck me.
- Why didn’t I know about it? Like most good political operators, the Council slipped it out last October when everybody’s attention was focused elsewhere on the Local Plan; no fanfares, no publicity, not even a press release.
- Why didn’t I have a chance to comment on it before or after the fact? After all it contains stuff on housing and economic development that has the potential to affect where I live over the next three years and on through the Local Plan period up to 2031.
- How long was it in development, where did the evidence come from and could I trust the sources? You never know, it might have been prepared by the University of Surrey.
I now appreciate that all councillors knew about it because on 10 October last year they voted to endorse it. There’s lots of talk in it about consulting with and involving “key stakeholders” and “partners” and I always think that means residents like me, but it never does. It just means organisations with lots of money or access to lots of money and lots of influence, like University of Surrey or Enterprise M3 LEP, but not me or any residents, we’re deliberately excluded from even commenting on the document.
Once I’d downloaded it I opened it and searched for the phrase “Green Belt” where I found, guess what, nothing, not even an electronic sausage, no reference at all. But I did find University of Surrey, who apparently are going to influence the Environmental Strategy, and I found Freiburg in Germany as a sort of exemplar twin town. I had to laugh a bit because the dominant political party in Freiburg is the Green Party. How on earth is the Tory leader of this Council going to talk to them? Dialog of the deaf I should imagine.
So let me bring this all back to Normandy. How is this Corporate Plan relevant to us and why might Normandy’s residents have liked a chance to consult? One of the key Development Priorities is to “Support the development of housing schemes”, another is “Support the development of pitches and plots for the travelling communities”; on the Economic Priorities front “Explore opportunities to support our rural economy”. There’s not space here to expand details as does the Corporate Plan document but let me tell you about Normandy’s potential plight under the Local Plan that the GBC Corporate Plan plugs into.
- Normandy is threatened with the imposition of housing development we didn’t ask for (we considered a Neighbourhood Plan but were astounded at the cost and even more astounded that it only permits us to agree with the targets set by the borough, although we might be able to say what colour the potential new houses could be) and the potential quadrupling of the size of the two settlements in the ward in the next 15 years on the basis of some corporate economic and housing aspiration cooked up behind closed doors and finally given the light of day as the borough Corporate Plan for which there is normally no democratic accountability other than through the ballot box next year by which time its too late
- Normandy hosts 7/8 traveller pitches, 12 travelling showpeople pitches, and the potential of a few more being thrown in without consultation as part of an as yet unresearched potential large scale housing development that is wholly unacceptable to residents and has the potential to destroy the recognised openness of many hundreds of hectares of perfectly good agricultural land currently in the Green Belt
- Normandy hosts 3 waste management businesses, a PSV transport business that runs school buses and a PSV servicing business, all that benefit the county and borough councils respectively, who approve their planning permissions and give the unintentional impression of waiving through their O licence applications and misdemeanors for their own convenience. If that’s the borough’s idea of economic development in a rural economy we can do without it; we already have a large commercial property development on the old factory brownfield site at Henley Park where, yes you’ve guessed it, there is no high Gross Value Added business, just lots of distribution warehouses that generate few jobs and to which all employees have to commute by car, totally in contradiction to any concept of sustainability, already within the 400 metre total exclusion zone of the Thames Heath Basin Special Protection Area with more to come in phase 2 and the prospect of large numbers of HGV movements added as new transport and distribution businesses move in. So much for trying to reduce disturbance for the rare bird species in the Thames Heaths Basin Special Protection Area. Oh yes, and the array of satellite dishes on the former MoD land and SSSI site just round the corner from Henley Park which is the reality of one of the boroughs leading knowledge businesses. Its not all computers and “cool” people saying “hi-man” to each other as they pass in the glass corridors of a building on the University of Surrey Research Park. The real business-end hard technology structures have to go somewhere out of sight and out of mind of the ‘cool’ people on the business park and Normandy has it and we don’t want more, we don’t have the room
- all the potential housing development sites in Normandy included in the Issues & Options document of the draft Local Plan evidence base are within the 400 metre – 5 kilometre Special Protection Area of the Thames Heaths Basin on the MoD ranges that occupy a large percentage of the available land to the north of the ward, squeezing any new housing and economic development into a tiny wedge of Green Belt land from the Ash ward boundary in the west to the Worplesdon ward boundary in the east, from the Ash & Pirbright Ranges boundary in the north to Wanborough ward boundary in the south. We already know from approaches made to the parish council by the owner of one site that potential proposals are for housing volumes 30-60% higher than those stated in the SHLAA site evaluations, revealing the SHLAA estimates to be a sham. The Corporate Plan endorses this approach to housing development in all wards. In this plan Green Belt doesn’t count, its all about money.
When I last voted for my one Normandy borough councillor, my chosen candidate lost by a handful of votes. I didn’t think the vote of those residents that chose the current incumbent mandated that councillor to approve a Corporate Plan that would potentially adversely affect all of the ward’s voters; let’s face it many residents probably didn’t even know the Corporate Plan exists. Our councillor certainly didn’t think to ask residents what they thought about it last September when the draft document must have been considered along with all other councillors and I bet no-one among the executive officers even gave a passing thought about putting it out to consultation.
It seems there is a democratic deficit in this council’s processes that fail to give borough residents a chance to read, evaluate and consult on it’s Corporate Plan before the fact rather than after.