Council fails to consult on Corporate Plan

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.

  1. 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
  2. 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
  3. 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
  4. 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.

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6 thoughts on “Council fails to consult on Corporate Plan

  1. I am concerned by Cllr Mansbridge’s reported statement that there is a lack of brownfield land supply for the next five years. If this is true, then, as before, this seems to have pre-determined the outcome of a consultation process – and I am therefore inclined to agree with the view that this is all about money. There is after all more profit to be made – and a higher Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) to the Council – from greenfield sites than from brownfield. Is this really an open process?

    There does seem to be enough brownfield land, on a crude analysis. I know the Council are updating the SHLAA, but the previous version noted existing planning permissions of 1298 homes. If you add to this the available planning permission for student accommodation (which Nick Boles has confirmed does count towards the housing total) this gets to more than enough land for any reasonable analysis for the next five years. I’ve heard planning permission numbers for student accommodation of 2000 or 3000 depending on the impact of the Vet School – but either way, that would meet our needs. Allowing for the standard 5% buffer, that would allow for up to 600 homes over the next five years; that more than meets our needs. I’m not – for one moment – suggesting that this should be the target – only that there is more than enough land available. The argument that there isn’t enough just doesn’t wash. That’s before we take into account the 1000 empty homes that the Council are really slow to bring back into use; or the impact of North Street; or the impact of windfall sites (Mole Valley estimated these at 59 per year, excluding the impact of garden grabbing – Guildford will be more). Why are the Council distorting their own numbers? Do they want to build on the Green Belt? It does look like it.

    Furthermore, the Council have appointed Allies & Morrison to design a master plan for urban Guildford, but this won’t be published until the same date as the Local Plan, and the Local Plan isn’t taking it into account. A&M see the possibility of using the land at Walnut Tree Close for mixed high density, high quality and affordable development, generating a greener river corridor to the centre of town and- simultaneously solving our housing needs – I’ve heard numbers up to around 14000 homes as a possibility in that corridor. No need to touch any Green Belt. But I’ve heard the objection that the CIL will be lower if brownfield is developed. That is why the Council wants to build on the countryside.

    That’s why Guildford Greenbelt Group have launched a petition to complain about the pro-development excess housing plans of Guildford Council – see here for the link.
    http://petitions.guildford.gov.uk/excesshousing/
    If you care about Guildford, please sign this.

    • Hi Susan yes this was a meeting of Parish Council Chairman and Clerks so directed at greenbelt concerns.. reassurances? no but the information I have passed on…..
      the assessment of the brownfield sites we were told was looking at density we were also told they were trying to access the land at Slyfield as well as the Water Filtration plant. He was pleased with the consultation because it was providing them with much needed information (!) I really do think the time has come for us to come up with a generally acceptable statement to form the basis of a petition’ ‘We call upon the govt to engage with owners of brownfield sites within the metropolitan greenbelt area(ie public authorities and utility companies) in order to press them to make underused land available for housing’
      a second petition could state ‘we call upon the govt to introduce measures preventing foreign investors from buying land for devt in the UK simply for the purposes of investment’
      hey ho… I am sure others will be able to improve on these words
      We should use facebook and twitter

  2. Mansbridge and other councillors keep telling us they want to protect the greenbelt. However, this is contrary to the way they are behaving. In various council debates and interviews, Mansbridge and Juneja talk about “growth being the only option”, “some parts of the greenbelt are not very nice”, and “rolling back the greenbelt”.
    When they withdraw their statement from the consultation/issues/options document of “Villages we think should not remain in the greenbelt”, followed by 16 of 24 villages, then maybe we can start to believe they truly have had a change of heart.

    Jules.

  3. I was invited to a meeting last night and heard Cllr Manbridge and others speak at some length about where they are at with consultation etc.
    We were told that in consultation with the Highways Agency it had been accepted that Guildford has enormous traffic problems but that studies show an A3 Tunnel will not address them. Instead there is a proposal to examine/improve our road junctions to allow traffic to move more smoothly with an acknowledgement that the Hindhead Tunnel had served to exacerbate problems at Guildford. So the tunnel is OFF but plans to improve the A31/A3 junction and remove the B3000 as a rat run are being looked at.
    We were also updated on the plans by the GBC to locate brownfield sites in the Borough and told that he big problem that thery have is the lack of available land suipply for the next 5 years from those sites. We were show n updating efforts re Thames Water who are based behind the Woking Road Depot. If they would move their treatment works land owned by the Borough could be made available for 1000 homes and they were talking last night of considering borrowing £30million to buy out Thames. Moves have also been made by Anne Milton to take this u p with Govt but no real effort apparent so far.. So it seems to me that the next petition is a National one… to put pressure on the water cos to free up land for devt along with any other public authorities for instance, and how about a petition to prevent Non Brits from buying up properties which are merely being left empty. these things lay in the hands of the Govt. .Cllr Manbridge felt that the policy of Localism was allowing the Govt to just dip out of the problem whilst handing down the obligations to the LA…we are all feeling the pressure it seems. He says they WANT to protect the Greenbelt.
    i will pass on as much as I can to our meeting on the 28th

  4. Thankyou again Nick for making us aware of these things. I have NOT read the plan.. I have caste my eyes quickly over the ‘timetable of events’ and am not impressed. A ‘light railway’ 2 new stations at Park Barn and Merrow.. these things are only required if you aim for massive development and do we really want to live in a new Portsmouth,Southampton or the like.. I suspect not, even if you weren’t living in an area earmarked for massive development, I think most Guildfordians would rather like their town to stay broadly the same in character .Sadly quite a bit of what I have read amounts to a ‘fantasy world’ influenced by those wonderful TV programs we used to see… the Jetsons comes to mind… I shall plod on. We have an important meeting oin the village on the 28th… we may touch on this then…..

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