Like little ducks lined up all in a row, Guildford Borough Councillors voted for their own motion that rejected the “Excess Housing” e-petition debated in the council chamber in front of the full council last Tuesday 8 July 2014. No Councillor voted against and only five abstentions. Not that you would expect anything else. The scene had already been set on 19 June when the same Councillors voted to accept the final draft Local Plan as presented, without change to the excessive annual house building target of 652 per year over its 15 year lifetime, and so moved it into the second round of consultation.
The e-petition requested “We, the undersigned, petition Guildford Borough Council to reject their current aggressive pro-development pro-building strategy. The current strategy would mean building more housing than we need (and also more commercial buildings than we need) because of an incorrect perception that economic growth can only come from building. This strategy is unsustainable and must be rejected.”
It further elucidated “The current strategy from Guildford Borough Council involves an intention to build more housing than the current population needs (or than they are likely to need in the foreseeable future) and also more commercial buildings than existing businesses in the borough need to meet current requirements. There is no recognition of the real constraints that must be applied in order to preserve the environment we inhabit and no recognition of the legal requirement to ensure sustainability. This strategic direction seeks economic growth by an aggressive building programme, irrespective of the impact on existing residents. This is expressed in the 2013-16 Corporate Plan, in the Enterprise M3 LEP minutes and elsewhere, becoming an element of the Council’s strategic thinking. The 2013-2016 Corporate Plan informs the decision making processes of the Council and has been incorporated in the evidence base for the Local Plan but it has been subject to no public consultation as to whether this is what the residents of Guildford actually want.”
You will hear most Councillors wax lyrical about the need for development of all forms in response to the public speakers, wonder why the Corporate Plan comes in for special attention and see how the whipping of the Tories gives a blanket vote in support of their own motion. Infrastructure is a key issue but the infrastructure money made available to Guildford via the M3 LEP this week is laughable – £15 million won’t even pay for the modification of one A3 junction.
One Councillor speaks of the anxiety of residents that their contribution to consultation is being ignored, which encapsulates the situation perfectly. In the end, not one Councillor appears to directly address the petition point of “excess housing” and explain why they want it, other than the government is forcing the council to plan for it – no its not. Where is the consideration (supported by the NPPF) of the impact of 89% of the borough land lying in the Metropolitan Green Belt to restrict the housing number? Where is the new SHMA with its revised numbers based on the downwardly revised ONS Guildford population forecast where students that were mistakenly included as permanent residents are now removed? Where is the inclusion of student housing in the overall housing number?
So, off they went back to the duck pond behind daddy and mummy duck, with a waddle and a quack. The biggest bunch of ugly ducklings you ever saw.