Guildford Vision Bemused and Dismayed by Councillors’ Intemperate Reaction to its Request to Guildford Council to Take Legal Advice
Guildford, Monday 24 June 2013:
The furore that has burst around unfortunate remarks by the Leader of the Council followed a simple request from Guildford Vision Group (GVG) that Guildford Borough Council (GBC) take legal advice about the need for public consultation.
GVG was simply exercising its democratic right to asks questions of the Council. Ironically, the question was about a document on public consultation on major planning matters on which GBC has chosen not to publicly consult. On Thursday evening, 20 June, the Guildford Borough Council (GBC) Executive adopted two core statutory documents in relation to the new Local Plan process. One was the Local Development Scheme (LDS), the other the Statement of Community Involvement (SCI). The latter document – called ‘Community Involvement in Planning’ by GBC – sets out how the Council will consult and involve residents in creating the Local Plan and related major planning matters. The SCI included a small but important number of changes to the previous version (adopted in July 2011 following public consultation). The changes have been driven by the Government’s new National Planning Policy Framework as well as its Localism agenda which spawned key statutory Regulations introduced in April 2012. All local councils, so far as GVG can establish, have complied with the 2012 Regulations by inviting public consultation on their new or revised SCIs. Ahead of the Executive meeting, GVG therefore asked that GBC seek its own legal advice on the public consultation point. GBC did confirm, a few hours before the Executive meeting, that it had been advised that ‘no express statutory duty to consult’ existed. Having asked the council to point to other examples of SCIs being adopted without consultation, none have been provided. “We just asked the question, concerned that GBC was not following the consultation route adopted by other councils,” said John Rigg, chairman of GVG. “We made no ‘threats’, so the reaction of certain councillors at the meeting is mystifying. In our letter we did point out the history of past poor advice to the Executive on the requirements of the 2012 Regulations. Indeed, the current Executive, whose views we share on the need for exciting growth and new development, came into being as a result of GVG’s past intervention. Good growth needs good governance and GVG will continue to question GBC ‘s actions whenever we see the door being opened to bad development.”
GVG remains concerned that any planning policy documents subsequently adopted by the Council that rely on the new SCI might not be robust, and thus open to challenge by developers. This could include any document intended to form part of the new Local Plan which the council is about to promote. Another concern of GVG is that the un-consulted LDS fails to include separate Local Development Plan documents (Area Action Plans) for areas earmarked for regeneration, including the Town Centre and Slyfield. Public comment and shaping of any scheme may therefore only be available at the much later planning stage, when the ability for the community to influence is much reduced without recourse to the Courts.GVG made informal approaches to the Council last Tuesday which received no reply, and so sent their own letter to the Council’s (interim) Head of Legal raising these concerns. The Council’s much feared ‘avaricious’ developers will certainly circle if the new Local Plan documents setting out the development, scope and planning regime for the Borough, omit key areas or are found to be not fit for purpose as a result of inadequate process.
-Ends- Notes for Editors
1. Re the SCI: these amendments are needed as the Localism Act and the National Planning Policy Framework have significantly altered the planning regime in which the council have to operate. Regulations introduced by Parliament and applying from April 2012 specify how local plans as widely defined in the regulations are to be introduced
2. It is interesting to note that a late additional recommendation to the Executive by officers was accepted at the meeting on Thursday and gives approval to ‘make such further minor amendments..[fusion_builder_container hundred_percent=”yes” overflow=”visible”][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”][to the SCI]..as [they] may deem necessary’ without committee approval
3. Public consultation is also a particular issue with the Local Plan documents in the LDS, where they are subject to independent examination and scrutiny by the Secretary of State. At worst Local Plan documents could be held invalid, and frustrate the Executive’s ambitions for the Borough; again, ironically, ambitions shared by GVG
4. Guildford Vision Group (GVG) was formed with the sole purpose of promoting Guildford’s urgent need for a long term vision in which the sustainable vitality of the town and its enterprise is ensured for the next 30 years and beyond. GVG is independent, and has no political affiliations or vested interests
5. Further information available at www.guildfordvisiongroup.com
6. Contact: Yvonka Wilkinson, Campaign Manager, Vision for Guildford Ltd on 07767 251040[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]