The Local Plan Is Not Yet Sound
Notwithstanding the evident displeasure of the council leadership, we have declared that we believe the Local Plan unsound in its present form. The public consultation has just concluded, and the local plan still has no proper plan for the town centre. It still builds mostly on greenbelt and still does not address brownfield adequately. It continues to lack infrastructure solutions for the town, one of our worst problems after shortage of homes.
Our stance on the Local Plan became clear at our recent public meeting attended by around 150 people. It was held on Tuesday 16 October to help our supporters and others respond to the consultation which closed at noon on Tuesday 23 October. We handed out a guidance note at the end of the meeting as to what to, and how to, submit by way of responses to the consultation. Following a show of hands we also undertook to offer additional guidance to those who wanted to add their voice to GVG’s in declaring the Plan ‘unsound’. The support for such action was overwhelming, with only two objections.
Town Centre First for Housing
A central thrust of our argument is that the council has not been diligent enough in exploring more housing in the town centre. This is at the expense of the green belt. It also fails planning requirements to put brownfield development first and green belt development last. At the moment GVG has identified scope for 3,500 homes in the town centre; the council plans 900 homes in the centre versus 6,000 on greenfield sites.
Housing Needn’t be High
We believe that, with the essential masterplanning required, around 3500 new homes could be included in the town centre and its immediate environs, eg along Woodbridge Meadows. This saves one or more identified green belt housing sites. For those worried about the impact on the town, we believe building heights need not exceed four storeys in the main. Interestingly, for certain locations, the meeting exit poll found 80% of the respondees would accept a seven storey height limit. We say that must only be with new town squares, open riverside, proper amenity space and, of course, new infrastructure solutions.
Green Belt Housing A3 Dependent
And the ‘unsoundness’ argument is further supported by the fact that the identified Green Belt housing sites are all very much dependent on major A3 road improvements and associated road interventions. None of these vital works is as yet scheduled and there is no clear indication from Highways and the County Council as to when such works might be scheduled. This uncertainty, stretching into the late 2020s and beyond, with no immediate likelihood of a cure, means that the prospects for the 6,000 Green Belt houses are bleak.
Not So Much New Housing Needed
While many would welcome less housing, central government would decidedly not. The country needs more new housing, though the number for Guildford should be reviewed in the light of revised ONS figures. They show a marked demographic reduction in the need for new homes. However the council’s growth arguments in its plan may now be the justification for retaining the higher housing number.
An Unsound Plan is Costly
There’s a financial cost to a council of getting a plan wrong, including the years taken over the process. The more a ‘sound’ plan is delayed because of its shortcomings and thus the delivery of much needed new housing, the greater delay to the council’s receipt of the new homes bonus (a building incentive plan). In addition, it delays receipts from the Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL), a more elaborate and remunerative successor to section 106 payments from developers that are supposed to pay for additional improvements in the community.
It’s the Inspector’s Turn
Attention will now switch back to the next moves of the planning inspector, Jonathan Bore, who has been examining the council’s Local Plan and whose role it is to declare the Plan sound or otherwise. At the conclusion of the public hearings back in the summer, he declared that he was minded to find the Plan ‘sound’. But this was subject the council introducing changes to the Plan, known as ‘main modifications’ (MMs), with policies to address the town centre.
Focus on the Town Centre
As we have repeatedly pleaded over the past six years, we pointed out the complete lack of attention in the plan to the future of the town centre, as well as the hierarchy argument for housing on brownfield, rather than raiding the green belt. The inspector recognised the force of our arguments. He added some personal observations about the ‘appalling’ quality of previous (1950/60s) development immediately beyond the High Street and historic core of the town. So he called on the council to produce a new policy (S3) for the town centre. This was a notable ‘win’ for GVG at the hearings.
New Town Centre Infrastructure Needed
This new S3 policy has been part of the modifications (MMs) put forward for the consultation just ended. We believe the council draft S3, while an improvement on the blank space before, is still inadequate for a town of the size and regional importance of Guildford. There is no commitment to essential infrastructure improvements, for example. Everyone recognises that the town centre suffers from record congestion, pollution and accidents. Flooding needs better planning to offset its impact. There is no resilience. Look at the mayhem recent roadworks have caused. The ageing and failing Farnham Road Bridge will shortly be repaired and strengthened which, if closed or restricted, will only further test resilience. It will continue to remain a major bottleneck for decades ahead. Something must be done.
Safeguard a Crossing Route
Which brings matters round to our key infrastructure demand – a new crossing of the railway and river just north of the station. Since our inception we have called for a new crossing. One solution is incorporated in our masterplan for the town centre, launched to much acclaim and support last February. At the meeting on the 16th there was again overwhelming support for the crossing, with 93% agreeing a route for it should be safeguarded in the Local Plan, with no other solution available. Yet there is no such commitment in the MMs and Policy S3.
A Better Town Centre Helps Everyone
The next few weeks will see the Local Plan drama play out. We are hoping other resident and action groups will join us in declaring the Plan ‘unsound’. We have been challenged in the past about focusing exclusively on the town centre. While not apologising for that, we hope our submissions around housing, where we call for more in a properly masterplanned town centre, can be seen as complementary to equally focused campaigns on Green Belt development.
Green Belt development just creates more car movements and congestion. Over 20,000 more people living outside the town will in no way help our roads or the centre. By contrast, 10,000 more people living in the town centre, able to access public transport and sustainable movement options, should make an impressive reduction in the demand for Green Belt development as well as sustaining the town centre economy.
We will Press On
We will continue to press our case in the coming weeks. Given the importance of having a sound Local Plan, we are also hoping the council will set aside its reluctance of some years now to engage with us so a meaningful and progressive dialogue can be established. Sadly only three councillors were present to hear our reasoning and to see the overwhelming support of the community, with important questions posed during Q&A.
As the support for GVG at our meeting demonstrated and evidenced in the exit poll, our arguments around masterplanning the town centre are logical, aspirational and what residents and businesses want to see happen.
We Love Guildford because..
Two worthy winners of ‘I Love Guildford because…’ competition were announced at the public meeting. Both received £100 vouchers to spend at the Cosy Club in the new Tunsgate. Heather Mantle used a photo of building detail of the Trinity Centre to remind us to stop and really study our fine heritage, ‘to look again when we think we’ve ‘seen’ but have only really glanced.’ Ian Blyth, in a written submission, said ’Guildford has the wonderful amenities associated with a town but retains an almost village-like feel ‘. His ‘people’ focus struck a chord with the judges. Our best wishes to them and thanks to all who took part.