Guildford Borough Council's Liberal Democrats re-state their commitment to a fair, proportionate and sustainable Local Plan

November 22, 2017 5:07 PM
By Caroline Reeves

Guildford Borough Council's Liberal Democrats re-state their commitment to a fair, proportionate and sustainable Local Plan as council approves its submission to Government

On Thursday 21st November at an Extraordinary Meeting of Guildford Borough Council councillors voted on whether to submit the Local Plan Statement 2017 to the Secretary of State. The Liberal Democrats are clear that its borough councillors are free to vote as they see fit - there is no form of whip on this or any council vote. Each councillor balances their dual role of representing the views of their own ward residents along with the wider views and needs of the borough as whole.

Since the very first iteration of the draft Local Plan in 2014 Liberal Democrat councillors have maintained their call for a fair balance of development across the borough and proportionate, sustainable development to meet local housing need without destroying our environment. We must have the right infrastructure in place including good public transport, provide an adequate road system (including access to railway stations) and good access to schools, health services, shops, leisure facilities and employment opportunities. We are clear that Guildford's Local Plan is one of the most important issues for everyone in the borough; anyone who lives, works or visits here will be affected in some way. Both the town and villages are important and the Local Plan must not protect one at the expense of the other. We need the right size housing in the right place, protecting communities from over development, raising the quality of life for residents across the borough to improve urban areas, enhance villages, reduce traffic congestion, put pedestrians and cyclists first, support local businesses and improve the infrastructure for all communities.

Lib Dem Group Leader Caroline Reeves said

"The Conservative government has not dealt us a fair hand when setting out the methodology for the Local Plan. The contradiction of balancing the restrictions of the green belt and our AONB with the Government drive for housing has been either ignored by our representatives in Parliament, all of whom are Conservative MPs, or their proposed solution has been to simply put it all in a part of the borough that isn't in their constituency. The Tory government's dictatorial approach makes the decision on this Local Plan very difficult for all local councillors. That's why Lib Dems are free to vote as they think best in the interest of the residents they represent.

We must think of our children and grandchildren, many of whom are unable to live in the borough unless they share accommodation. Renting even small properties is out of the reach of far too many. We are already seeing Universal Credit impacting on residents with some losing their homes, this problem will not decrease and our vulnerable will be become more so."

In the final vote on Tuesday evening, the Liberal Democrat councillors who voted in favour said that this iteration of the Local Plan is the Council's last chance to retain any control in the face of the Tory government's pressure to build more houses at any cost. With this plan, we can hope to ensure that what is built is what we need, smaller homes not mansions, infrastructure improvements to create genuine sustainability to support development plus a clear way of improving transport services, cycling and life for pedestrians.

Those who voted against recognised the potential benefits of having a Local Plan in place but thought this Local Plan was not acceptable, fearing that the infrastructure improvements would not be enough to prevent increased traffic congestion and air pollution. They questioned the housing target, deploring the loss of Green Belt land, and wanted a review to ensure development was proportionate to the local community and responded to more local housing need.

Speaking in her personal capacity as councillor for Friary & St Nicolas Caroline Reeves explained her decision to vote in favour of submission of the Local Plan:

"I understand why some councillors are unhappy, but I have to consider the interests of the whole borough and the needs of my own urban ward. With a Local Plan in place we will have the opportunity to defend ourselves from unsuitable development of high rise in urban areas, and contentious development in the green belt and countryside. Currently we refuse applications which then go to appeal and developers cite our lack of a current Local Plan, at least a submitted plan carries more weight. We urgently need a Local Plan in place to give us the grounds to persuade developers to build what the Borough wants and needs, not just what developers want.

I voted for the submission of the draft Local Plan. It isn't perfect, but the alternative of not doing so is far more damaging."

Colin Cross, councillor for the Green Belt ward of Lovelace, is angry about the allocation of the former Wisley Airfield site for a new town of over 2,000 homes. Cllr Cross says

"This site allocation would have a devastating impact on my ward, tripling the number of households and destroying the rural character of the villages of Ockham, Ripley and Wisley. Unfortunately I am abroad and unable to vote at the meeting, but I will continue to fight against this Local Plan on behalf of my residents."

Liz Hogger, councillor for the Green Belt ward of Effingham commented on her vote:

"I had to balance the desperate need for an up-to-date Local Plan to protect our borough from damaging planning-by-appeal against my very strong worries about the increased traffic on rural roads and loss of open countryside, especially from the proposed new town at the former Wisley Airfield. Effingham is currently waiting for the Secretary of State's decision on a planning appeal for a massive housing development on Green Belt land in our village. We have a Neighbourhood Plan ready for a referendum in February which needs to have this Local Plan in place to be effective. To protect the best interests of my own ward, I voted for the submission of this Local Plan, in spite of its imperfections."

Onslow Councillors David Goodwin and Tony Phillips said

"We voted against the Local Plan going forward as we have consistently opposed the Blackwell Farm development being included as a strategic site. We should protect our Green Belt and avoid increasing traffic congestion that would damage the environment in Onslow; this Local Plan needs a rethink."