Following the completion of the Guildford Borough Council Local Plan - Issues & Options consultation on the 29th Nov 2013, the Council Leader Stephen Mansbridge has issued the following statement on behalf of the Guildford Borough Council Conservative group.
The Issues and Options consultation has now closed. It took more than three years to amass the background documents which, in total, ran to more than 2,500 pages. We were advised that all this work was necessary in order to prove to the National Planning Inspectorate that we have indeed considered all the options.
We, as a group, decided to engage deeply with our residents and in as neutral a way as possible. With a task of this scale, we gave clear guidance to the planning service at GBC and they did their best to ensure that the consultation was properly conducted. We recognise that this required many of you to undertake a lot of reading and we thank you for your trouble and your interest.
There has been a significant response to the consultation with something in excess of 10,000 responses and there are still more to count. In comparison to previous consultations, this can be considered to have been very successful and we thank all of you for your hard work.
Feelings have run high at times, partly because options have been taken by some to be intentions. We have been at great pains to explain to the many pressure groups, parish councils, residents’ associations and key stakeholders that their opinions are an important element in the decision-making process and as yet, no formal plan has been decided upon.
Over the coming months, as we, together with the planning policy team, analyse the output from the consultation, we shall start to form the draft plan and we shall keep you informed as to how this is progressing in preparation for the consultation in 2014.
There have been some mixed messages from central government about the Local Plan process and we are pleased that key ministers have heard our requests for clarification and are now responding by meeting us in the near future. Anne Milton (MP for Guildford) has been working behind the scenes to facilitate this and we are most grateful for her help.
We feel it is now the right time to set out our ambitions as we go into this plan forming process. Our fundamental standpoint, as your group of local Conservatives for Guildford borough, follow these themes:
- Infrastructure - Improved infrastructure in the town and on A3 junctions is an essential element to alleviate congestion, although this is not within our gift to deliver ourselves, we will continue to work with Surrey County Council and ministers to bring about change that will alleviate our traffic problems.
- Brownfield sites - These will be thoroughly exhausted for residential use before any other sites are considered. How we do this needs to be balanced as to how we want to see our town evolve in the future and a vision paper will accompany the draft Local Plan.
- Strategic sites – The consideration of the concept of a strategic site will need to be looked at through this process once all other options have been fully utilised in the best way possible. However, we need to balance this with the benefits that are attributed with this option: money for infrastructure, schools, surgeries and employment. Clearly, at this stage we do not yet know the extent to which this option might be necessary, if at all.
- Villages - We do not want to see anything more than proportional development in our villages. We recognise that villages have their own unique character and over development would destroy this. We also recognise that the younger generation of Guildford residents struggle to gain access to these areas and we aim to carefully balance this argument.
- We also recognise that as home working becomes more widespread and superfast broadband rolls out, we want to see the growth of micro economies and embrace the need to protect or bring back village amenities, such as the shop and the pub.
- Green belt - Conservatives have been the guardians of the green belt for many years and we shall do all we can to guard it for future generations.
- Affordable housing - We do want and need to find space for more affordable and social homes in both urban areas and in villages. We need to help our younger generation stay in Guildford and live there with their young families and more affordable housing will help us achieve this.
- Business vitality - We have always tried to support businesses and we shall continue to do so. It is the strength of our economy that is key to persuading government to fund infrastructure changes.
- Retail economy - We will continue with the town centre North Street development, which we intend will be a mixture of retail, residential and open space.
- Visitor economy - We believe that this will benefit from greater co-ordination and will provide jobs for less skilled people.
- Rural economy - This is a key focus and we want to do all we can to help businesses operating in our countryside to thrive.
These themes will guide us as a political group as we make some difficult planning choices. Each of your Conservative councillors will play their part in the formation of this plan and they will keep you regularly informed at ward level. They will do their very best to represent the views of those who have elected them.
The task that confronts us is to develop a firmly based, well argued Local Plan that will determine the borough’s future over the next two decades and beyond.
After all the recent public debate and now that the initial consultation is over, we hope this makes our ambition clear and gives you all confidence in some of the basic views that will guide us in our decision making.”
End of statement. 4th Dec 2013