The Times has reported on a leaked document suggestion that the Government plans to further relax green belt protection.
Housing debate tonight
There is to be a debate about housing in Guildford this evening at 7pm at the University, chaired and broadcast by the Surrey Advertiser.
The panel comprises 4 pro-housing representatives – Neville Bryan, who was due to represent the Guildford Greenbelt Group, has been deselected (not really a balanced debate!)
It will be an excellent opportunity to point out some of the flaws in the Council’s approach to the Local Plan generally and to Blackwell Farm in particular.
I’ve outlined below a few of the questions I think it would be good to have answered, and it would be great if as many of you as possible could go along and raise some of these, as well as any questions you yourselves may have. All these questions have been raised by many of us before, but we still haven’t had any satisfactory or straight answers to them.
Best wishes and good luck!
- Who is the local plan for? Shouldn’t it be for the people of Guildford? If Guildford cannot deliver genuinely affordable homes (which it won’t) then it would only appear to serve only landowners and developers who are going to cash in, as well as the Government’s agenda to build the country out of the current economic crisis. It wouldn’t appear to do anything to improve the quality of life of people who currently live in Guildford or for future generations.
- How is Guildford Borough Council going to deliver genuinely affordable homes? Does the Council really believe that by building 14,000 homes (the vast majority of which will be on the green belt), it will bring down the price of housing in Guildford? Local estate agents and Edge Analytics (the consultant which advised the Council on the SHMA) all confirm that Guildford house prices are driven by the London market and by an outflow of workers seeking better value-for-money homes in attractive locations within the commuter belt. [Edge Analytics writes: “Whilst it is evident that Guildford Borough has a particularly acute affordability issue, it is less clear how an upwards adjustment to housing provision would manifest itself as an improvement to the affordability position.”]
- Affordable homes are only 80% of the market and therefore still beyond the reach of most young people. But, even supposing this was affordable, how is Guildford Borough Council going to ensure that:
- 40% of housing that landowners and developers deliver is actually affordable when the Local Plan allows them to simply argue that infrastructure costs make this level of affordable housing provision non viable. The infrastructure costs associated with Blackwell Farm, for example, are in excess of £50m – and this doesn’t even include the costs of the school, the reservoirs to prevent flooding, or any sewerage infrastructure etc.
- housing remains “affordable” and is not sold on the open market downstream
Won’t you end up with a bigger Guildford but with all the same problems in the longer term? But of course, with more congestion/noise/ pollution and loss of the natural environment as a result of green belt being lost.
- The University has repeatedly and publicly argued that it needs to build on Blackwell Farm in order to provide homes for its staff and key workers. However, it was given the opportunity to build 300 such homes in the last Local Plan and has only built 30 of them (ten per cent). These were supposed to be separate dwellings with gardens, but in reality, they formed units within the student halls of residence. If the University needs these homes to be built, why doesn’t the Council take steps to ensure that it builds the remaining 270 homes on some of the 63 hectares the land that was taken out of green belt for this purpose in 2003? Refusing to roll back the green built a second time, will ensure that the University builds these houses where it promised they would be built.
- At the last Local Plan in 2003, the University pushed for 63 hectares at Manor Farm to be removed from the green belt specifically so that it could expand and provide student and staff housing. Most of that housing has not been delivered – it still owes 3,200 units – despite the student population growing to 14,000 (1,500 above what it planned in 2003). The University is now asking for more green belt land. No wonder Guildford’s residents feel aggrieved. If this housing was built, it would free up around 1,500 of the cheaper homes in the town centre, which key workers desperately need. Shouldn’t Guildford Borough Council be pushing for this rather than planning to build across farmland at Blackwell Farm, which forms the views from an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty?
- The University has been wasteful with the former farmland already gifted to it by the people of Guildford. Its Research Park has been built at very low density – 27 hectares for just 65,000m2 of office space, and there are more than 20 hectares of surface level car parking across its estate. Shouldn’t GBC be encouraging the University to use this land more efficiently by building additional office space above the surface car parks, and by introducing mixed-use development across the site. and to build offices and flats above its car parks before handing over more green fields? Building at the same plot-ration as the approved Master Plan for Manor Park would provide six times the office accommodation on the Research Park than exists at present. Can GBC really justify taking neighbouring land out of green belt instead? Doesn’t GBC have a duty to protect our natural environment – particularly when the Council was elected on its manifesto to protect the green belt – naming Blackwell Farm in its election literature in particular?