Guildford Picks holes in its own Local Plan week after Adoption

Guildford Live

Guildford Borough Council will spend £20,000 on a lawyer who will review the authority’s Local Plan ahead of a fight in the High Court.

The Local Plan – which sets how many houses will be built in the borough and possibly where – was controversially adopted at the end of April just one week before the Conservatives suffered a crushing defeat at the local elections, partly due to public opposition to the plan.

Two weeks ago a High Court judge revealed a hearing will now be held to review the legality of that plan following three separate applications for a judicial review.

In reaction, on Tuesday (July 23) councillors voted to appoint a QC to check they followed correct processes when adopting the Local Plan, ahead of the High Court challenge. It will be the second lawyer to look over the plans.

The council will also carry out a review of whether some of the 10,678 homes it needs to build by 2034 can be on brown field sites instead of green belt land

The QC appointment and review got the backing of the majority of the new administration and councillors – some of whom voted against adopting the Local Plan in the first place. Many also pledged to carry out a review when they were campaigning for the May 2 local elections.

Cllr Susan Parker, Guildford Greenbelt Group, put forward the motion to appoint a second QC and review brown field capacity.

Speaking in the council chamber at full council on Tuesday, July 23, she said: “Every home built in rural areas will rely on a car to get people to work, school or leisure. We don’t have adequate infrastructure and roads are going to be more congested.”

She said building on “fragile land” would have “appalling consequences” and that a review of brown field sites would not mean “high-rise or the Wokingisation of Guildford” referring to skyscrapers being built in Woking town centre.

She said the judicial review was a “fantastic opportunity” and that the second QC could offer advice of what steps to take with the court case and how it defends itself.

Cllr Parker said costs could be up to £20,000 for the QC with costs defending the case in court mounting to “hundreds of thousands of pounds”.

The motion, drawn up by Cllr Parker along with council leader Cllr Caroline Reeve, Lib Dem, and Cllr Joss Bigmore from R4GV, states that “if errors or weaknesses in the council’s position are found” then the QC can advise on whether it should take an active part in court proceedings or not, concede particular points or agree a form of order with other parties to proceedings to present to the court.

But Conservatives and Labour rejected the motion warning that brown field sites are “not the answer” and that all correct processes were followed when the ruling Tories moved to adopt the Local Plan in April. Some Lib Dems and Labour councillors also voted to adopt the plan.

Cllr Angela Gunning, Labour, said: “I think homelessness is far more appalling than building houses on fields.

“We need to think about what our priorities are for the people who live in this borough. Brown field sites have to be cleared. Please don’t assume brown field sites in the town centre are the answer to everything.”

Former council leader Cllr Paul Spooner said they did their utmost to allocate brown field sites for development. And Cllr Nigel Manning said appointing a second QC would undermine the Local Plan.

Blackwell Farm will be part of the High Court case (Image: Steve Porter)

Councillors voted 37 for and eight against the motion.

High Court judge Sir Duncan Ouseley granted permission for the hearing earlier this month following three separate judicial reviews logged by parish councils and Guildford residents.

They claim Guildford Borough Council and the planning inspector Jonathan Bore failed to demonstrate the exceptional circumstances required to remove land from the green belt especially in the case of Wisley Airfield and Blackwell Farm .

As set out in the Local Plan, the borough will see a delivery of 10,678 homes by 2034 – resulting in a total housing supply of 14,602 between 2015-2034, including those completed and with permission.

The population of Guildford is set to rise from 145,473 in 2015 to 167,126 by 2034.

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