The Clock is Ticking – or is it a Time Bomb?
Julian D S Lyon MBA FRICS
The Consultation Periods for the Town Centre Vision and the Draft Local Plan both end on 22nd September.
Guildford Vision Group and Guildford Society talks on Town Centre Vision (3rd September at the Millmead Centre) and Local Plan Submission (15th September at the Trinity Centre) are coming up fast.
The Town Centre Vision is a vital component of the Local Plan – a once in fifty to a hundred year opportunity to reclaim the riverside from traffic and create a fabulous environment in which to live, work, study and play. The Surrey Advertiser (Friday 29th September) gave a glimpse of the GVG concept plan to reroute the traffic to the west of the town centre and to create pedestrian priority around the river and between the town centre and the station, university and cathedral.
A viable and vibrant town centre needs plenty of people living in the town, and yet much of the town centre (believe it or not) scores in the most deprived 3% of local super output areas (‘LSOA‘s) in the country for outdoor living environment! Simply piling more housing into town without comprehensively resolving that issue would simply be wrong.
The Local Plan – if you had just arrived here and read the column inches in the media – would seem to be all about the complete devastation of the green belt and the imposition of an astronomic number of homes per year.
However much it may feel like that is the case, the reality is different.
The amount of green belt (in net terms) proposed for development is quite small and the housing numbers at 652 are high but our run rate to 2011 since 1931 averages 495 homes per year. Recent press reports emphasise the pressures on our population numbers and the Government is trying to deal with a current housing shortage.
The approach has been wrong. Perhaps some of the sites proposed are wrong. The mathematics seem to be inexplicably wrong. The evidence base is a poor starting point for some fundamental changes to our spatial planning. These are all good reasons to respond robustly to the Local Plan Consultation.
On the other hand, there are some major spatial planning issues that really need addressing:
We have (in this generally wealthy borough) thirteen LSOAs in the poorest 50% in the country and one in the poorest 25% nationally under the Multiple Deprivation Index. This in itself seems like a small local area to work on but drilling down into details tells a different story.
- We have several areas in the most deprived 5% in the country for access to housing and services.
- We have one particular area where, even in this generally well-educated borough, we are in the poorest 2.5% in the county for young person’s education and skills.
- We have some wild extremes of performance across the borough in many of the other deprivation domains
Alongside this challenging set of statistics, we know our infrastructure has lacked meaningful investment for decades.
Guildford, as a second tier authority, cannot solve many of these issues alone – there needs to be a shadow unitary authority to actually get things done – but it can lay the groundwork by allocating land for solutions and delivering real vision and leadership through the Local Plan.
There are many other issues that the Local Plan should seek to resolve. Many of these issues will require major investment and, absent contributions from Government, we will need developments to help finance some of these solutions.
My experience tells me that small-scale developments will not fund such deficits and so, from the data I have examined rather than from reading the evidence base, I am persuaded that we need to think bigger than nibbling at the edges or pulling up the drawbridge.
Looking at the town centre again, we do need more people living in the town centre but we need them and the current residents to have better access to a great outdoor environment – designed for living in, not requiring a constant fight with traffic to get from A to B, without having to breathe in pollutants from traffic sitting in queues belching exhaust fumes into the air. Town centre homes can reduce the pressure on the green belt but preserving one environment (green belt) whilst destroying another (Guildford Urban Area) would not be sustainable.
I do not think the Local Plan has got it right and the Guildford Society will be responding robustly.
Despite the personalisation of the public responses – born out of understandable frustration but, in my view, quite misdirected – I do believe that Cllr Mansbridge is the kind of leader who can make a difference. We have two specific tasks in the next three weeks and thereafter:
- submit our objective responses to the Draft Plan, the Town Centre Vision (Oh, yes, and the Habitats consultation and the upcoming Surrey County Council Transport consultation); and
- follow up to ensure our respective comments are noted and reflected in the next iteration.
I hope we will finish up with a Local Plan that gets to grips with the issues, seizes the right opportunities and leaves the majority of the borough intact. To paraphrase Cllr Mansbridge’s recent statement:
IN ORDER FOR MUCH OF THE BOROUGH TO STAY PRETTY MUCH THE SAME, SOME THINGS WILL HAVE TO CHANGE, and the Local Plan is about making those changes in the least impactful way.