To say it’s been a long road for the Councillors and Planning Officers behind Guildford Borough Council’s Local Plan would be an understatement.
The process began in early 2013 and culminated last night when the Plan was finally adopted by 28 votes to 12 (there were four abstentions) after a lengthy debate, punctuated by protests from the various resident’s groups.
The decision to have the Council vote on the Plan a week before one of the most unpredictable local elections in recent memory is not a conventional one. But it’s fair to say that this hasn’t been a conventual process from the start.
When the Council initially submitted the Plan for examination in 2017, it came back to them with comments from the Inspector that they should increase the housing target from 654 to 671 homes per year. The Council’s leadership fought this and resubmitted a plan that saw housing targets lowered to 562 a year. This was accepted by the Inspector as the initial plan figures were in line with the 2016 Housing Assessment numbers before an announcement from central government required a change in the figures used in future Local Plans.
This crafty move one might have expected to be met with cheers of joy from the local residents who would see less development as a result of the removal of four Green Belt sites from the Plan. However, strong opposition groups have shifted the focus away from this win and back towards the Conservative’s ambitious timetable for the Plan.
Last night’s decision ensured that no changes could be made to the document in the event of the Conservatives losing significant numbers after the election. However, overarching criticisms of the Administration combined with this decision could, in the short-term, harm the Conservative’s large majority on the Council. But they now have a legacy document in place that defied expectations and represents a win against the Planning Inspectorate and the Opposition and provides the party with ample campaigning material for the future.
Among those voting in favour of the Plan were the loyal Conservative Party members, the few Labour councillors present in Guildford and a handful of Liberal Democrats who had previously voted the Plan down. This bi-partisan voting is an impressive result and good news for the borough. However, the Conservatives now face the public in the local election against the backdrop of a Plan that they have had to force through against the wishes of their core supporters.
With elections so unpredictable next week due to national issues there is no doubt that the Plan has not helped the Conservative’s chances in Guildford and a shock result might be on the cards.