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Planning inspector Jonathan Bore, who is overseeing the public examination of the Guildford Local Plan, has repeatedly pointed to the need for more homes to be built earlier in the plan period, rather than coming in later as proposed by Guildford Borough Council’s proposals. The Inspector’s latest challenge on this topic can be seen here. On 28 June the Council issued its response, available here. This identifies a number of sites around the borough that are not part of the Plan proposals but which, the Council argues, could boost housing supply in the first 5 years of the plan. This includes a site in Normandy described as "Village Extension, East of Glaziers Lane, Flexford, 105 homes".

Although the Council have yet to confirm which site exactly this refers to, a quick investigation suggests it is the land in Glaziers Lane adjacent to and on the north side of the North Downs railway line just east of the railway bridge. This land was originally identified in the 2012 Strategic Housing Land Availability Assessment (SHLAA) as 'ID 2010 Land between Glaziers Lane and Strawberry Farm' with "Development Potential" of 107 houses and flats on an area of 5.82 hectares at a density of 30dph. It disappeared from the 2014 SHLAA but re-appeared in the 2016 Land Area Assessment as a site discounted for housing. For those of you who have followed the NAG e-newsletter and web site, this is more familiar as the land already subject to two failed planning applications: 16/P/01452 (42 dwellings) and 17/P/01413 (9 dwellings), although these covered a smaller area than the full 5.82 hectares of the site identified in 2012.

As this land was never proposed by GBC in its Submission Local Plan, and as it falls in the Green Belt area outside the 'inset' boundary proposed for the Flexford settlement, the Council would need to prove the "exceptional circumstances" required to re-draw the Green Belt boundary to release the land for housing development. So far, GBC have provided no evidence of "exceptional circumstances" for any Green Belt site proposed in the submission plan. The site also lies in the 400 metre to 5 kilometre mitigation zone of the Thames Basin Heaths Special Protection Area (TBHSPA).

In previous planning applications, the lack of availability of Suitable Alternative Natural Greenspace (SANG) to minimise the impact on the TBHSPA was a factor. However, since the successful application for change of use from agricultural to SANG at Russell Place Farm, Wood Street, this is no longer a material consideration and the bar has, in effect, been lowered.

NAG is extremely disappointed and frustrated by this turn of events. During the first 2 weeks of the Examination in Public, although the Inspector has appeared unsympathetic to arguments put forward by the Guildford Vision Group, the Guildford Residents Association, the Guildford Greenbelt Group and CPRE Surrey about the likely harm to the Green Belt of the plan as submitted, he has been attentive to arguments that the Council has failed to put forward proposals for housing delivery in Guildford town centre in the context of a Town Master Plan and that it has failed to use land listed in the Brownfield Land Register. As has been pointed out previously, it is not the inspector's job to change the plan but to put forward suggestions to the Council that will enable them to make changes that render the plan lawful in the Inspector's eyes.

We would have hoped that the Inspector’s challenge would have led the Council to revisit its reluctance to consider a more imaginative development of the Guildford town centre. Instead they have fallen back on carving a further slice out of the Green Belt, despite the fact that the Normandy/Flexford site at least has featured in none of the previous versions of the Local Plan that have gone to public consultation.

What are the implications of this for our community? We should be wary of jumping to too many conclusions before we even have confirmation of the Council’s plans, and we know whether there will be an opportunity to oppose them. However, if the proposed site is adopted it will mean an extension of the Flexford settlement boundary north of the railway line, thereby closing the gap between the discrete settlements of Normandy and Flexford and increasing the likelihood of further ‘village extensions’ in future.

Additionally, there is the continuing menace of the mega-development of 1100 houses in the area between Westwood and Glaziers Lanes; the developers have not given up on this even though for now the Council is resisting (see for example paras 47-49 of the second referenced document, above). Planning is a long game, and what might seem to be small changes now can have a major impact on development in the future.

There is to be a further Hearing about this matter (which is item 14 on the Inspector’s agenda for the Examination, “Boosting housing supply and early years provision”) on Tuesday 3 July at 1000 at the Council Chamber, Millmead. Members of the public are allowed to attend, although there is no guarantee of a place. Unfortunately the hearings are not webcast.

Wednesday the 14th - Published by Normandy Action Group, 166 Glaziers Lane, Guildford GU3 2EB - with thanks to Keith Witham, Surrey County Councillor - Hostgator Coupon Template