As regular readers will be aware, Conservative Guildford Borough Council is rushing to war on the Green Belt. Their acceptance of developers’ wishes to build on pristine greenfield sites instead of previously developed brownfield ones has met with huge public opposition. There have been well-supported petitions and marches, and not just from people who normally oppose Conservative policies either.
Hapless, two-time drink-driver Cllr Stephen Mansbridge, who is still Leader of Guildford BC, has blamed central government and the Planning Inspectorate. He claimed that if GBC submitted a Local Plan which did not meet independently assessed housing needs then the Inspectorate would force a change in Green Belt boundaries. He tried to persuade people to accept a reduction in the Green Belt of their choosing rather than have one forced on us, which he said was inevitable.
It turns out he was wrong, either deliberately or inadvertently. The Planning Minister, Nick Boles, sent a letter to the Planning Inspectorate last week (and made a written submission to Parliament) on this subject which couldn’t clearer: Nick Boles letter
He says that the Secretary of State, Eric Pickles, will prevent the Planning Inspectorate overruling local authorities if they decide not to change Green Belt boundaries, even if it means they miss their housing targets. A link to the statement is here. The second bullet point claims that Boles is:
re-affirming green Belt protection, noting that unmet housing need is unlikely to outweigh harm to the green Belt and other harm to constitute very special circumstances justifying inappropriate development
This puts Cllr Mansbridge and Tory Guildford Borough Council in a rather tricky spot. I was interviewed on BBC Surrey radio last Thursday about this.
I think it is time for Cllr Mansbridge to listen to the public and scrap plans to change Green Belt boundaries within Guildford Borough. He has claimed that the council cannot live within its budget and needs the New Homes Bonus that building on the Green Belt would bring. He has also raised Council Tax this year by the maximum allowed. However, the cut to GBC’s non-ringfenced central government funding has only been 2.1% since 2010, much less than the 34%+ suffered by some less fortunate authorities.
Under Mansbridge, GBC seem unable to make efficiencies or even meet basic expectations of residents. He recently wrote a very long letter to the Surrey Advertiser grumbling and moaning about how it wasn’t his fault that Council Tax was rising, the traffic in Guildford is impossible, the Green Belt was about to be lost and there was no hope of building the new homes we need.
Guildford needs new leadership. We need to get a grip. Protect our Green Belt. Force developers to use the planning permissions they already hold. Sort out the abysmal traffic and transport problems. And stop demanding ever higher Council Tax from even the poorest families in the borough.
Cllr Mansbridge has had two warnings already. He told the Prime Minister that he expects to lose control of the council along with the parliamentary seat in 2015. People in Guildford can’t wait that long. Mansbridge should go now before extending his record of failure. He has run out of excuses.