Exceptional circumstances

‘Exceptional Circumstances’

Planning law states that Green Belt boundaries may only be changed in ‘exceptional circumstances’. This statement is repeated in the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) at para 83:

‘Once established, Green Belt boundaries should only be altered in exceptional circumstances, through the preparation or review of the Local Plan. At that time, authorities should consider the Green Belt boundaries having regard to their intended permanence in the long term, so that they should be capable of enduring beyond the plan period.’

What does this statement mean?

The judge in the St Albans v Hunston Pties case said:

‘The Framework was published by the Government in order to set out its planning policies for England, so as to give guidance to local planning authorities and other decisions-makers in the planning system. It was seen by the Minister for Planning as simplifying national planning guidance “by replacing over a thousand pages of national policy with around fifty, written simply and clearly.” Unhappily, as this case demonstrates, the process of simplification has in certain instances led to a diminution in clarity.’

This is the link to the St Albans case:

http://www.bailii.org/cgi-bin/markup.cgi?doc=/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2013/1610.html&query=st+and+albans+and+v+and+hunston&method=boolean

It turns on what circumstances are considered exceptional.

GBC’s opinion

Guildford Borough Council (GBC) has stated what it considers to be the meaning of ‘exceptional circumstances’. It can be found at   Appendix 4b Sub Appendix A Joint Scrutiny Committee Resolution 8 published in connection with the Scrutiny Committee on the draft Local Plan.

Appendix 4 – exceptional circumstances

There is no definition of what constitutes exceptional circumstances, as this will vary locally. Legal advice suggests that it is likely to be interpreted as circumstances arising that are not commonplace. We consider that a combination of factors exist locally that together constitute exceptional circumstances that enable us to take the decision to amend our Green Belt boundaries. This includes the high level of housing need, including affordable homes, exacerbated by a significant backlog of unmet need, the lack of suitable alternative land, the general lack of affordability across the borough and issues with housing mix. Additionally we need to consider the consequences of not amending our Green Belt boundaries which would be to significantly worsen an already difficult housing position, and the consequential economic situation.’

The opinion of the Courts

 The Court of Appeal laid down the meaning of the words ‘exceptional circumstances’ in the context of plannign law as long ago as 2001 in the COPAS case:  COPAS & Anr v Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead  February, 2001

You can read the case by following this link:

http://www.bailii.org/cgi-bin/markup.cgi?doc=/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2001/180.html&query=COPAS&method=boolean

The Court is the second highest court in the land. Three judges sit to hear cases. Its opinion is therefore authoritative.

This is what Simon Brown LJ ruled in para 40

‘I would hold that the requisite necessity in a … case like the present – where the revision proposed is to increase the Green Belt – cannot be adjudged to arise unless some fundamental assumption which caused the land initially to be excluded from the Green Belt is thereafter clearly and permanently falsified by a later event.    Only then could the continuing exclusion of the land from the Green Belt properly be characterised as “an incongruous anomaly”.’

This case was cited as a leading precedent by the judge in the Gallagher case only a few months ago.

Gallagher v Solihull April, 2014 (High Court England & Wales)

You can read this case by following this link:

http://www.bailii.org/cgi-bin/markup.cgi?doc=/ew/cases/EWHC/Admin/2014/1283.html&query=gallagher+and+v+and+solihull&method=boolean

The judge in that case said:

At para 125

“The test for redefining a Green Belt boundary has not been changed by the NPPF.” “… it is not arguable that the mere process of preparing a new local plan could itself be regarded as an exceptional circumstance justifying an alteration to a Green Belt boundary. National guidance has always dealt with revisions of the Green Belt in the context of reviews of local plans (e.g. paragraph 2.7 of PPG2: paragraph 83 above), and has always required “exceptional circumstances” to justify a revision. The NPPF makes no change to this.”

‘ For redefinition of a Green Belt, para 2.7 of PPG2 required exceptional circumstances which ‘necessitated’ a revision of the existing boundary. However, this is a single composite test; because, for these purposes, circumstances are not exceptional unless they do necessitate a revision of the boundary (COPAS at [23] per Simon Brown LJ). Therefore, although the words requiring necessity for a boundary revision have been omitted from para 83 of the NPPF, the test remains the same.’

‘Exceptional circumstances are required for any revision of the boundary, whether the proposal is to extend or diminish the Green Belt. That is the ratio of Carpets of Worth.’

‘Whilst each case is fact-sensitive and the question of whether circumstances are exceptional for these purposes requires an exercise of planning judgment, what is capable of amounting to exceptional circumstances is a matter of law, and a plan-maker may err in law if he fails to adopt a lawful approach to exceptional circumstances. Once a Green Belt has been established and approved, it requires more than general planning concepts to justify an alteration.’

At para 130 he stated:

‘In other words, something must have occurred subsequent to the definition of the Green Belt boundary that justifies a change. The fact that, after the definition of the Green Belt boundary, the local authority or an inspector may form a different view on where the boundary should lie, however cogent that view on planning grounds, that cannot of itself constitute an exceptional circumstance which necessitates and therefore justifies a change and so the inclusion of the land in the Green Belt (see Hague at [32] per Collins J. Collins J in Hague held that, in addition to the undoing of an assumption on which the original decision was made, a clear error in excluding land from the Green Belt is sufficient, no such error is suggested here; and I need not consider that aspect of Hague further.)’

At para 131 he stated:

‘COPAS is, of course, binding upon me. Mr Dove said that these cases are fact-sensitive, and the facts of that case were very different from this. That is true; but, in the passage I have just quoted from Simon Brown LJ’s judgment, he was clearly and deliberately determining, as a matter of principle, what “exceptional circumstances” required, as a matter of law, in a case such as this. It is expressly a holding, with which the whole court agreed. I am consequently bound by it. In any event, it seems to have been consistently applied for over ten years; and, in my respectful view, is right.’

‘However, it is not arguable that the mere process of preparing a new local plan could itself be regarded as an exceptional circumstance justifying an alteration to a Green Belt boundary. National guidance has always dealt with revisions of the Green Belt in the context of reviews of local plans (e.g. paragraph 2.7 of PPG2: paragraph 83 above), and has always required “exceptional circumstances” to justify a revision. The NPPF makes no change to this.’

Your opinion?

Which of these interpretations do you think is objectively correct? GBC no doubt prefer their own opinion. But it is their own subjective opinion. It is for the courts to interpret the meaning of the policy.

The judge in the Gallagher case stated:

‘Whilst each case is fact-sensitive and the question of whether circumstances are exceptional for these purposes requires an exercise of planning judgment, what is capable of amounting to exceptional circumstances is a matter of law, and a plan-maker may err in law if he fails to adopt a lawful approach to exceptional circumstances. Once a Green Belt has been established and approved, it requires more than general planning concepts to justify an alteration.’

Some unique exceptional circumstances in Guildford

You may wish to consider if these circumstances are out of the commonplace and exceptional:

1)     The publication of a draft local plan without having first established the Housing Requirement figure

2)     The publication of a draft local plan without having completed a transport strategy

3)     The promotion of a ‘new town’ at Wisley – without asking and answering the logically prior question: does GBC need a new town?

4)     The inclusion of just one site for a new town in the draft local plan without any consideration of any other sites – or any public competition between sites

You might wish to consider whether these exceptional circumstances are consistent with Guildford Code of Conduct and Probity in Planning Code?

How was it that the private interest of the developer of Three Farms Meadow (aka Former Wisley Airfield) was promoted in the draft local plan – and mentioned in the first few paragraphs of the drafts of the document?

You might expect that since the Lead Councillor for Planning was elected on the basis, inter alia, of her statements that she was a barrister that she would be fastidious in ensuring that all the sites in the draft local plan can be justified by exceptional circumstances.

You might expect that the Council would be fastidious in applying its Codes.

To include sites for which no exceptional circumstances can be shown would be reckless.

Has not the Council been exposed to the risk of adverse judicial review of its decisions? Was this a good use of public money?

 

 

Vote against this DAFT local plan tonight

Dear Borough Councillor,

 The biggest threat to our borough and to the Green Belt is not the NPPF. It is Lead Councillors Mansbridge and Juneja.

 1. Bogus business agenda

They purport to follow a ‘pro business’ agenda. Their rhetoric is full of buzz –words: growth, ambition, development, targets. It attempts to imitate a radical Thatcherite agenda – which was appropriate when Arthur Scargill used his power as leader of a union which had a near monopoly on the supply of labour to an industry with a near monopoly of supply of fuel to the electricity industry in the UK. This rhetoric is hollow and ridiculously out of place in 2014.

 Remember, Mansbridge and Juneja have NO business credentials. They have simply appointed themselves as spin-meisters for the business sector. But they have never worked for the multinational businesses like Ericsson or Sanofi which are important to Guildford. They simply do not know what they are talking about.

 Why are these companies here?

 1)     Transport. Access to Heathrow, Gatwick and London. What does the Local Plan propose? Injecting transport cholesterol directly into the transport arteries of the borough. Thousands of new houses right on the A3 at Junction 10 and near the University.

2)     Skilled labour and unique countryside. These companies employ highly paid ex pats from across Europe and abroad and expect them to re-locate and to travel at short notice. This workforce is here because of our ‘green and pleasant land’ and the transport access. What does the Local Plan propose? To turn significant parts of the borough into a building site.

 2. The electorate and the rule of law.

 The voters of Guildford – yes even the silent ones – did not vote for and do not want revolutionary encroachment into the Green Belt. The silent majority is silent because it expects that the rule of law will be respected.

 What does the law say?

It says that the Green Belt should be permanent. What part of the word ‘permanent’ do Cllrs Mansbridge and Juneja have difficulty with?

It says that the Green Belt boundaries should only be changed in ‘Exceptional Circumstances’.

 Do you understand what this means? Cllrs Mansbridge and Juneja clearly don’t. Cllr Juneja asked Tim Harrold at the Executive Cttee meeting to approve the LP, ‘what do you think exceptional circumstances are?’

 She misses the point. The interpretation of the meaning of the policy, the words themselves, is not for Cllrs Mansbridge and Juneja to determine. It is not for GBC to determine. It is for the Courts.

 GBC claims to have received legal advice that there is no legal definition of what constitutes ‘exceptional circumstances’. This is just not true.

 Doubt who to believe? Then read the case law for yourself and form your own opinion.

 Here are the relevant cases:

If you want to read the originals click on the links

 1. Gallagher:

http://www.bailii.org/cgi-bin/markup.cgi?doc=/ew/cases/EWHC/Admin/2014/1283.html&query=gallagher+and+v+and+solihull&method=boolean

 2. St Albans

http://www.bailii.org/cgi-bin/markup.cgi?doc=/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2013/1610.html&query=st+and+albans+and+v+and+hunston&method=boolean

 3. Tesco stores v Dundee

http://www.bailii.org/cgi-bin/markup.cgi?doc=/uk/cases/UKSC/2012/13.html&query=tesco+and+stores+and+v+and+dundee&method=boolean

 4. Hague v Warwick

http://www.bailii.org/cgi-bin/markup.cgi?doc=/ew/cases/EWHC/Admin/2008/3252.html&query=hague+and+v+and+warwick&method=boolean

 5. COPAS

http://www.bailii.org/cgi-bin/markup.cgi?doc=/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2001/180.html&query=COPAS&method=boolean

 6. Carpets of Worth is not on Bailii. But I have a copy if anyone is interested.

 The judge in the Gallagher case (only a couple of months ago) stated:

1)     the test for re-defining Green Belt boundaries has not been changed by the NPPF

2)     the Local Plan process does NOT constitute an exceptional circumstance.

3)     This proposition is clear and uncontroversial: ‘Whilst each case is fact-sensitive and the question of whether circumstances are exceptional for these purposes requires an exercise of planning judgement, what is capable of amounting to exceptional circumstances is a matter of law and the plan maker may err in law if he fails to adopt a lawful approach to exceptional circumstances. Once a Green Belt has been established and approved, it requires more than general planning concepts to justify an alteration.’

4)     Judge Simon Brown (now Master of the Rolls?) stated in the COPAS case: ‘I would hold that …- where the revision proposed is to] [alter the Green Belt boundaries] …[exceptional circumstances] – cannot be adjudged to arise unless some fundamental assumption which caused the land initially to be excluded from [or included in] the Green Belt is thereafter clearly and permanently falsified by a later event.    Only then could the continuing exclusion of the land from the Green Belt properly be characterised as “an incongruous anomaly.”

5)     The judge in the Gallagher case states: ‘In other words, something must have occurred subsequent to the definition of the Green Belt boundary that justifies a change. The fact that, after the definition of the Green Belt boundary, the local authority … form[s] a different view on where the boundary should lie, … cannot of itself constitute an exceptional circumstance which necessitates and therefore justifies a change…

 3. Regulatory capture

 There is still no satisfactory explanation for why a site in the Parish of Ockham has been selected as the ONLY site in the entire borough for a new town.

 Cllrs Mansbridge and Juneja – and it would appear the permanent staff – ignore the objective facts:

1)     Not an airfield. The 114ha owned by WPI (fronted by a conservative politician) is 85% farmland and open countryside. It is false to describe it as an airfield. No plane has used this site for 40 years. It was sold back to Lord Lytton in 1980 as agricultural land. There are no buildings on site. (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wisley_airfield)

2)     Too small. GBC states that a site for a new town must be at least 110ha to be sustainable. 55.5ha of this site falls within the exclusion zone for the adjacent SPA. (See the Appendix to the daft local plan which shows the SANG – and gives the figure 55.5ha.)

3)     Not ‘available’: adjoining owners will not sell. Adjacent farmland has been included in the site in the draft LP. This adjacent land is NOT owned by WPI. Several of the owners have written to GBC to say their land is NOT AVAILABLE.

4)     No SANG has been identified by GBC. The developer’s proposal to put the SANG continguous with the SPA is ridiculous.

 On any objective evaluation this site should NOT be in the Local Plan.

 How do YOU reconcile the facts with the inclusion of this site in the LP as the ONLY site in the borough. What work has GBC done to assess whether a new town is needed? What assessment of appropriate sites has been carried out?

 So why is it there? Because the hedge fund manager behind this scheme was in the army and Cllr Mansbridge was in the army? Because the promoter of the project is a Conservative Cllr from Oxfordshire?

Doesn’t the inclusion of this site in these circumstances amount to regulatory capture? (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Regulatory_capture)

 Is it clear that the Planning Code of Conduct has been complied with. Is the evaluation of this site ‘honest’ and ‘transparent’? Form you own view.

 I believe that at best there have been serious ‘procedural irregularities’.

 It certainly does not help that the Parish of Ockham is for most practical purposes unrepresented in the Council at present – at a time when the Council is planning to obliterate it underneath a new town.

 Yes, OBLITERATE! You beg to disagree? Then consider this: the new town will contain as many houses as in the WHOLE of East AND West Horsley – in a fraction of the area -perhaps a fourth or fifth of the area! It will be THREE times bigger than Ripley. It will destroy the character and setting of the Ockham Conservation Area. It will destroy the character and setting of the Ripley Conservation Area. It will blight the setting of the many historic buildings in the Parish, many dating back to Saxon and Medieval times. It will blight the Special Protection Zone to the north. It will make the daily traffic standstills on the A3 and M25 even worse. Ever get stuck in ‘slow moving traffic’ in Cobham High Street? Just add a few thousand cars and a one way system in Plough Lane. Relax! With traffic improvements like this (paid for by who? – probably you as a taxpayer) everything will be even better.

4. Housing numbers

The NPPF prescribes how the housing numbers are to be evaluated. It is a sequential process. The key steps are:

 1. Household projections

These are demographic, trend-based projections indicating the likely number and type of future households if the underlying trends and demographic assumptions are realised. The projections are published by the Dept of Communities and Local Government and are subject to limitations set out, for example, in the section headed ‘Accuracy’.

 2. Full Objective Assessment of Need for Housing

This is the objectively assessed need for housing in an area, leaving aside policy considerations.

 3. Housing Requirement

This is the figure which reflects not only the assessed need for housing, but also any policy considerations that might require that figure to be adjusted to determine the actual housing target for an area

 Why hasn’t GBC followed all the steps in the sequence?

We now know that the household projection statistics were wrong. What do Cllrs Mansbridge and Juneja propose to do about it? Find alternative justifications for the number which they thought of first.

 We now know that the objective need estimates are inflated by student numbers? What has been done to correct this? Nothing!

 We know that objective need is not the end result. It must be adjusted to reflect Green Belt constraints. Why have no constraints been applied?

 It is your responsibility as a Cllr to ensure that the housing figures are properly assessed. So far Cllrs have not done their jobs. Step 3 above has been ignored. Cllrs have blindly followed an incompetent Executive.

 If you are Lib Dem or Labour Cllr consider this: Why have you not provided an effective opposition to this development crazed Executive?

 If you are a Conservative Cllr consider this: why have you not stood up for ‘procedural regularity’ and the rule of law? Why has no Cllr stood up and pointed out that the Executive completely ignored the Scrutiny Cttee. Doormats have more grit!

 The little Tin Gods in Guildford with their Tin Ears may disregard the electorate. But the electorate will fight and the electorate shall be right. Confident in your leadership? Think they will win in Court? Happy for them to be wasting public money on these half baked ideas? If so vote for this incompetent and amateur local plan. With any luck you wont be re-elected in 2015 to have to justify it.

 Yours etc,

 

3 facts about WPI’s front man

Que.  Who is behind the plan to remove 117 hectares from the Green Belt at Ockham?

Ans The land was acquired by a Caymans company called Wisley Property Investments (WPI). It purchased the land from Wharf Land – a Jersey company since liquidated. It is thought that the promoters of WPI are the same or similar to the people behind Wharf Land. But they remain hidden behind the secrecy of their offshore registration – beyond reach of British disclosure rules – and taxes.

Que So who fronts up for this company?

Ans. The person who consistently speaks on behalf of WPI (but refuses to disclose any information about its owners and financiers) is Mr Michael Murray. He regularly gives quotes to the Surrey Advertiser.

Que. Who is he?

 Ans. It turns out that he is a Conservative Party Councillor from The Vale of White Horse District Council in Oxfordshire. This is his entry on their website:

Councillor Michael Murray

Party: Conservative

Ward: Hendreds

Que. Why is he promoting WPI’s change of use of its land at Three Farms Meadow?

Ans. Well you’d have to ask him of course. When I asked him whether he has any financial interest in WPI he was evasive. But he has stated that he had no conflict of interest. It is not clear if that means that he is does not personally stand to make money if WPI manages to achieve a ‘change of use’ of Three Farms Meadow. Funnily enough he has an executive position on the Vale of White Horse District Council.  He is ‘Cabinet member for planning policy, including the core strategy’.
Que. Aren’t the Conservatives supposed to support the Green Belt?
Ans. Yes it was a manifesto commitment of the Guildford Tories, apparently. They do not seem to be living up to their election promises though.
Que. Does Mike Murray have any connections with the GBC executive?
Ans. Dont know. But he was seen by constituents at one of the GBC roadshows promoting the Local Plan. Apparently he spoke in favour of a ‘new town’ at Wisley.
Que. Anything wrong with that?
Ans. Yes. People who were there say he did not disclose any affiliation with WPI. So innocent members of the public could have received the impression that his comments came from a disinterested member of GBC. Taken with the fact that WPI and its agent Savilles state that GBC is ‘promoting’ the former Wisley Airfield as a site for a new town it all looks rather cosy.

Why GBC’s housing numbers do not add up. Listen to the public

Watch the public slam the housing numbers

Mrs Susan Parker of Guildford Green Belt launched a petition to

prepare a new SHMA and reject the consultant’s draft report as inadequate

Jane Buckingham launched a petition to

recognise the wishes of Effingham residents of maintaining the Green Belt between Effingham and Bookham when Guildford Borough Council is consulted on the Mole Valley Green Belt review.

Members of the public had the opportunity to address GBC on these issues at the Extraordinary Meeting of the Council on 26 February, 2014.

Watch the webcast:

http://www.guildford.public-i.tv/core/portal/webcast_interactive/127864

The public speakers are not all named on the webcast.

You will be left in no doubt that the developers attack on the Green Belt is unjustified.

Watch the speakers demolish the SHMA housing figures.

See especially Mrs Susan Parker, Dr Peter Shaw, Mr Roland McKinney, Mrs Helen Jefferies and Mr Ben Paton

Time in webcast Speaker comment
00:15:19 Arnold Pinner Chairman of Effingham Parish Council
00:18:28 David King Sec of Effingham Ratepayers Assoc
00:21:46 Lowis Driscoll Effingham Resident
00:24:26 Mr Tim Harrold Council for the Protection of Rural England
00:26:56 Susan Morris Local Historian
00:30:08 Vivianne White Effingham Resident and Historian
00:33:29 Mr Roland McKinney Effingham Resident
00:36:59 Public speaker Need vs demand
00:39.57 Dr Peter Shaw Student population demographics errors
00:43:14 Mr Ben Paton Judgement required in choosing housing numbers
00:46:39 Mrs Helen Jefferies House prices in Guildford
00:50:01 Public Speaker Inaccuracies in the evidence
00:53:17:13 Mr Roland McKinney Congestion
00:56:40 Public Speaker Shortcomings of SHMA
01:02:15 Jane Buckingham Effingham petition organiser
01:19:25 Jane Buckingham Effingham petition organiser
01:26:50 Mrs Susan Parker SHMA petition organiser
02:15:45 Mrs Susan Parker SHMA petition organiser

Wisley Action Group Press Release re draft local plan – 10 June 2014

Guildford planners ignored key

facts in Wisley ‘New Town’ plan  

National Planning Policy has been

brushed aside, say campaigners

 Guildford planners have ignored and brushed aside government guidelines by including ‘Three Farms Meadows’ – the former Wisley airfield – in the current draft Local Plan, despite being fully aware that insufficient land is available for the project.

And they have failed to act on an official letter from chartered town planners pointing out their error and calling on Guildford to remove the site from the plan, according to the Wisley Action Group [WAG].

A letter from town planners Bell Cornwell to members of Guildford Borough Council’s Executive and the Head of Planning Services, on June 4th, explained that The National Planning Policy Guidance confirmed that, in order to be included in the housing land supply, a site must be both AVAILABLE and DELIVERABLE at the time of inclusion.

Bell Cornwell confirmed that the plan for a ‘new town’ on the Wisley site includes land which is outside the ownership and control of Wisley Property Investments [WPI] and, accordingly, does not qualify.

Their letter explained that landowners had not been consulted about the inclusion of their land in the plan and that their properties were not available for the proposed development.  It went on to confirm that one of the land owners had informed Carol Humphrey, Head of Planning Services, in a letter, that their land was not available.

The Bell Cornwell letter also cited some of the other, clearly identifiable restraints to development at Wisley, including the Heathrow air traffic control DVOR at the eastern end of the site and legal issues arising from the Thames Basin Heaths SPA and the Habitat Regulations which meant that the necessary land was neither available nor deliverable in the plan period. [See attached Letter for details]

But the letter and its clear implications were not discussed or even raised at last Wednesday’s Special Meeting of the Executive at Millmead, although its receipt was acknowledged.

      2-

Helen Jefferies, committee member of the Wisley Action Group, said today that fundamental facts had been brushed aside by Guildford’s planning team.

“It is abundantly clear that the would-be developers do not have sufficient available land on which to deliver their proposed ‘new town’.  And that means that the proposal does not qualify for inclusion in the draft Local Plan,” she says.

“The facts surrounding these issues were presented, in writing, by chartered town planners prior to the Executive meeting on the evening of June 4th but were totally ignored.”

WAG claims that even if an additional 12 ha of land outside the developers’ ownership were to become available, there would still be insufficient land on which to build a new settlement.

Renewed calls this week to both Cllr Juneja, Lead Councillor for Planning, and Carol Humphrey Head of Planning Services, to explain why the Wisley ‘new town’ plan remains in the draft Local Plan, despite indisputable facts which disqualify it for inclusion, have been ignored.

Note to Editors.

Please see letter of June 4th from Bell Cornwell to Guildford planning executive which accompanies this statement.

Ends

 Issued on behalf of the Wisley Action Group [WAG]                       June 10th 2014

By Tony Edwards

Anthony Edwards Publicity

Tel 01483 222722  Fax 01483 223989

Mobile 0771-002-5957

e-mail. tonyedwards@anthony-edwards-publicity.co.uk

RESTORE DEMOCRACY: change the ‘leaders’ who won’t listen: call a referendum now

Guildford Green Belt Group (GGG) is starting a petition to change the leadership of Guildford Borough Council.

Guildford is run by a ‘leader’ called Stephen Mansbridge and a ‘cabinet’ of 9 councillors picked by him – including Ms Monika Juneja who is responsible for the Local Plan process.

Despite lengthy, detailed, and repeated exposure of the errors of fact, mistakes, and wrong arguments used in the local plan process the ‘leader’ and his cabinet have taken no heed.

The Localism Act allows us to get rid of the ‘Tin Ear’ and replace it with committee government that pays heed to objective facts and listens.

Let’s just do it!

Good luck GGG and well done for taking on the ‘leader’!

Here is the GGG press release.

Guildford Greenbelt Group (GGG) Press announcement 13 June 2014

 

RESTORING DEMOCRACY

 

GUILDFORD GREENBELT GROUP TO SEEK PUBLIC REFERENDUM TO REMOVE GUILDFORD COUNCIL’S EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE AND RESTORE DEMOCRACY

 

Move is result of Executive Committee’s failure to follow procedures and respond to its own Scrutiny Committee’s demands for revisions on housing numbers ahead of Guildford Plan consultation

 

Guildford Greenbelt Group (GGG), the organisation representing residents concerned by Guildford Council’s plan to build major developments on Surrey’s Green Belt, is to petition for a referendum to remove the council’s Executive Committee and restore a more democratic system.

 

The Group says it has been left with no alternative following the Executive Committee meeting on Wednesday 4 June which ignored demands by the council’s own Scrutiny Committee to revise the Plan’s inflated required housing number of 652 per year before the Plan goes to public consultation.

 

Instead the Executive Committee went ahead and approved the current Plan for public consultation – meaning that the public will be told that 652 is the required figure for housing each year.

 

Susan Parker, Chair of GGG, said: “The Executive Committee has ignored calls from the council’s own Scrutiny Committee to review the housing target and the housing requirement calculations it is based on.

 

“As a result, we feel we have no option other than to petition for a Referendum to return the Council to a more democratic structure which will better respond to residents’ and councillors’ concerns.

 

“Guildford area residents who want to ensure the Council’s decision making process is more accountable and transparent, and that the law protecting the Green Belt is properly applied, can start now by signing this petition which will be posted on our website at  http://guildfordgreenbeltgroup.co.uk/

 

The Metropolitan Green Belt was created in the public interest by national planning policy to prevent urban sprawl and stop towns merging into each other. An inflated housing number is not in the public interest and jeopardises the permanence and credibility of our Green Belt.

 

Under the Localism Act, councils have to hold a referendum if five per cent of the electorate sign a petition calling for one – in the borough of Guildford, that would require 5243 signatures.

 

The referendum will enable the people of Guildford to choose to support either the Executive system in place at present or a committee structure where the decisions of committees shape policy.

 

At present, the Council is governed by an Executive system, which means the Leader (appointed by the largest party) and nine other councillors (appointed by the Leader) make all the significant decisions.

 

Under the committee system all elected councillors are able to participate in the process of local government, which would mean that the decisions of councillors would be followed and respected.

 

Since 2011, when the Localism Act came into force, nine councils have scrapped the executive for a committee system and at least seven others are considering it.  If enough signatures are collected in the borough of Guildford, a referendum vote must be held.

 

Contact details:

 

Susan Parker 01483 203167

 

BACKGROUND

On Wednesday 4 June, the Guildford Borough Council (GBC) held an Executive Committee meeting which unanimously approved the Local Plan for public consultation with an unchanged housing requirement figure of 652 houses per annum, which, backdated to 2011, gives a minimum new housing number of 13040. Over the next 17 years that would result in the housing stock in the borough increasing by approximately 25%.

 

On 15 May, GBC’s Scrutiny Committee voted to revise the housing number. It was agreed that this revision should to take place before the Executive Committee meeting on 4 June. GGG therefore considers that Executive governance has ceased to work in Guildford.

 

Cllr Phillips, who proposed the formal recommendation from the Scrutiny Committee that the numbers in the draft Local Plan be revised, asked at the Executive Committee meeting as the first speaker in the Councillors’ part of the debate:

 

I was pleased that the joint Scrutiny Committee accepted my suggestion… to have another look at the housing numbers.  …It was hoped that we would have an answer by today. Can you tell me, has this happened? Have you looked at this yet?  If you have, what is the housing number and has it reduced as we were hoping it would be?”.

 

It was confirmed that the meeting had not yet taken place. Cllr Juneja indicated that a meeting would take place on Friday 6 June, that the number had not been reduced at present but would be “challenged” by the Executive.

 

That meeting has now taken place and there is still no change to the proposed housing number. It seems that 652 will be included as the housing target in the draft Local Plan.

 

GGG is concerned that the Executive Committee has chosen to ignore the valid recommendation from its own Scrutiny Committee in terms of the plan process.

 

Councillors at that committee appreciated constituents’ and residents’ groups’ genuine concerns at the calculation of the housing numbers, and argued cogently for a consequential revision.

 

The figure for Housing Need is set out in the Local Plan Evidence base in the Strategic Housing Market Assessment or SHMA prepared by GL Hearn.  Following public demands for a review of the evidence base, Edge Analytics have reviewed GL Hearn’s original SHMA, and only given it “an amber tick”.  Residents and campaign groups have questioned the calculations behind the housing number, and noted specific errors.   Despite this the housing target number has only gone down by 18 houses per annum (from 670 to 652).

 

As a result the extent of the reliance that can be placed on the Executive’s challenge is limited.

 

This is not the first time that the process of democratic decision-making within the council has been set aside as a result of the decisions of the Executive.

 

Previously, on 13 January 2014, GBC agreed by formal vote that

 

The Council will enable full public involvement in this reappraisal of the evidence base, especially the Green Belt and Countryside Study, by holding a special joint meeting of the two Scrutiny Committees”.

 

In response to this on 4 March 2014 GBC held the Local Plan Scrutiny Forum to discuss the evidence base.

 

The Forum consisted of two parallel mass workshops, each lasting around 2 hours, with no formal record of the comments made.  GGG does not consider that this met the undertaking of full public involvement in the reappraisal of the evidence base, but instead represented a measure of tokenism which has been previously displayed in the consultation process.

 

As a result, GGG is calling for a change in the operations of local government and will present a petition calling for a public referendum on the governance of Guildford Borough Council.   This formal petition is available to download from  http://guildfordgreenbeltgroup.co.uk, and arrangements will be made to set up an online petition in parallel.

 

-ends-

Watch petitioners slam GBC for development at West Horsley and Hog’s Back

Watch the public criticisms of the Issues and Options Paper

Watch the webcast

http://www.guildford.public-i.tv/core/portal/webcast_inteWractive/123800

There have been no less than FIVE petitions organised by members of the public to protest at different elements of Guildford Borough Council’s (GBC’s) local plan process.

If a petition gets more than 500 subscribers then the Petitioner is granted 10 minutes to address the council and up to ten others may speak for 3 minutes each.

All of these petitions received well over 500 votes and most were stopped soon after the 500 threshold was crossed. This is an indication of the strength of feeling and level or concern generated by the local plan process.

Extraordinary Meeting of GBC on 13 January, 2014

This meeting was held to hear two petitions:

Keep West Horsley in the Green Belt   And

Save the Hogs Back

The webcast of the meeting is at:

http://www.guildford.public-i.tv/core/portal/webcast_interactive/123800

Watch the public speakings presenting their cases in three minutes each.

If you are pressed for time just listen to the speeches made by the petition organisers and take 10 minutes to listen to the speeches by Mr Mark Payne, Dr Peter Shaw and Mr Ben Patton.

You will be left in no doubt that the local plan is a mess.

Time in webcast Speaker comment
2:12:23 Mr Jules Cranwell Petition organiser: Keep West Horsley in the Green Belt
2:19:42 Mrs Karen Stevens Petition organiser: Save the Hog’s Back
00:36:07 Mr Robert Burch Resident: Critique of University’s building plans
00:39:34 Mr Tom Stevens Lack of road infrastructure: unacceptable congestion
00:43:00 Mr Martin Dowland No justificaton to change the Green Belt boundary at Manor Farm again
00:46:03 Mr Peter Elliott Save the Hog’s Back: environmental vandalism
00:49:35 Mr Tim Harrold Council for the Protection of Rural England
00:53:12 Mr Ramsey Nagaty Resident of Hog’s Back
00:57:00 Mr Mark Payne Resident: Broken promises(Must listen to this. It is brilliant)
01:00:33 Mrs Susan Parker Guildford Green Belt Group:
01:04:23 Mr Tony Thompson
01:08:13 Dr Peter Shaw Resident: Statistics distorted by students(Must listen to this. It is brilliant)
01:11:22 Mr Ben Patton Resident: ‘This document is not fit for purpose’(Must listen to this. It is brilliant)

See the list of petitions on GBC’s website here:

http://petitions.guildford.gov.uk/list/closed

The 5 purposes of the Green Belt and 3FM

The 5 purposes of the Green Belt and 3FM

Land can only be put into a Green Belt if it fulfills the purposes set out in government guidance.

PPG2

The original government guidance was set out in Planning Policy Guidance Note 2 (PPG2) as follows:

Purposes of including land in Green Belts

1.5       There are five purposes of including land in Green Belts:

– to check the unrestricted sprawl of large built-up areas;

– to prevent neighbouring towns from merging into one another;

– to assist in safeguarding the countryside from encroachment;

– to preserve the setting and special character of historic towns;  and

– to assist in urban regeneration, by encouraging the recycling of derelict and other urban land.

NPPF

PPG2 has since been consolidated within the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) issued by the Cameron Coalition government in 2012. The purposes set out in PPG2 remain the same and are summarised at para 80 of the NPPF.

WPI ‘representations’

WPI has commissioned Savilles to write a ‘Representation’ to GBC about 3FM.

 On page 6 at para 1.6 Savilles make the astonishing statement that 3FM ‘is the only major strategic land promotion which does not contribute to any of the purposes of the Green Belt’.

“The evidence has been used to outline justification for the removal of Wisely Airfield from the Green Belt. In the broader sense, the site is located relatively far from the nearest settlements; it is not within an AONB, and is well screened in landscape terms. It is the only major strategic land promotion which does not contribute to any of the purposes of the Green Belt.”

You can access the Saville’s document at this link: http://wisleyairfield.com/

Savilles set out 4 of the 5 purposes of the Green Belt and claims that 3FM does not meet any of these purposes.

Facts v fiction

Purpose 1: to check the unrestricted sprawl of large built-up areas

 Savilles’s fiction: “The former airfield has no function in separating built up areas.”

Fact: 3FM forms part of the Metropolitan Green Belt of London. It is there to protect and to serve London. It intended to stop Greater London reaching Guildford – not to stop Cobham merging with Ripley.  3FM fulfills and serves this purpose of checking the unrestricted sprawl of Greater London. Several parts of Surrey have become part of Greater London. Designating this land as Green Belt prevents even more of Surrey becoming part of Greater London.

Purpose 2: to prevent neighbouring towns from merging into one another

 Savilles’s fiction: “The The former airfield forms no function in separating built up areas. The nearest settlement to the site is Ockham village 300m south.”

Fact: 3FM cannot merge with Ockham. It is already part of Ockham. It lies 100% within the Parish of Ockham – and has done so since Medieval times. The fact that the Settlement Hierarchy published by GBC misdescribes Ockham as a single settlement around the former Hautboy pub does not change the facts. The Parish of Ockham comprises a number of settlements spread over a wide area – including Church End, Bridge End, Elm Corner, Martyr’s Green and May’s Green.

The fact is that 3FM stands on a sandy plateau between the village of Ockham – based around Bridge End House and Ockham Common to the north.

The fact is that Ockham forms part of the land that separates Cobham from Ripley and Send. That Ockham is not the only and last remaining piece of land standing between two built up areas or between Greater London and Guildford does not mean that it does not serve this purpose.

Purpose 3: to assist in safeguarding the countryside from encroachment

Savilles’s fiction: “The airfield site is clear of development and.contributes little to restricting encroachment into the countryside (as development is already absent).”

Fact: The land is all agricultural. It is intensively farmed – according to WPI itself. It is open countryside. It has been farmed for many hundreds of years – perhaps for 1000 years.

Even Pegasus Consulting in its report on 3FM to GBC agreed that 3FM fulfilled this purpose of the Green Belt. It had to concede:

‘Due to there being a number of clusters of development within land parcel C18, it was recognised within Volume II that this area of land served this purpose of the Green Belt, with the designation restricting the ability of development to encroach from such clusters.

It takes an estate agent to call a brick latrine ‘stylish and generously proportioned’ and an estate agent to deny that this purpose of the Green Belt is not obviously fulfilled.

Purpose 4: to preserve the setting and special character of historic towns

 Savilles’s fiction: “The former airfield lies 300m north of the Ockham Conservation Area and does not provide setting to the existing boundaries or gateways to the village..”

Fact: The airfield lies entirely within the Parish of Ockham. It links the village to Ockham Common to the north. It is self evident that 3FM is part of the setting of Ockham. All of 3FM was proposed for designation as a Site of Nature Conservation Interest in the previous Local Plan. A substantial proportion of it was so designated. This countryside links the various settlements that have comprised Ockham for a thousand years.

Purpose 5: to assist in urban regeneration, by encouraging the recycling of derelict and other urban land

 Savilles’s fiction: Savilles do not even mention this purpose. Perhaps they believe it does not exist.

Fact: This purpose certainly does exist and 3FM certainly fulfills it. But forming part of the Green Belt 3FM is protected from development. That protection forces developers to look first at re-developing brown field sites rather than using green field or virgin land. This manifestly fulfills the purpose for which the Green Belt was created.

 

How a ‘new town’ will ruin Guildford’s transport advantages

13 points on the traffic impact of a ‘new town’ at Wisley

1. WPI

WPI are developers. Their vehicle is based offshore. They refuse to disclose their ownership.They purchased Green Belt land in 2012. They wish to make pots of money by building a ‘new town’. GBC says a new town must be at least 1,800 houses. WPI propose 2,500 houses. This may add 5,000 cars to the road network. WPI claim that there’ll be a new bus service – every 10 or 15 minutes.

2. GBC working with WPI to ‘promote’ this site in the Local Plan

GBC is colluding with WPI to promote this site. It has commissioned loads of work to study the feasibility of this site. This of course is highly improper. GBC is supposed to promote the public interest – including protecting the Green Belt. It is not GBC’s job to promote the private interests of developers who are trying to make pots of money by changing the use of land.

3. Is this site sustainable from a traffic point of view?

NO! it currently has next to zero transport infrastructure. See the Settlement Hierarchy published by GBC. The site is 100% within the Parish of Ockham. Ockham gets as sustainability score of 4 (on GBC’s own flawed scoring system). That’s the second lowest score in the entire borough.

4. WPI claim to have access to the A3 to and from the site

One of the many internally contradictory and misleading claims which WPI make is that the site has a ‘permissioned access’ onto the A3. This is specious rubbish.

5. Access via Elm Corner

The site currently has an access via the hamlet of Elm Corner – which forms part of the Parish of Ockham. Elm Corner does have an access onto the A3. But it has no acceleration and deceleration lane. It is consequently rather dangerous. The Highways Authority tolerates this situation because a) it has been there since before the A3 was turned into a three lane motorway b) the number of cars entering and leaving Elm Corner is very low – as there are so few houses. However the Highways Authority has in the past refused permission for filming projects to access this site from Elm Corner on the grounds that large flows of daily traffic would impede the flow of traffic on the A3 and cause a traffic hazard. Given this, it is absolutely inconceivable that the Highways Authority would ever permit access to a ‘new town’ of 2,500 houses via Elm Corner.

6. Access via a planned new road onto the roundabout at Ockham Road North/Stamford Brook

This roundabout provides an exit for southbound traffic on the A3 to Ripley and the Horsleys. It also provides access to the northbound lane of the A3. It provides no access to the southbound carriageway of the A3 going to Guildford/Portsmouth.

Wharf Land, from which WPI purchased the site, received permission to use 17 out 117ha of the site as a waste processing facility. They won this permission on appeal to a planning inspector. They got permission subject to over twenty different conditions and because the Inspector accepted that the Surrey Waste Plan was short of waste sites.

That permission cites as a condition the building of a new access from the southbound carriageway of the A3.

7. Permission for an access for a waste site does NOT constitute ‘permissioned access’ for a new town

The permission to access the A3 is exclusively for a waste site. The permission is not transferable to a new town proposal. First WPI need permission from SCC to relinquish the 17ha now set aside for waste processing. That permission is not a foregone conclusion. Second, WPI needs to re-apply for permission to build an access for a 2,500 new town. That’s not a foregone conclusion either.

8. A new town of 2,500 houses is a BIG DEAL.

To put this in context that is THREE TIMES MORE HOUSES than currently exist in the WHOLE of Ripley (which currently has 697 homes).

East Horsley has c 1, 493 homes (see GBC Settlement Profile). The proposed ‘new town’ is therefore 67% BIGGER than East Horsley. (That’s not counting West Horsley – which currently has 1,111 homes).

What they propose is a new town of the same size as the whole of East and West Horsley put together. And they propose to pack it in much more densely. They do not disclose how many hectares East and West Horsley cover. But it is certainly a multiple of the 60ha of the Three Farms Meadows site which Pegasus Consulting claim can be developed.

9. GBC has commissioned SCC to do a traffic analysis – of the impact of ALL of the proposals in the Local Plan.

 This analysis is set out in the Local Plan ‘Evidence Base’.

The WPI new town is a small part of the overall analysis – which itself  is subject to some major provisos:

a)     it is based on ‘trip analysis’ data derived from an out of date census – at least 10 years old.

b)     It is based on data provided by GBC – and not disclosed or tested

c)     It is top down:

SCC wrote: ‘This study was undertaken at a strategic scale and consequently not all impacts of developments have been identified. However, developments of, and above,  a certain scale will require individual transport assessments to be commissioned …’

10. Projected Level of Service (LOS)

SCC use LOS to measure road capacity. The scale runs from A to F.

A is ‘Free Flow’.

F is ‘Every vehicle moves in lock step with the vehicle in front of it, with frequent slowing required. Travel time cannot be predicted, with generally more demand than capacity.

So a ‘new town’ is fine? No. Under ‘scenario 5’ (the relevant scenario) ‘A3 northbound between Ockham and Wisley is rated, guess what, F!

11. Ratio of Flow to Capacity (RFC)

The other tool SCC uses to measure the performance of a stretch of road is RFC.

‘An RFC value greater than 1 means that the stretch of road or turning movement has a higher lever of traffic flow than its theoretical capacity. As a result flow breakdown and extensive queues can be expected’

What is the RFC value for the A3 between Ockham and Wisley under scenario 5?

It is 1.02.

Remember that’s based on out of date census data.

12 What’s the traffic like now?

Anyone who uses the A3 knows that between Ripley and Jnctn 10 of the M25 the A3 slows to a standstill EVERY MORNING. (Our children go to school in Guildford. We see this every morning.)

That’s the situation today.

13. Strategic thinking

One of Guildford’s strategic advantages is its location between London, Heathrow and Gatwick.

If the traffic on the M25 between Heathrown and Gatwick gets worse – or gets and RFC score of over 85% then Guildford will have shot itself in the foot and destroyed one of its present competitive advantages.

That’s what the geniuses down in Millmead are spending our taxpayers’ money on.

How to CHEAT in Guildford’s sustainability examination

The Settlement Hierarchy, Three Farms Meadow (Former Wisley Airfield), Ockham and ‘sustainability’.

The consultant at the WPI Exhibition told visitors, ‘We say that Wisley Airifield is the most sustainable site in Surrey’.

 What does GBC say? What does the Local Plan Evidence base say? 

 The key relevant document released on this question so far is the ‘Settlement Hierarchy’. This is dated May, 2014. Its authors are the planning consultants Pegasus Group. It directly addresses the question of the relative sustainability of different settlements across Guildford Borough. Everyone who lives in Ockham and /or has an interest in Three Farms Meadow should read this document – released in May 2014.

What does the Settlement Hierarchy aim to achieve?

It states that the largest settlements with the best infrastructure are the most sustainable.

  • The idea behind the hierarchy is to direct incoming growth to sustainable areas.
  • Sustainable settlements are defined as settlements which can support additional growth and are the easiest to get to.

How does it score settlements?

The scoring criteria are set out in para 3.2. The key elements are:

  Criterion Sub criterion
1 Shops No of shops in  bands
2 Schools Elementary, Primary, Secondary
3 Community facilities A long list of items including libraries, places of worship etc etc
4 Transport Buses, railways, roads
5 Employment Local and wider

How do different settlements score on these criteria?

 This is how some relevant settlements have been scored:

 

Total points Community Facilities points Rank
Guildford Urban Area

49

18

1

Ash and Tongham

49

17

1

East  Horsley

38

18

3

West Horsley

19

9

13

East & West Horsley together
Shalford

29

11

4

Chilworth

28

10

6

Effingham

26

11

7

Send

26

14

7

Send Marsh/Burnt Common

17

7

19

Ripley

25

12

9

Fairlands

24

12

10

Wood St Village

20

9

20

Ockham

4

4

32

 

Note that

1)     Ockham gets 4 points and ranks at no 32 in the settlement hierarchy ie at second last in the entire borough.

2)     Ockham gets ONE point for EACH these factors:

  1. Place of worship
  2. Open space
  3. Restaurant/café/take-away
  4. Village community hall

3)     Guildford Urban Area gets just ONE point for EACH of these factors:

  1. Place of worship
  2. Restaurant/café/take-away
  3. Village/community hall

[This implies that these facilities in Ockham are somehow equivalent to those in Guildford Urban Area. They get an identical score. Don’t believe me that that is possible? Then look on page 27 and see for yourself.]

What do we deduce from the sustainability scores for the different settlements?

As a rule of thumb it looks like:

 1)     settlements with scores above 20, especially above 23 points, are considered suitable for growth

2)     settlements with scores below 20 are not considered suitable for growth UNLESS sufficient houses are built to justify new facilities

Note that they fudge the Horsleys. East Horsley is scored very highly on these critera. West Horsley scores rather low. So they lump the two settlements together. (I thought the Green Belt was to stop urban sprawl and the merging of settlements – but not according to Pegasus/GBC. But then they are planning consultants after all)

See that East Horsley’s shops get a score of 4 for ‘convenience and comparison’ whilst Guildford Urban Area gets a score of 6. [Is that your assessment of the relative convenience and comparison of shops available in each settlement? Its not mine.]

So how can WPI claim that Wisley Airfield is the ‘most sustainable site in Surrey’?

This is how it can be done:

Score today Potential/pie in the sky
Shops

0

2

Schools
   Infant

0

3

   Primary

0

3

Community Facilities
   Recreation

0

3

   Post Office

0

3

   Doctor

0

3

   Dentist

0

1

   Place of worship

1

1

   Open space

1

2

  Children’s play area

0

1

   Restaurant/café/takeaway

1

1

   Community hall

1

1

Transport
   Buses

0

3

   Railway (within a mile)

0

0

Employment
   Local

0

2

   Wider

0

0

 ——–

 ——–

4

30

 =====

 =====

The method is to ‘tick the boxes’. Look at what the Pegasus methodology awards points for and then put them into your plan. What do points mean? Development! (Millions in the bank for WPI).

Take Transport. They will never be able to claim that TFM is within a mile of a railway station. But the consultants do make the claim that there will be buses every 15 minutes. [Don’t believe me? Go to their exhibition and ask them.  Its up to you if you want to believe that any unsubsidised bus operator would provide such a service.]

Take schools. The scoring system blindly gives points for the mere existence of a school in the settlement. It takes no account of whether there is any spare capacity at the school. So the developer can get points for building a school (which should be the responsibility of the local government – except they wish to buy it with soft commission from the developer) – even though we all know that any school capacity they build will do little more than fill the existing deficit rather than meet the needs of the new settlement.

Conclusion: some planner with the ability to ‘tick the boxes’ can create the ‘most sustainable site in the whole of Surrey’ without having ANY local knowledge or leaving his desk to go further than the coffee machine.

Does this mean that Former Wisley Airfied would make a genuinely sustainable settlement? Of course not. To make such a claim is a travesty. It is intellectually dishonest. Only someone corrupted by the prospect of a huge financial profit could make such a preposterous claim.  In other words only a hired lackey at a firm of consultants could make the claim –because they don’t have to live with the consequences. So much for ‘Localism’!

Does the methodology show a genuine understanding of the concept of economic, environmental and ecological sustainability? No! It is a facile overlay of some basic criteria which creates a scoring system which any developer can ‘game’ in order to demonstrate sustainability.

And all of this is overseen by a ‘Lead Councillor’ who has misrepresented her professional qualifications. Can someone who has casually lied about their qualifications be trusted to oversee a process which relies on scoring systems which depend on highly subjective judgements about subjective data? Form your own view.

In fact it is worse than that. This whole process is overseen by a Council which does not think that lying about your professional qualifications is a breach of the Nolan Principles. It commissioned an ‘investigation’ by a tame solicitor which held that no criminal offence had been committed. And the Council now considers the matter closed.  Would you buy a second hand car from these people? Or let them shape your town or village for the next 20 years?