Surrey MPs in a bid to protect their backsides have told Housing Secretary the county’s housing figures are too high.
Surrey’s MPs met recently with the Housing Secretary, Robert Jenrick and say they have made it “abundantly clear” that the housing figures for Surrey should be reduced. They claim there is…
“a grave danger that bad decisions will be made on the basis of bad data.”
However, it is widely known that Surrey MP’s are acutely aware that their strong Tory base is shrinking. This was emphasised by the county council election resuts in May. This combined with previous borough council elections when former Tory-controlled councils lost control. The change of allegiance of disenchanted voters has been marked in Waverley and neighbouring boroughs. The proposed changes in the Government’s White paper, which reduces the strength of the local voice still further, whilst forcing yet more housing (little of which is actually “affordable”) into Green Belt and the countryside is proving increasingly unpopular.
With shrinking majorities and with the Liberal Democrats snapping at their heels Waverley MP’s SW Surrey, Jeremy Hunt and Guildford & Villages, Angela Richardson, are worried, very worried.
Publicly, Guildford and villages MP Angela Richardson says she doesn’t believe the Conservatives will lose their grip of the ‘safe seats’ in Surrey. Despite the shock by-election win for the Lib Dems in Buckinghamshire, where she canvassed last month. However, privately she knows her future political fortunes rely on her constituents willingness to accept wholesale development on her patch. There is widespread unease about the number of appeals stacking up on her patch.
The Conservatives’ planning policy reform proposals were cited as a key reason for the result in Chesham and Amersham on June 18 and with development constantly top of the agenda here too, some insist a similar upheaval could be seen the next time Surrey residents vote.
In Guildford, Lib Dem candidate Zoe Franklin was more than 17,000 votes behind former Conservative MP Anne Milton six years ago. But this margin was slashed to a mere 3,337 two years later when Mrs Richardson triumphed, a trend replicated across various Surrey constituencies.
Mrs Richardson believes the defeat in the traditionally Conservative Buckinghamshire seat will make her party’s top officials listen more closely to the views of MPs on the ground within the home counties. Privately, she is known to have said she is concerned that if housing quotas earmarked for her constituency are realised, she will be in very big trouble. She says, neither infrastructure nor services ar keeping up with the present growth – let alone a further increase. Post pandemic traffic congestion is rising as more people return to work.
However, Mrs Richardson said:
“I am not worried. The by-election result means the party will be listening even more intently to what people like me are saying in places like this, and there is plenty of opportunity for me to make the case to ministers.
“However, the one thing I would do is push back hard against the Lib Dems as in councils across the UK they run, numbers of new houses often exceed the figure required to be built.“They need to be careful not to say one thing to the electorate and do another. They need to be consistent. Everyone accepts we need housing that is affordable in places that are growing.
“If Guildford is dynamic, thriving and has the inward investment, it will create jobs and opportunities and we need to ensure we have houses for those people coming.”
Development is a contentious topic in Cranleigh which falls under Mrs Richardson’s wing. Many residents fume that they are unfairly taking the lion’s share of housing compared to Godalming, Farnham and Haslemere. But Cranleigh and the eastern villages have been earmarked by Surrey County Council as a growth area. They recently kicked out Tory Andrew Povey and replaced him with Lib Dem Liz Townsend. Pictured here yesterday with Waverley’s Leader Paul Follows visiting Cranleigh.
However, the New-Zealand born politician who lives in Ewhurst is adamant that as a former Cranleigh parish councillor, she speaks up for their best interests at every opportunity.
She added: “It is simply because they are in the countryside beyond the green belt and haven’t had the protection so, within the Waverley Local Plan, the village was made to absorb housing that was not able to go into large areas of Waverley.
“Cranleigh has taken a big number of development sites but we are not seeing the infrastructure come along with it. That frustrates my constituents the most.
“Dunsfold is in my patch and was meant to be coming through but now it has been delayed, the concern is Waverley will not have the housing numbers to meet the targets set on them by the government.
“Then, the council will be penalised and have to find an additional 20 per cent. The worry is they will come and have a look for space in Cranleigh again, as the other sites are green belt protected.”
So what can be done to protect Cranleigh now? Mrs Richardson insists Waverley should be looking at its own brownfield assets for building such as car parks and offices, especially to replenish social housing stock.
Two of Angela Richardson’s fellow Waverley MP Jeremy Hunt opposed development on the largest brownfield site in the borough of Waverley at Dunsfold. Together with MP Anne Milton they had it called into the Secretary of State – delaying the development for years. It is now up for sale.