POW’s quest for answers continues

September 13, 2018

This is the reply from Tom Horwood 12th September

From: Tom Horwood <Tom.Horwood@waverley.gov.uk>

Subject: RE: Reply to WBC regarding Open Letter Regarding use of Council Funds
Date: 12 September 2018 at 10:40:51 BST
To: ‘powcampaign’ <bob@powcampaign.org>

 

Dear Bob
I write further to your letter of 7 September, on behalf of POWCampaign Ltd, which followed our earlier correspondence.
I felt that I had answered your questions in setting out why the Council, following debates in public, decided that it was responsible to defend the borough’s Local Plan.
To add to the explanation, the decision before the February 2018 Council meeting was to either
(a) accept the Plan incorporating the Inspector’s requirements, which were arrived at after much debate and challenge by the Council during the examination in public in 2017,
or
(b) continue with no Local Plan and the attendant reduced defence to poor housing developments.
Therefore, your company’s and CPRE Surrey’s legal challenges to that decision on the basis of objection to key parts of the Plan carry a risk to the Plan itself. Your alternative scenarios are for the High Court to decide, but a successful challenge would set aside the original decision, i.e. the adoption of the Local Plan in February. Therefore, there would be no sound Local Plan until it were reconsidered in line with whatever actions the Court determined.
The arguments and rationale for defending the Plan and the borough, and for applying the Council’s funds when named in these legal challenges, have been debated by councillors in public and are available in published reports and on our YouTube channel. I have summarised them in this correspondence.
I always try hard to engage with local businesses and individuals with respect and an assumption of good will. That is why, when you phoned me a few weeks ago, I invited you to provide some dates for a meeting. Instead, your company’s lawyers have continued to pursue this action, and you are accusing me in public of not telling the truth. I understand why you would disagree with the Council’s decision, which was debated in public at length before a vote, but I would urge respectful language and avoiding personal accusations.
Please stop your company’s legal action and the costs that go with it, and let’s find a new way of working together to plan housing in the most sustainable way possible.
With best wishes
Tom
Tom Horwood – Chief Executive, Waverley Borough Council
The Burys, Godalming, Surrey GU7 1HR
Tel: 01483 523238
This is the reply from POW 14th September

For the attention of Mr Tom Horwood, Chief Executive

Dear Mr Horwood

Open Letter to Waverley Borough Council (WBC) regarding the challenges from CPRE and POW to the Waverley Local Plan Housing Numbers – Response to the Councils reply of 12th September 2018

POW is disappointed that your reply of 12th September still fails to answer our legitimate questions. Moreover POW is most concerned that WBC has chosen to turn this into a personal matter, as at no time has POW “accused you of not telling the truth”. All our statements are on www.powcampaign.org website for scrutiny. POW has never engaged in personal attacks and at all times endeavoured to be objective and factual. This is in contrast to some of the statements and press releases put out by WBC on behalf of the Council Leader.

To address your points in the order which they have been presented:

  1. POW fully understands the options available to the Council at the 20th February meeting; POW’s criticism is that WBC had failed to challenge the imposition of Woking’s overspill when it was introduced in summer 2017 by Inspector Bore.
  2. POW again fears your argument, that the action by POW and CPRE will cause the Local Plan to fall, is at best disingenuous. As stated many times, POW and CPRE are challenging the overall housing number, which in itself if successful should not cause the Plan to fall. A lower number will make it easier for Waverley to meet its 5 year housing land supply which will increase the protection against unwanted and inappropriate development. Furthermore, while WBC has made much of the fact that the adoption of Part 1 of the Plan protects Waverley from unplanned development, the Planning Inspectorate’s recent approval of the development of Brockhurst Farm, Alfold, has shown that in practice the Plan adopted offers no protection at all against smaller unwanted developments.
  3. POW notes that you have offered no explanation for defending the action against the Secretary of State in which WBC is merely an interested party.
  4. The arguments for spending £300,000 are indeed on WBC’s YouTube feed, however as you should be well aware the “do nothing” option was not discussed and no “value for money” assessment presented. As far as POW is aware a proper and visible “value for money” assessment should have been carried out and presented at the relevant Executive and Council meetings.
  5. You mention the meeting you and I briefly discussed a few weeks ago. I was left with the distinct impression that you thought a meeting at this time could be misconstrued as a perceived conflict of interest given the ongoing legal proceedings. If you are now not of that view and would like to meet then you are welcome to give me a call. However, POW is puzzled as to how at this late stage we can “find a new way of working together to plan housing in the most sustainable way possible”. How exactly do you propose to do that? And in the little time available before the Court hearing? And has the Council Leader agreed to work with POW and others to reach a compromise acceptable to all parties?

Please will WBC answer the questions asked:

1. How can WBC justify spending £200,000 defending a section of Part 1 of the Local Plan that would, if they did not contest the case, most probably provide a beneficial reduction to their housing allocation? In what sense therefore is defending that sec- tion of the Local Plan in the public interest? And in particular:

  • a)  If WBC received legal advice that the Plan will fall as a result of this case then why are you not referring to it?
  • b)  If WBC received legal advice on the merits of the “do nothing” approach to the S.113 case, as part of a value for money assessment, why was this not discussed in the Chamber?
  • c)  If WBC did not seek advice on the merits of the “do nothing” approach – what was the rationale for not exploring this option?

2. How can WBC justify spending £100,000 merely as an interested party defending the Secretary of State – for the ultimate benefit of the other interested party, the developers of Dunsfold Park?

Yours sinierely

Bob Lees
Chairman
POW Campaign Ltd on behalf of the PROTECT OUR WAVERLEY (POW) Campaign

 

This is Tom Horwood’s response to those residents that wrote directly:

Thank you for your correspondence regarding the Borough’s Local Plan and the current legal challenges against it, launched by CPRE Surrey and POWCampaign Ltd.

I received four letters or emails making similar points, in addition to the correspondence published by POWCampaign Ltd. I am here replying to them together so that all have the same information, under five general headings.

  1. Assertion that Waverley accepted Woking’s unmet housing need numbers without challenge.

In fact, between January and July 2017, this issue was debated considerably in correspondence with the Inspector and at the examination in public. Some argued that Waverley ought to take 100% of Woking’s unmet need. The Council argued strongly for 0%. The Inspector decided 50%. His report and explanations can be found atwww.waverley.gov.uk/downloads/download/2340/local_plan_part_1_inspectors_report.

  1. If the challenges succeed, the Local Plan could simply be amended to reduce the housing numbers.

There are a number of possible outcomes if the legal challenges succeed. This would be determined by the judge. All would entail the setting aside of the Council’s February 2018 decision to adopt the Local Plan. Therefore, the borough would be again without a Local Plan for a time. If the judge limited his decision in various ways, it would not necessarily be a simple thing to adopt a new plan. For example, in February, councillors had to either adopt the Plan as amended by the Inspector or reject the plan; they could not pick and choose aspects of the Plan that had been changed by the Inspector. So, there would still be a process to go through before the Council had a sound adopted plan. The precise process would depend on the judge’s decision. There would also be no guarantee that, in this process, the housing targets would go down. They might be the same, or – given 2017’s debate – go up.

  1. Query about the separate legal challenges.

The judge in the initial hearing decided that the three challenges would be considered together due to their inextricable links with each other and the Local Plan. Indeed, one of the challenges was described as “parasitic” on the others. It is, therefore, appropriate that the Council participate in all three, as Defendant in two and Interested Party in the third.

  1. Setting aside funds to defend the legal challenges does not represent value for money. Request that this be audited.

Without a Local Plan, the Council’s ability to defend the borough from poor development is substantially weakened. Rejecting applications and then defending at appeals is itself expensive, as the Council has experienced in recent years. Councillors were very aware of all of this as they were considering whether to make a financial provision to defend against the initial legal challenges, most of which were dismissed at the first hearing. (We have learned this week that POWCampaign Ltd’s and CPRE Surrey’s appeals against the initial judge’s decision have been dismissed.) Of course, we would hope that the final cost will be less than that set aside.

In terms of audit, I have discussed this with the Chairman of the Council’s Audit Committee, Councillor John Gray. We agreed that the correct process was followed, in that the decisions were taken by the Full Council meeting in public, which is the Council’s highest authority on policy and budget matters. We are, nevertheless, always happy to reflect on events to see if lessons can be drawn to improve process or communication in future. Councillor Gray will be asking the Audit Committee, at its meeting next week, whether it wishes to consider this case study at a future meeting.

  1. Various comments about officers’ motives and conduct.

Some of the four emails/letters I received make regrettable assertions about council officer conduct. It is worth remembering that the officers’ role at this point is to implement the decision set by the Full Council meeting. For me to undermine that or stop it, as some have asked, would be sinister and undemocratic. It is a sad characteristic of public debate in 2018 that an individual’s character and motives can be quickly impugned when there is disagreement. I completely understand local passion on issues that are so crucial for communities and neighbourhoods. That is why I welcome the opportunity to explain the Council’s decision and its context, and I hope that this reply goes some way to reassure you and the others who have written to me.

With all good wishes

Yours sincerely

Tom Horwood – Chief Executive, Waverley Borough Council, The Burys, Godalming, Surrey GU7 1HR

This is the reply from POW 20th September

For the attention of Mr Tom Horwood, Chief Executive

Dear Mr Horwood

Open Letter to Waverley Borough Council (WBC) regarding the challenges from CPRE and POW to the Waverley Local Plan Housing Numbers – Response to the Council’s reply of 18th September 2018

We are disappointed that the Council has responded to POW’s letter of 14th September by means of a round-robin, which again fails to address the issues we have raised.

Your letter made five points and I will address each in turn.
1. Assertion that Waverley accepted Woking’s unmet housing need numbers without challenge.

The fact that developers argued for 100% is irrelevant as their views are based on their needs rather than those of the public. It is the Council’s job to reflect the needs of Waverley’s residents and clearly the Council believed 0% was correct, yet accepted 50%. Why did the Council not stand-up for the residents of Waverley?

2. If the challenges succeed, the Local Plan could simply be amended to reduce the housing numbers.

POW has made it clear from the start that it is not trying to destroy the Local Plan but simply get the numbers reduced. You claim that the Plan will be declared invalid and leave Waverley ex- posed. On what evidence are these comments based? Furthermore, the recent example of Brockhurst Farm illustrates that the Plan does not give the protection claimed because it is not a complete plan, merely Part 1. This suggests that Waverley’s “do nothing” option has not been properly assessed and yet has been used to justify the Council spending £200,000 of public money on defending the case.

3. Query about the separate legal challenges.

The case against the Secretary of State is indeed “parasitic” upon the case against the Council. He has an interest in the outcome of the case against WBC but decided not to send representation. Similarly, there is no need for WBC to be legally represented in the case against the Secre- tary of State. So why is the Council proposing to spend £100,000 to help defend the Secretary of State in support of a wealthy developer?

4. Setting aside funds to defend the legal challenges does not represent value for money. Re- quest that this be audited.

It may well be that committee procedures were followed, but what was the advice given to councillors by the officers? There is no evidence in the relevant WBC meeting papers that the “do nothing” option was addressed, even though WBC claimed to have pressed for taking 0% of Woking’s unmet need, (see 1). It would appear that WBC are in breach of their own procedures in not conducting a value-for-money assessment. Therefore the audit committee has no option other than to conduct such an audit; standard procedure when such a breach occurs.

5. Various comments about officers’ motives and conduct. POW has never attacked officers, individually or as a group.

POW is still waiting for a proper response to the questions asked initially on 29th August. Please will the Council

  • provide the evidence for defending the Plan as set out in (2) above
  • explain why it is spending money defending the Secretary of state and a wealthy developer as set out in (3)

Yours sincerely

Bob Lees, Chairman, POW Campaign

1 Comment

  1. Reply
    Roger Wood

    WBC should change the Local Plan by eliminating the number of houses per annum required from the Woking overspill, and then revisit the developments they have supported. It is not difficult to do this. and is within local authorities legal rights. =

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