Surrey Future & Surrey Development Forum
Inaugural Annual Conference
The first annual Surrey Development Forum Conference held on 25th November in Guildford, hosted by Cratus and Savills, enjoyed an amazing turnout. The event brought together all 11 district and borough councils, Surrey County Council, government agencies, developers and consultants and public groups to talk about good growth in Surrey and across the country. The theme of the event was what ‘Good Growth’ really means and how the Surrey’s 2050 Place Ambition provides a vision for the future in an integrated way.
The opening session was addresses by Rob Moran, Chief Executive of Elmbridge District Council, who gave a brief overview of the current housing crisis and the climate change emergency. He challenged all to get in the arena and make sure they leave the conference with a clear answer to the question ‘What do we want for Surrey?’.
Session 1 – Good Growth Debate
The first session was structured as a roundtable discussion and chaired by Councillor Tom Oliver, leader of Surrey County Council. Other panellists included Andrew Munton, Planning Director of Reside Developments, Councillor Colin Kemp of Woking Brough Council, Rosie Pearson from Alliance Community Groups, Michael Knott, Partner at Barton Willmore and Esther Greggains from Youth Perspective.
In his introductory address, Councillor Oliver gave an overview of Surrey’s position as a massive net contributor to the UK economy, enjoying beautiful countryside and proximity to London. His address also looked at the challenges for Surrey, including the ageing demographic and the loss of young people to London’s employment opportunities. He emphasized on the need to grow Surrey’s economy, invest in infrastructure, provide affordable housing and adhere to the green belt policy.
The debate revolved around the question of what ‘Good Growth’ really represents. The panellists took turns expressing their opinions on the matter. The main points raised addressed tackling climate change, investing in a robust travel scheme with walking and cycling facilities, providing employment opportunities, reducing inequality, protecting Surrey’s forestry and biodiversity, building communities and providing health and leisure facilities as well as community centres for art and culture.
The Youth Representative, Esther Greggains addressed young peoples’ concerns highlighting the need for better mental health facilities, better safety for young women, and ensuring sustainable housing that is fit for the future. Her speech reflected the increasing desire of her generation to get as involved as possible in the decision-making process, with their future being at stake.
Session 2 – Good Growth in an urban and rural context
The chair of the second session was Charlie Collins from Savills and the panellists – Alex Williams, Corporate Head of Assets and Regeneration from Runnymade Borough Council and Julian Seymour, Managing Director of Planning Communications at Cratus. The discussion was introduced by a brief presentation by Alex Williams on what has been achieved so far including completion of Phase 1 and 2, with 34 affordable units, green spaces on the roofs, live website and first sales on the way. She accentuated that the project greatly contributed to the public realm and the town centre, and enhanced transport links. Julian Seymore spoke of how community engagement fits in as a vital part of the ‘Good Growth’ and the way the community liaison groups facilitate a win-win for all participants of all ages and genders. He emphasized the importance of involvement of young people in every level of planning and pledged commitment to their needs in terms of safety, leisure and shopping facilities and affordable sustainable housing.
The discussion among the panellists was further enriched by contributions from the floor. The speakers debated the word ‘growth’ as a replacement for ‘prosperity’ to better encapsulate the objectives of Surrey’s 2050 Place Ambition and urged the panellists to keep their promises and to engage in conversation beyond today’s conference. The discussion was closed by Nick Kilby, CEO and Co-founder of Cratus, who shared his perspective on ‘growth’ as a symbol of thriving communities who actively take part in the future of any development. He expressed pride in how developers present their planning strategies in front of residents and government authorities, while facilitating a novel approach to community building and collaboration.
The session followed a keynote address by Victoria Hills, Chief Executive at the Royal Town Planning Institute, who spoke of the growing awareness for joint effort on behalf of all parties involved. She stressed that all the attendees are presented with an exceptional opportunity to think beyond the boundaries, bring all planners to the table, fill the gap in communications and take a proactive approach for the future of Surrey.
Session 3 – Key element of Good Growth
The third session begun with a short presentation from Heather Kerswell, Chair of the Surrey Hills Board with Natural England, about the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty Boundary Review. She emphasized the importance of every development plan being in balance with nature, combatting and mitigating the effects of climate change and encouraging health and well-being.
The chair of this session was Rob Moran, Chief Executive of the Elmbridge Borough Council. The panellists were Katie Stewart, Executive Director for Environment, Transport and Infrastructure from Surrey County Council, Sarah Jane Chimbwandira, Chief Executive Surrey Wildlife Trust and Chris Lamb, Director of Design South East.
Chris Lamp spoke of the 6Cs of ‘Good Growth’ – communication, collaboration, commitment, clarity, capability and consistency. Katie Steward gave a brief presentation about the key priorities of the Surrey Infrastructure Plan (2020) which included growing a sustainable economy, enabling a greener future, delivering net-zero carbon emissions, empowering communities and tackling health inequalities. She stressed that the incorporation of all elements is extremely difficult but achievable though collaboration and proactive approach. The session ended with an empowering speech from Sarah Jane Chimbwandira who spoke of the importance not only of the climate crisis but the nature crisis as well, with a plea to put that green infrastructure piece of the puzzle and maintain and enhance the national stock assets.
The conference finished with agreement between all participants that the Surrey’s 2050 Place Ambition is not about building properties, but building communities and ensuring long-lasting collaboration between politicians, developers, stakeholders, business owners and residents. In conclusion, Rob Moran reminded those present that they are the decision-makers not only of tomorrow but also of today. They must take this opportunity to make a difference by dedication and determination to ensure a sustainable world in which everyone could thrive in.