SDF developer members write to the four major political parties

Surrey Development Forum has written, on behalf of our private sector members, a letter to the four major parties. The letter outlines what our private sector members need so as to promote good growth in Surrey and to meet the Surrey Place Ambition 2050, and urges the parties to consider the challenges and asks when drafting their manifestos for the next General Election.

The below letter was sent to:

  • The Rt Hon Michael Gove, Conservatives, Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities
  • Lee Rowley MP, Conservatives, Minister for Housing
  • Matthew Pennycook MP, Labour, Shadow Minister, Levelling Up, Housing, Communities and Local Government
  • The Rt Hon Ed Davey, Leader of the Liberal Democrats,
  • Helen Morgan MP, Liberal Democrats, Spokesperson, Levelling up, Housing and Communities
  • Carla Denyer and Adrian Ramsay, Co-Leaders of the Green Party
  • Surrey MPs, Surrey PPC’s, and Surrey County and District Council Group Leaders

 

RE: Addressing the Growth in Surrey

Surrey is one of the most sought after places to live and work in the UK, with a host of welcoming towns and villages, a strong local economy, and thriving communities. However, it faces a long term challenge of creating the new homes and business areas needed to support its growing population,  and the transport and utility infrastructure needed to further build on its economic success.

The Surrey Development Forum brings together representatives of all councils across Surrey, developers, consultants and community groups to understand and address the challenges the county faces in achieving sustainable development, good design, economic recovery and climate change. The SDF provides a forum where a range of stakeholders can communicate and ‘join-up’ their plans and embrace the opportunities created by sustainable development. This Letter has been written on behalf of our private sector members, to articulate what they need so as to promote good growth in the County.

The challenge is significant.  The annual housing requirements in the most recently adopted Local Plans is 3,480 homes per year across Surrey, while according to the Standard Method the need is 6,911 homes per year.  Over the past three years (2019-2022) the net additional dwellings in Surrey was 14,018, which when set against the need specified by the Standard Method of 20,733 over the same period means that only 68% of need was delivered. The result is that the housing crisis gets worse each year in Surrey, and the County is not yet on course to start addressing the issue.

To put this in context, over the last year, the average house price in the county was £643,000 overall, and £1,084,757 for a detached home (data from Rightmove). This is equivalent to 15.2 and 25.7 times the average income in the county respectively, according to Nomis (ONS).

There are profound socioeconomic consequences when homes in Surrey are quite so unaffordable for the vast majority of people:

  • Younger people are priced out of the communities where they live, separating them from family and friends.
  • The younger people who remain have little choice but to live with family or share unsuitable homes with friends, limiting their independence.
  • As household and family formation is much harder as a result of this lack of independence, Surrey hugely underperforms the England and Wales average for fertility in every age group under 30, with 25- to 29-year-olds seeing a drop of 39% in their fertility rate.
  • Key workers who are employed in sectors such as the NHS, social care and hospitality can no longer meet the cost of shelter near their workplace.
  • Surrey is losing talented younger people, and services and businesses in the county are struggling to attract and retain staff, with housing a significant barrier for new hires.
  • Areas with more affordable housing and commercial space will attract talent and investment at Surrey’s cost, especially with the growing economic gravity of cities beyond London.

The spiralling cost of housing impacts every area of the local economy and society in Surrey.

The challenge for business comes not only from the cost of finding and retaining staff, but also from the cost of commercial property. In July 2023 Surrey was the second most expensive county to purchase commercial property, significantly restricting the ability of local businesses to find premises they need to grow and raising the barrier to entry for business in the county. Together with the cost of attracting talent due to the rapidly growing cost of housing, both for sale and rent, Surrey is finding itself at the heart of a perfect storm where people do not have secure, high-quality accommodation and businesses do not have the space to grow.

Addressing the challenge

At our Annual Conference, the Forum including community groups, councillors, developers and youth organisations, sought to address the challenges facing the County directly, and how they may be solved. We believe that these collaboratively derived solutions should be considered as you develop your manifesto for the next General Election.

 

  1. Consistency and clarity of approach

This was the single highest priority for members of the Forum. Over the past decade, there have been many proposals to reform the planning system to make it faster, and more consistent. In each instance the uncertainty around the changes, for instance to the recent NPPF Review, have caused the opposite effect. Uncertainty has led to over 60 Local Plans being formally paused nationally, including many in Surrey, while the changes work their way through the system.

Our first ask is for consistency of approach and allowing the system that emerges to truly bed in. Linked to this Local Plans should be easier for the wider public to understand and communities should be better engaged around their drafting. Delegates believed that this would reduce the level of NIMBYism, particularly at the stage of planning applications.

Should Surrey obtain greater powers of devolution under the Levelling Up Act, then we encourage the County Council to continue to work closely with the Boroughs and Districts and build on Surrey’s 2050 Place Ambition to prepare a long term spatial framework for the County, one that is appropriately ambitious and allows decisionmakers to make long term investment decisions. There is a need for strategic planning to provide direction to local areas to implement the change required.

 

  1. Resourcing

We can welcome the increase in fees for planning and increased use of PPAs but express disappointment that the fees are not ring fenced and point out that statutory consultees are frequently the source of the biggest delays.

Our second ask is that planning departments and other public bodies with a statutory role in planning have adequate resource to handle applications promptly, including secure funding arrangements in the medium to long term.

A centre or team of additional expertise should be established in order to provide career progression in local government, while a specialist structure would help advance best practice and more complex development more proficiently in the county. Local Plans, which are mostly ‘out of date’ could be more promptly reviewed with more expertise and resource.  Planning fees and revenue generated by new development could help to partly fund this initiative.

 

  1. Joined up approach to infrastructure delivery

Communities and councillors across Surrey consistently state that infrastructure, or lack thereof, is a significant bar to accepting more development. Without more organised, joined up, strategic planning between different delivery bodies the delivery of infrastructure can be fragmented and difficult to match to proposed development. As one example, one scheme in Guildford Borough includes a Local Plan allocation for a new medical facility, however, the NHS no longer wants this new facility leaving the community feeling that the developer has reneged on its commitment – when in fact the developer would like to provide the facility it promised and to complete the scheme.

Developers – not councils – are now the largest provider of infrastructure across Surrey, delivering new schools, roads, community buildings and medical facilities.

Our third ask is greater transparency on the contribution new development makes to local infrastructure. Developers are committed to providing the infrastructure to support their plans, or equivalent enabling contributions. At present, both Section 106 Agreements and the Community Infrastructure Levy do not provide enough detail on how funding from development goes on to enhance local infrastructure. This can create anxiety among the existing community and make the relationship between communities and new development unnecessarily fraught. Both communities and developers would benefit from more visibility on the infrastructure which development provides.

 

  1. Sustainable and active travel

Delegates asked for decisive investment in local and regional infrastructure to support sustainable and active travel. This would include better bus connections for near on-demand travel without car ownership, and in turn reduce the need for parking, either on or off-street. Regional transport should also be improved, with schemes such as Crossrail 2 supporting immediate areas and the wider network – indeed, schemes of this type outperform assessments of their Return on Investment, such as the Elizabeth Line, which is now expected to have reached break-even.

At the local level, investment is required to allow new development to fit into a wider ecosystem of local and last-mile infrastructure, ultimately reducing car dependency to reach regional travel options. This could include more cycle and scooter hire provision locally, policy on car clubs and their use of onstreet and publicly owned parking, harder infrastructure such as segregated bike and bus lanes, or frequency of bus services.

Our fourth ask is that capital investment is unlocked to deliver local active travel infrastructure which meets better regional connections. While developers are committed to enabling a modal shift towards sustainable and active modes of travel, efforts in and around new developments will be far more effective when they meet a better-connected ecosystem of similar infrastructure. Where this infrastructure is planned, there should be long-term clarity on where and when it is anticipated, enabling development to be delivered at a juncture which best supports the services and facilities.

 

  1. Green Belt and density

Positive change and sustainable growth go hand in hand. Delegates agreed that development should be directed to improve biodiversity and to create a network of green spaces throughout the county.  In addition, developer members supported a greater focus on development in established urban centres, with new planning categories and ultimately denser town centres. This would in turn reduce pressure on the Green Belt or other rural areas for delivery of homes. Our expectation is that this could be part of a broader policy on regenerating town centres, including a review of commercial office spaces.

At a more local level, there was also support among members for a role for development corporations, giving these bodies planning powers, a role in Compulsory Purchase Orders and guiding them as a public-private partnership.

Our fifth ask is for town centre densification to be encouraged through policy, giving greater weight to the sustainable nature of development near the centre of a conurbation. Development of this kind can lift some of the pressure which is felt on more rural sites,  and with the appropriate density can provide sustainable development close to public open space and existing amenities and services.

In tandem with this, many delegates recognised that the homes Surrey needs could not be delivered on brownfield alone, and felt a sensitive and comprehensive review of the Green Belt could be undertaken to identify sites which could make a contribution to meet the  needs of housing and good growth in Surrey. The county has large areas of environmentally safeguarded land, such as Special Protection Areas and the Surrey Hills AONB. These areas are often confused with the Green Belt, which is a technical planning designation. A review would enable the release  of some Green Belt land, which in turn could facilitate long-term enhancements to Green Infrastructure while ensuring that the environmentally significant areas are safeguarded and enhanced.

Our final ask is for government to lead sensible conversation about the Green Belt where it offers little environmental value, or where greater environmental benefit can be provided through sensible development which addresses acute housing need across the region. Weight should also be given to sites which can provide highly sustainable housing close to conurbations or transport hubs. The county should aspire to best practice, consistent and implementable policies and resources to reduce carbon emissions, including ensuring that new development is tailored to meet national obligations to reduce carbon emissions.

 

Conclusion

The forthcoming General Election will determine which party or group of parties will next be tasked with addressing the acute housing need across Surrey and the UK. The failure to grasp the need for sustainable growth has a long-term impact on families, and is also having a direct and devastating impact on Local Authority finances as they seek to provide temporary accommodation for their residents. By contrast, providing new homes and commercial spaces will remove households from temporary accommodation, provide New Homes Bonus and Council Tax receipts / Business Rates, and create the conditions for the UK to thrive in the long term.

It is key that development in Surrey is unlocked in a manner which is satisfactory for local communities while progressing the need for growth in one of the UK’s most economically important regions.

We hope you might consider some of the suggestions made in this letter or speak to the Surrey Development Forum at one of our coming members meetings. If this would be of interest to you, please contact Charlie Murphy via [email protected] or 07862 009783.

Representatives of the Surrey Development Forum would be delighted to meet with you in-person to discuss any element of these proposals and how we think they could help address the housing crisis.

 

Yours sincerely,

The Surrey Development Forum

 

Back to News