A Conservative councillor has blasted the “crazy” idea of building a “council house ghetto” on a town centre car park.
Other members of Waverley Borough Council called the comments “offensive” in a fierce debate regarding the future of several sites in Godalming town centre.
The borough council’s meeting on December 13 considered a Conservative motion to put a stop to potential plans to build homes on the Crown Court car park in Godalming and to build a car park on the site of the council’s headquarters.
The suggested plans for the Crown Court site, as well as for the Wharf car park and for the Burys office building, were put out to public consultation last year, as the council considered the future of sites it owned in the town.
A petition presented at the same meeting and signed by 4,000 people opposed the plans, which could include the loss of around two thirds of the parking at the Crown Court site.
Councillor Simon Dear (Conservative, Haslemere East and Grayswood) said there was “nothing wrong” with the council looking at the future options for its land if costs were kept down.
He added: “But the idea of building a council house ghetto on Godalming’s main car park is just crazy.
“No one builds enclaves like that any more, no one has for years.”
He said the town needed housing, but it should be a mix, as at any site, of private ownership, social housing and rentals.
Though he added that the “overwhelming reason” not to build on the site was the “entirely foreseeable destruction of much of Godalming as a shopping town”.
Cllr Dear’s comments on “ghettos” led the council’s leader to recall his own upbringing in social housing.
Councillor Paul Follows (Liberal Democrat, Godalming Central and Ockford) told the meeting: “As a child of social housing myself, I genuinely do find being described as somebody who comes from the ghetto to be quite offensive.”
An amended motion was approved which said the council would stop considering the options it had been looking at if other “alternative and fiscally equivalent” options could be identified and implemented.
The council consultation on the sites mentioned the building of affordable, social and market housing on the brownfield sites.
The options looked at by the council were labelled “hare-brained” and a “financial dead duck” in the meeting, with Councillor David Munro (Independent, Frensham Dockenfield and Tilford) claiming the amended motion represented a “100 per cent retreat” by the administration on the “unworkable” plans.
Nearly 1,000 people responded to the council’s consultation on the future of the sites, and 654 of them “completely opposed” to the proposal to build housing on the car park sites and redevelop The Burys site.
Cllr Follows said he had been “as upfront as possible with residents” about the need to consider these options, with the council identifying a need for £3 million to be spent on repairs and maintenance just to keep its office building usable over the next 10 years.
He said the options were not things he would “necessarily wish to do” himself, but added: “My duty and responsibility as a councillor takes precedence over my personal views.”