Fringe Box



Ash Aspect: Why Was a Councillor Unable to Speak on a Planning Matter Important to His Constituents?

Published on: 7 Oct, 2018
Updated on: 9 Oct, 2018

By David Reading

Maybe I’m old-fashioned, but I always thought the elected councillors and officers of Guildford Borough Council existed to represent their local population and to conduct their matters openly. With that in mind, it was perfectly reasonable for me, as a reporter for The Dragon, to expect answers to certain questions relating to the new housing estate that is being built on land south of Ash Lodge Drive, Ash.

The residents’ battle to halt the development was lost long ago. The first houses are now going up. There is chaos in Ash Lodge Drive, and constant noise during working hours from vehicles associated with the building. All this was to be expected. I suppose the best people can hope for now is some sort of “damage limitation”.

Perhaps “damage limitation” was what Cllr Paul Spooner might have been aiming for when he turned up for a meeting of the planning committee on September 12th to discuss new proposals from Bewley Homes. We will never know because, according to several sources, he was excluded from the meeting.

Why was this? Was the councillor who represents Ash South and Tongham actively barred, as the reports suggest? Is this allowed?

Going through the correct channels, I asked the council’s communications team if they would shed some light on the matter. And then I put the same question to Cllr Spooner himself and to the chair of planning, Cllr Marsha Moseley.

Despite two emails and a telephone call, the comms team evaded the question. Councillor Spooner directed me to a Facebook page for the answer, but the page is open only to members of the Ash Green Community Notice Board page. [It was previously reported, erroneously, that any relevant messages appeared to have been deleted from Paul Spooner’s own Facebook page.]  There was no reply from Cllr Moseley.

And that’s my problem with this. Despite the comment from one of The Dragon’s correspondents – that this is all “a storm in a teacup” – I believe the council needs to be open on whether an elected representative of Ash and Tongham was barred from a meeting that held important implications for the people of Ash.

In the absence of honest, straightforward and factual responses one is forced to rely on the local grapevine for answers. Reports suggest that before the meeting Cllr Spooner had contacted the council’s Democratic Services section requesting that he attend the meeting as a ward member rather than in his role as a borough councillor, thus giving him more flexibility in speaking. It is understood that his request was granted.

But just before the meeting Cllr Moseley found out about this and told him he was out of order – he should have approached her, as planning committee chair. The reason for her concerns is unclear but if ego was involved that is beyond the pale. In this case, the right of a councillor to speak is more important than petty protocol.

Whatever the truth of the matter, Bewley’s application was approved by the committee, following the advice of its officers. This means that Bewley can now increase the number of homes on the site from 400 (the figure approved early in 2017) to 482. This has dismayed local people, although there is some small consolation.

Following earlier concerns from the Planning Committee, the proposed three-story blocks of flats on the north side of the spine road serving the new estate have now been reduced in height. Residents had voiced deep concern that these would be monstrosities towering above homes in Ash Lodge Drive and neighbouring roads.

But to date, the mystery of why Cllr Spooner, leader of the council, was excluded from an important planning meeting remains unsolved. We all have a right to know the truth.

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Responses to Ash Aspect: Why Was a Councillor Unable to Speak on a Planning Matter Important to His Constituents?

  1. Martin Elliott Reply

    October 7, 2018 at 12:54 pm

    I’m sure David Reading realises his view of what councillors do is slightly idealistic.

    As I pointed out in a previous reply, even official guidance from GOV.UK goes a bit further.

    “Being an effective councillor requires both commitment and hard work. Councillors have to balance the needs and interests of residents, the political party they represent (if any) and the council.”

    I wonder where that balance point of three interests lies for some of GBC (and SCC) councillors.

  2. Ben Paton Reply

    October 7, 2018 at 2:10 pm

    You would indeed think that “the elected councillors and officers of Guildford Borough Council existed to represent their local population and to conduct their matters openly”.

    But that’s not how the key information at the heart of the Local Plan has been treated. The Guildford Strategic Housing Market Assessment (SHMA), its replacement West Surrey SHMA and the arithmetic models underlying these have never been disclosed. They were not disclosed to Guildford councillors. They were not disclosed to the Boroughs of Woking and Waverley, allegedly not even the officers of these three boroughs have seen them.

    Now we discover that the Office for National Statistics projections of household growth rates for these boroughs are for fewer than half the housing targets chosen by Guildford and Waverley.

    You might expect this sort of thing to happen in a remote province of Siberia. But it is happening in Surrey.
    The electors of Ash should make those responsible for the Local Plan, who also represent them, accountable.

  3. David Roberts Reply

    October 8, 2018 at 3:25 pm

    I wish to welcome, Cllr Spooner, to our world – what Cllr Moseley terms the “bloody rabble”.

    As council leader, he bears a lot of responsibility for the culture of arbitrary government that prevails on planning issues in Guildford’s one-party state.

  4. Jules Cranwell Reply

    October 8, 2018 at 3:36 pm

    The usual developers’ dodge, get approval for a low number, get planning permission, the appeal for more. And our council agrees with this greed.

    Expect to see 3,000 at Wisley, 4,000 at Blackwell farm, 2,500 at Gosden hill.

  5. John Perkins Reply

    October 9, 2018 at 12:43 pm

    Cllr Spooner has not attended a meeting of the Planning Committee which might otherwise have proved embarrassing for him. It’s tempting to think that was convenient.

    Those with memories stretching back to July will recall his part in removing a dissenting voice from that committee.

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