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Council Group Leader Interview: Caroline Reeves – Liberal Democrats

Published on: 4 May, 2015
Updated on: 5 May, 2015

The Guildford Dragon NEWS has invited a leader of each political party and a representative independent candidate, standing for election to Guildford Borough Council (GBC), to be interviewed. The response to each question is limited to up to 100 words.

Unlike the parliamentary candidate interviews there is no scoring of, or comment on, their responses.

Caroline Reeves is the leader of the Liberal Democrat group at GBC and is standing again in the Friary & St Nicolas ward that she represented in the last council. The Lib Dem party are fielding candidates in all 22 wards across the borough.

Caroline ReevesLib Dem group leader Cllr Caroline Reeves

1. Most respondents to GBC’s own Local Plan public consultation do not want developments to be built on the green belt. What “exceptional circumstances” can you imagine that would justify such development.

The NPPF [National Planning Policy Framework] suggests ‘limited infilling in villages, and limited affordable housing for local community needs under policies set out in the Local Plan’. An exceptional site could be agreed if, after consultation with residents, ward councillors and parish councils, there’s a proven need for housing for local people. Within the context of an overriding principle of fairness and proportionality in the Local Plan, strategic site needs can be addressed once we have our final housing number. Nationally there will be a push for more homes. Locally refused strategic site applications could be won at appeal without consideration of the infrastructure.

LibDems logo2. Do you agree with the government policy of capping Council Tax rises of 2% or more without a referendum?

No, but as a referendum could cost the borough around £1million, it would cost us too much to bring in more council tax and so is not really an option. Meanwhile the money given to all local authorities is cut annually and it becomes harder to maintain our essential services to the standard our residents expect.

3. Would your party be prepared to enter a coalition, or any kind of working agreement, with any other political party in the council, should the need arise?

A decision on this would have to be taken by the newly elected councillors after 7 May. We have been campaigning in all our wards to represent our residents as Liberal Democrats on our recently published local manifesto.

4. Can the council do anything to speed up development of brownfield sites and allow the construction of more houses on them?

The NPPF hierarchy stipulates that brownfield sites should be developed first. However once planning permission is granted it can take longer to build out a brownfield site. Demolition of the buildings, followed by decontamination can produce delays – the new fire station site for example where important archaeological finds caused delays. Meanwhile, we would not be reaching our housing targets and applications for development on other sites could be won at appeal. Not all brownfield sites are empty, on some sites there’s a need to relocate the company who are currently using the site, which can add to the delay.

5. Is there any way, other than social housing provision, to prioritise homes for local residents?

We have been able to do this in village developments where residents had to have a local connection, for example in Pirbright, and of course more council owned and maintained housing anywhere in the borough must go to people on our housing list. We need to build many more council owned homes.

6. With the rejection of Guildford Museum’s bid for Heritage Lottery funding how can a “History Hub” that befits Guildford be afforded?

The decision not to give any funding is a real disappointment. There is on-going work to look at all our important town centre heritage buildings, and they are a key factor in the thinking around the town centre masterplan. Guildford should have an invigorating and inspiring museum that reflects our history, and we need to have a radical re-think as to how and where we achieve this. As to the funding, I have no magic wand but given all that is going on with new plans and themes, now is the time to get the museum that Guildford deserves.

7. Do you agree that the new proposed “hybrid” model of governance at the council will, if approved, improve things?

Definitely. I was part of the task group that looked at the evidence for changing from the strong leader system. We concluded that by introducing a hybrid system, changes could be implemented quickly and with regular monitoring could be adjusted as needed. We will have the flexibility for greater councillor involvement at all stages of decision making, and greater direct input to the Executive through the Advisory Boards. A change to a committee system would mean no further changes for five years. If the decision is brought about through a costly referendum it cannot be changed for ten years.

8. Why can it be so hard to get people to stand as councillors. Is the low level of allowances a factor?

It’s definitely a contributing factor. Being a good councillor takes a large amount of time, not just with evening meetings at Millmead, sometimes three or four times a week, but also case work within the councillor’s ward. This can vary from ward to ward, often urban areas have more case work. It’s crucial that there’s a very broad demographic of councillors to represent all our residents, and while no one expects the equivalent of a full time salary, a higher allowance would allow many more people to consider taking on what can be a very demanding but fulfilling community role.

9. Do you agree that the Planning Inspectorate should have the final say on planning applications that go to appeal and the Local Plan?

While I understand that it can be difficult not to make an emotive decision when it is made locally, it seems ironic that big decisions can be made by one person after a hearing – or written representations for smaller appeals. So much rests on the material evidence produced at the hearing, and the quality of those giving evidence.

10. What is the most important issue facing Guildford Borough Council over the next four years.

Providing housing for local people, in places where people want to live and at a price they can afford if they want to buy, or council/social housing for those who can’t. We need to do this while still protecting our environment in town and countryside, and we need to solve the transport issues that arise from more people and more traffic leading to more congestion.

What do you think of  Caroline Reeves’ answers?  Have your say by using the ‘Leave a Reply’ feature below.

Click here to see other GBC group leader interviews.

Click here to see Parliamentary candidate interviews.

Candidates from the following parties are standing in the Guildford Borough Council elections on May 7th: Conservative; Green Party; Guildford Greenbelt Group; Labour; Liberal Democrats; Peace Party; UKIP. There are also Independent candidates.

The Green Party declined the invitation to participate in these interviews.

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Responses to Council Group Leader Interview: Caroline Reeves – Liberal Democrats

  1. Harry Eve Reply

    May 4, 2015 at 12:58 pm

    The answer to question 9 leads to the important point that it is no good just objecting to “bad” planning applications.

    We should all support our councillors, regardless of party, by helping them to examine the evidence. We should not blindly accept figures or assertions that are put in front of us – whether they are provided by developers or the authorities – or indeed by councillors.

    Fortunately, many local people have gathered together to do just that – but it is not made easy by a council that seems arrogant and over-bearing.

    The answer to question 10 is a well-worded aspiration that it would be difficult to argue with – but is it achievable in Guildford?

    Buckingham Palace is a nice place to live with good infrastructure, close to jobs, and a large garden that would be easy to build on. Perhaps we should all have the opportunity to live there at a price we can all afford!

  2. Ben Paton Reply

    May 6, 2015 at 11:25 pm

    The record of the Lib Dems in Guildford is just as bad as the Tories’.

    1. The Lib Dems voted unanimously to pass the Issues & Options paper. This paper sought to predetermine the sites which would go into the draft local plan. The farmland at the former Wisley airfield was identified. But no sequential testing was done.

    2. Caroline Reeves voted for an application to use land at the former Wisley airfield to make films – and considered that there were “exceptional circumstances” for this development even though the films were entirely hypothetical and none were identified. Her vote was against that of the two local councillors – for Lovelace and for Effingham – both Lib Dems.

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