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Council Leader Resents Latest ‘Obstructive’ Legal Challenge by Guildford Vision Group

Published on: 20 Jun, 2013
Updated on: 22 Jun, 2013
Local Plan Consultation front 470

The council document subject to the main challenge by the Guildford Vision Group.

The Guildford Vision Group (GVG) was compared with IRA terrorists, and its objectives questioned, by council leader Stephen Mansbridge this evening (June 20) following the group’s attempt to, once again, block approval of planning documents by the council Executive.

The attempt follows an effective challenge by the group last September, which led to the downfall of the previous council leader Tony Rooth, and its application for a judicial review of the council’s decision to grant Waitrose planning consent to construct a supermarket and housing units on the Bellerby Theatre site.

Following its own specialist legal consultation, the council decided to reject the challenge and the Executive proceeded with a motion to approve which was agreed unanimously.

The document that is subject to the controversy is the Statement of Community Involvement (SCI) which lays out the plans for the way that the public will be consulted on the Local Plan. Directors of the Guildford Vision Group, a limited company, believe that the SCI should also go out to public consultation so that members of the public have an opportunity to say how the main consultation exercise should be conducted.

Stephen Mansbridge at Holy Trinity Hall to give his speech to the Guildford Society audience

Council leader Stephen Mansbridge

But, following statements of approval and congratulations to Cllr Juneja and those who had produced the planning documents from all other members of the Executive, a visibly angry Cllr Mansbridge said: “We have been challenged again by the Guildford Vision Group, a limited company, as we were over North Street. We have taken excellent legal advice and what they [GVG] were asking of us actually has no legal basis, although they continued, even as late as this afternoon, to question us on technical points.

“I have to question what they are seeking to do in this town? And I have to question whether they will be obstruct us more still by taking this to judicial review.

“Such action would further prolong the town’s vulnerability in planning and would not be in the interests of the 135,000 people, good people, that live in this borough.

“The town could already have site preparation under way for building a long awaited Waitrose but again GVG Ltd has prevented this from happening because it does not like the design and has questions about the traffic flow.

“Already they have cost the taxpayer well over a hundred thousand pounds because of their litigious action.

Cllr Monika Juneja

Cllr Monika Juneja, lead councillor for planning

“I spoke two weeks ago to The Guildford Society, whose chairman is present tonight, and found that the agenda to which I spoke went down pretty well. I hope very much that this august society will not be dragged down by these actions which are designed to be wholly obstructive and anti-change.

“If their actions are supported we will throw our doors open, even wider, to the developers who hang around our land like vultures and who will build precisely where we, the people of Guildford, do not want them to build.

“I am not saying we should not have development and building but we need too do it in a careful and considered way on the basis of a plan that has input from proper consultation with the residents and stakeholders of our borough. Nobody is going to thank either an obstructive group or an avaricious developer who will do things in an inappropriate way.

“It will live with this town for fifty to a hundred years. Think on that.

“This council is about making the right decisions for its electorate and for the future of this borough. We will deliver the best solution for North Street and we will deliver the best Local Plan that we can within our sources.

“I will not allow litigious nit picking to get in the way of proper progress. And I would ask the pressure groups, particularly the Guildford Vision Group Ltd, to think very hard about what they are standing for and about their future actions.

“If I go back to my military background, in Northern Ireland a handful of terrorists ruled the community. I don’t ally the Guildford Vision Group to being terrorists, I might add, but they have a loud voice and there are many people in our community who do not have a loud voice but have opinions and need to be heard.

“I think this is a most excellent report I think that the documents that will go out into the public domain properly, with the consultation, will demonstrate how diligent we have been as a council in preparing the ground for a level of consultation that most council’s would not adopt.

“I do wholly resent the obstruction to this based on such pettiness and I hope that those responsible for it will think very hard about discontinuing their activity before they engender much upset and concern in this town.”

Newly appointed Chairman of the Guildford Society Bill Stokoe thanking Stephen mansbridge

Three weeks is a long time in politics.  Bill Stokoe, as Chairman of the Guildford Society, thanks Stephen Mansbridge for his well received speech on May 30.

At the end of the Executive meeting Bill Stokoe, who is both a director of the Guildford Vision Group and the recently appointed chairman of The Guildford Society, was approached by Cllrs Mansbridge and Juneja who were heard to express their unhappiness with the challenge made as reporters looked on.

Mr Stokoe did not wish to be interviewed straight away but agreed that a spokesman for the group would be made available for interview soon.

One concern the group is understood to have, having its consulted lawyers, is that if statutory processes are not fully and strictly adhered to in the adoption of the Local Plan then it could itself, in future, be subject to legal challenge by developers, leaving Guildford vulnerable to unwanted development. The council, following its legal consultation, reject this.

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Responses to Council Leader Resents Latest ‘Obstructive’ Legal Challenge by Guildford Vision Group

  1. David Smith Reply

    June 21, 2013 at 9:01 am

    Do people who don’t read The Dragon or attend silly meetings in church halls know how much this little group [Guildford Vision Group] is costing us?

    They seem to think that they represent the town when the reality is most busy hard working taxpayers have never even heard of them. I may start canvassing people letting them know why no development is happening in Guildford and how much they are costing us.

    At least the Guildford Society has seen sense admitting we need to grow as a town and hopefully objecting to less in the way of development.

    Did anyone else read this scary story the other day? God only knows what people must think of us as a town – investors are probably steering clear.

  2. Andrew Backhurst Reply

    June 21, 2013 at 11:49 am

    This Stephen Mansbridge is a breath of fresh air. He talks a good game and is not scared to ruffle feathers.

    Guildford is known as never never land by our friends in other towns, being likened to Peter Pan and the town that refuses to grow up is very funny but it is long overdue to wake up to the fact that although change is often hard to contemplate it is also rewarding to the people of the town and the businesses that have invested here.

    To my mind these nimby groups should have no place in our town. Often these group members are elderly and have nothing to gain by change and harp back to the good old days when the sun was always shining…

  3. Stephen Muggridge Reply

    June 21, 2013 at 12:56 pm

    My employer is a member of the Guildford Vision Group and from what he tells me the council are their own worst enemy, given they don’t research matters properly and refuse to consider long term proposals.

    There are plans being put forward that would create bypasses for traffic to lighten the load on existing roads and significantly reduce congestion for many years to come. These plans include a new shopping centre that would dramatically reduce the cost to tax payers and new social spaces that would improve the general area for visitors to Guildford.

    However, the local authority appears only interested in making minor alterations to pinch points, trying to squeeze more traffic into existing roads and building another supermarket when they could be saving up land to build new housing and accommodation.

  4. Caroline Reeves Reply

    June 21, 2013 at 5:19 pm

    I was very pleased to hear Stephen Mansbridge’s comments directed towards the GVG at the Executive last night. The delays which have been caused by their challenges, not to mention the costs to GBC, will only extend the time that we are under threat from planning decisions made by the Inspectorate and developers.

    The Planning Policy team have a wealth of information to put into the consultation which will go towards a very real and dynamic Local Plan which will, in turn, shape the future for Guildford, in fact the very plans which Stephen Muggridge seems to be talking about in his comment.

    The response from residents across the borough from all walks of life will be the essential part of this piece of work. As councillors we are very aware of the vital nature of this work for the future of Guildford, and the need to be found ‘sound’ when the Local Plan is submitted.

    Caroline Reeves is the Lib Dem Borough Councillor for Friary & St Nicolas

  5. Michel Harper Reply

    June 21, 2013 at 10:23 pm

    I am very disturbed by the emotion (anger, frustration etc.) shown by Stephen Mansbridge. Firstly, leadership by example, then by informed good judgement. Mr Mansbridge seems to be at odds with both.

    It is the right and duty of the people to challenge government if they appear to be wrong or not representing the will of the public. This is exactly what the Vision Group is doing, rightly.

    His army experience is irrelevant and the example of Northern Ireland very poor, not to say insulting. I hope the council as a whole will act to redress this and reflect on their recent support for a lower standard of probity in public life by the leader of the council.

  6. Stuart Green Reply

    June 24, 2013 at 5:37 pm

    Guildford Vision Group or Michel Harper, I’m not sure which is worse. Both trying to disrupt the plans for our town in trying to get their own way. Both costing the council and in turn us, the Council Taxpayer, money that could be better spent elsewhere.

    Take your ‘vision’ and your unwanted ‘plans’ elsewhere please.

  7. David Ogilvie Reply

    June 25, 2013 at 3:37 pm

    David Smith, Andrew Backhurst and Stuart Green have been seriously misled by the report, which I believe to be accurate, in the Guildford Dragon NEWS of GBC lead councillor’s comments on the evening of the 20th June.

    The Guildford Vision Group made no legal challenge to the council plans. It saw fit to alert the GBC that Statement of Community Involvement (SCI) should go to public consultation for if it does not then when the Local plan comes up for examination in 2015 it could be thrown out by the Planning Inspector on this point alone and two years work would be wasted. If GBC are confident that this is not the case that that is the end of the matter.

    In any event GVG has not made a legal challenge and has not caused delay or cost. The purpose of the GVG is to encourage the GBC to get an up to date evidence base together and commission master planners of national repute to come up with a visionary masterplan for the next 30 to 50 years.

    To date GBC have not even got the evidence base together. For example housing is a major issue. The evidence base for a 5 year supply is dated 2007.It does not go anywhere near meeting the central government requirements and includes the DEFRA site that has already been completed and the Bellerby site that they now intend to sell to a supermarket. Despite hollow assurances they have not got their act together they need help. GVG is there to help them not hinder them.

  8. Stephen Muggridge Reply

    June 26, 2013 at 9:38 am

    I wish people would spell my name correctly, but I guess I have an obnoxious old television presenter to thank for the extra ‘e’. [Now corrected. Apologies. Ed.]

    With regard to Mr Green’s response; I understand his frustration, but unfortunately you cannot make such decisions without debate and time is money.

    Everybody wants to see the best result for Guildford but people have different ideas as to what that may be and or how to achieve it.

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