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Councillors Clash in Confusion Debating Local Plan Review ‘During Election Purdah’

Published on: 14 Apr, 2021
Updated on: 15 Apr, 2021

By Martin Giles

A GBC debate on the need to review the Local Plan turned near-farcical last night (April 13) when councillors were told they could not be “political” because of the purdah period before the SCC May 6 election.

At one stage, Conservatives proposed to postpone their own debate while councillors were told they could not be “political” on the most important political issue in the council’s recent history.

Cllr Paul Spooner

The debate had been triggered by a motion proposed by Paul Spooner, Conservative leader of the council when the Plan was developed and adopted, controversially in a period of purdah.

His motion stated: “Infrastructure was a key requirement in the Local Plan” and “the A3 Capacity Upgrade, can no longer be delivered… That a review of the Local Plan be undertaken immediately to reduce the housing numbers…”

Proposing the motion, Cllr Spooner (Ash South & Tongham) said: “I believe the Local Plan was a good Local Plan but I believe that without the infrastructure coming through we should deliver on the promises we gave to the residents of Guildford and that promise was that it should be reviewed.”

But as councillors started to debate came the first of several warnings by the monitoring officer, Diane Owens. that they should not use “political language” because we are in a lead-up period to the SCC election.

Cllr Tony Rooth

Responding, Cllr Tony Rooth (R4GV, Pilgrims) started: “Cllr Spooner wants Guildford residents to forget or ignore that Conservative housing policy from Boris is ‘Build, Build, Build’, not ‘brownfield first’.

“The Conservative building and planning policy is to allow developers to build almost anything, anywhere, near anyone.

“As for infrastructure, let’s look at the A3 Strategic Upgrade. Cllr Matt Furniss, [former] GBC deputy leader and now SCC cabinet member for Highways (and seeking re-election in the county council elections in 23)…”

Cllr Rooth was interrupted by the monitoring officer and did not deliver his full prepared speech.

Cllr Susan Parker

Then, while Cllr Susan Parker (Send), the former leader of the Guildford Greenbelt Group (GGG), was speaking, Cllr Spooner proposed the debate be postponed until after the election because it was impossible to remain unpolitical.

A vote was taken in which the Conservatives, who had tabled the motion, supported postponement but the majority, perhaps considering the Tories were under effective fire at that stage, wanted to continue. The proposal was lost, 27 councillors wishing to proceed,17 supporting postponement.

Jan Harwood becomes deputy council leader

The lead councillor for Housing, Jan Harwood (Lib Dem, Merrow) again warned the council that if a review was held, a reduction in the housing number could not be guaranteed and that, in any case, the evidence base required for the review was not yet available. He suggested caution and a considered approach.

Ramsey Nagaty (Shalford), the new GGG leader, said he was confused, and believed the town’s residents were as well. If the Local Plan had a dependency on certain infrastructure delivery, he said, why hadn’t the removal of sites been discussed already?

Cllr Parker then proposed the motion be amended by removing the reference to the A3 and “That a review of the Local Plan be undertaken immediately to reduce the housing numbers”.

This, she said, would give planning officers the necessary policy direction for preparatory work which needed to start now. Available constraints, for example, the amount of green belt in the borough, should be used.

“We don’t want unsustainable development,” she added. “As a borough, we recognise the climate emergency, we don’t want road-based commuting. We can designate countryside as worthy of protection, if we choose to do so.

“We know what the community wants and most of us were elected because the community was angry with decisions that had been taken, they were angry Guildford was increasing its population, had inadequate infrastructure, loss of the green spaces and the villages were furious at the loss of their green belt status and they have been proved right.

“We fought to reduce the housing allocations in the Local Plan. Guildford is a beautiful town in glorious countryside. It’s worth protecting.”

Cllr Tim Anderson

But only the three GGG members voted for her motion and attention switched to the second amendment proposed by Cllr Tim Anderson (R4GV, Clandon & Horsley) on behalf of the R4GV/Lib Dem administration.

He said all parties wanted to achieve the same goal, a review and update of the Local Plan and adoption of his motion was the best way to achieve this.

The key factor was the decision by Highways England to shelve the long-planned improvement to the A3. This automatically triggered a review, he said, of the transport evidence base which had commenced in April 2020.

The impact of the pandemic, changes to the retail sector and to population forecasts were other factors, as was changing government policy.

All would need to be incorporated into a new evidence base compiled by experts. He hoped all parties could put their uncertainties and disagreements to one side and back his amendment.

But Cllr Parker remained unconvinced and thought the community of Guildford would be disappointed. Continuing to plan a review was not good enough, she said, this was putting the issue “into the long grass”, there was no strategic direction and that would allow the decision to be taken away from the full council.

She told her fellow councillors: “Many of you campaigned on a platform challenging the Local Plan… we have been elected to take decisions. If you vote for this motion you are afraid to take the decision you were elected to take. Why would anyone vote for you again? Why should they trust you?”

Supporting the amendment, Cllr John Rigg (R4GV, Holy Trinity) said expert independent advice was needed for an evidence-based review but further debate was then truncated when Cllr Marsha Moseley, with her eye to the clock showing 10pm, proposed that as the contributions were becoming repetitive the council should go straight to a vote on the amendment and motion.

The majority of the council supported her proposal to guillotine the debate and accepted Cllr Anderson’s amendment with 35 for, five against and three abstentions.

Cllr Spooner’s proposal, as amended, was then accepted by 42 votes to none against with one abstention.

The amended motion concluded: “This council, therefore, resolves to continue to plan the review of the Local Plan and evidence base, to obtain expert independent assessment of the new issues and changed circumstances, to advise on the appropriate route to review the Local Plan, update the Plan’s Evidence Base and then update the Local Plan in order to secure the best outcomes for our community and borough.

James Whiteman

GBC’s managing director said after the meeting: “We will continue to plan our review of the 2019 Local Plan and the evidence behind it by getting expert advice on the changes in both transport requirements and wider society since it was published.

“This will help us to find the best way to review the Local Plan. We can then update the Plan to ensure that it fully serves the needs of our community and borough.”

The debate can be listened to here.

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Responses to Councillors Clash in Confusion Debating Local Plan Review ‘During Election Purdah’

  1. Lisa Wright Reply

    April 14, 2021 at 5:10 pm

    I’m afraid I don’t understand, this sounds, and reads, like a complete mess.

    In the final two paragraphs, it seems like there were two votes, what exactly did they vote for and can someone explain what that means?

    Editor’s response: As is normal, each amendment is voted on and then, if the majority of councillors vote for one to be adopted, the main motion is changed accordingly and there is a vote on whether or not to adopt that amended motion.

  2. Ben Paton Reply

    April 14, 2021 at 6:14 pm

    All waffle.

    R4GV was elected to revise the Local Plan. It has not delivered. They’ve got their chance. But it looks like they are muffing it.

    They should just do it.

  3. Paul Jarvis Reply

    April 15, 2021 at 8:39 am

    “Guildford must take every opportunity to amend the Local Plan.”. Where is that quote from? It’s from the first line of the R4GV website ‘Agenda for Guildford’.

    Looking past all the election bluster, it seems Guildford residents have been hoodwinked by empty election promises.

    • Linda Parker Picken Reply

      April 15, 2021 at 5:44 pm

      The Green Party does put up paper candidates. Their website states: “The purpose of non-target candidates is making sure that people have the option of voting Green, but we do not exert too much effort into these campaigns to target our resources wisely.
      So being a “non-target candidate” literally means having your name on the ballot paper. Being a ‘non-target candidate’ only entails signing up to be a Candidate, and holds very minimal expectations of you.”

      GGG on the other hand put up serious local candidates who have a track record of working for residents as Parish Councillors. Susan Parker has served on GBC now for six years. All have consistently opposed the Local Plan and called for its review.

  4. Richard William Brewster Reply

    April 15, 2021 at 7:53 pm

    Locals have been hoodwinked. We are about to lose Ockham under a new large settlement and the very people who campaigned to stop it are now supporting the developers Taylor Wimpy.

    Thanks to all those Guildford councillors who have sold Ripley and Ockham out.

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