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Dragon Interview: Lib Dem Councillors on Party Division Over Local Plan

Published on: 31 May, 2016
Updated on: 1 Jun, 2016

Divsion SplitCracks within the Conservative group at Millmead may have been confirmed in the council debate on the revised draft Local Plan but a wider gulf was revealed within the nine-strong group of Liberal Democrats.

Six voted for the plan to proceed to public consultation and three against. The group divided on male/female lines. Even husband and wife councillors David and Angela Goodwin found themselves on different sides of the fence.

We think Dragon readers might be interested to hear the Lib Dem thinking behind the votes so we have asked two councillors, one who voted for the Local Plan to proceed to public consultation, Cllr Julia McShane (Westborough) and one who voted against, Cllr Colin Cross (Lovelace), a few questions:

Why did you vote the way you did on Tuesday?

Cllr Julia McShane

Cllr Julia McShane

Cllr McShane: I voted in favour of the draft Local Plan going out for consultation because that is what we were there to decide. It is right that residents in our borough are given the opportunity to comment on the draft plan given that there have been some changes since the previous consultation. We may not like everything that the document contains but it is essential that we all have the chance to let the Conservative administration know what we think of their plan for our borough.

Colin Cross the Liberal Democrat Candidate for the Lovelace By-election

Cllr Colin Cross

Cllr Cross: Last Tuesday [May 24] I voted against the draft local plan going to public consultation as I strongly believe it is unfit for purpose.  It has not been amended apart from some site shuffling and the SHMA target has increased from 652 dwellings per annum to 693, regardless of Cllr. Spooner’s claim to the contrary.  Caroline Reeves’ made a plea for a proportionate and sustainable plan and this is neither.  Lovelace Ward alone would have 2,500 new houses and over 5,000 more people, plus their cars congesting every road around.  Does that seem right when our current population totals 2,200?

Did you feel under any pressure to follow a party line?

Cllr McShane:
No, not at all and I never have felt under pressure to follow a party line. The Liberal Democrat group discuss, debate and share views because we believe that is the right thing to do.

Cllr Cross: The local Lib Dems have a flexible approach to policy-making which allows the local ward councillors to come to their own decisions on what is best for their ward and vote accordingly. If it’s not aligned with the broader party view that is acceptable. I am not aware of the whip being applied in any vote during my time in the party. The broad view of our group is that the plan is the least worst option; let it go forward. But I’m in good company. Along with some party colleagues, I believe the plan will fail at inspection.

Does it matter that the Lib Dem group is divided on this issue?

Cllr McShane: The Lib Dem group is not ‘divided’ on this issue. We may have differing opinions on some issues relating to the Draft Plan, but then we are a group of people representing the views of residents in wards both in the rural and urban parts of the Borough.

Cllr Cross: The group is open-minded and can accept different views being expressed.  As we saw from the brave few rural Tories who spoke out, this plan divides the borough into two camps, the town and the countryside.  Those of us who believe in the protection of our green belt will do so until hell freezes over.  If that means our party is divided on this issue then so be it, on certain divisive issues splits are inevitable and even, perhaps, healthy?

Do you think pressure was applied to the Tories to follow a party line?

Cllr McShane: It’s not something I think about, I have more important things to consider.

Cllr Cross: Well, I did find Cllr Spooner’s summing up somewhat strange when he compared our voting pattern on the amendments (which was frankly all over the show) with the 33 Tories, who must have voted about 90% one way on every issue. Brave Cllrs like Sarti, McShee and Chandler did speak out against – but the numbers showed 30+ Tories voting the same way each time. So the leader’s remark that the two parties voted in a very similar pattern seemed wide of the mark. Maybe the hour-long Tory councillors’ pre-meeting might have played a part in their voting pattern?

The Lib Dem Voting on the main motion on May 24 was:

For: Cllrs Caroline Reeves; Angela Goodwin; (both Friary & St Nicolas); Pauline Searle; Gillian Harwood (both Stoughton); Liz Hogger (Effingham); Julia McShane (Westborough).

Against: Cllrs Colin Cross (Lovelace); David Goodwin; Tony Phillips (both Onslow).

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Responses to Dragon Interview: Lib Dem Councillors on Party Division Over Local Plan

  1. Jenny Procter Reply

    May 31, 2016 at 6:48 pm

    Thumbs up to the Lib Dem liberal attitude to voting as described here.

    With regard to the Conservative vote I have serious doubts that it can be without pressure. It was interesting that at the decisive meeting for acceptance of the current Draft Local Plan, only Cllr Sarti, whose ward is seriously threatened, spoke out eloquently against.

    Cllr Bilbe of Normandy had some reservations but interestingly the proposed school for Normandy now has a question mark over it in terms of need. Strange that this is not a known quantity. Is this an example of concession in the ranks?

    It is also interesting that there were no other Conservatives who spoke at the meeting. Cllrs Spooner and Furniss held forth on every issue.

    The points made opposing the plan were well made, well researched and valid but at every point were met with the ‘please don’t bother us with this tired nonsense’ dismissive, put down attitude I have observed in every meeting I have attended.

    I may be wrong but it appeared that other Conservative members who may have had a definite problem with acceptance were either absent or abstained. If this is the way Conservative councillors are treated it is not surprising the Executive holds all the cards.

  2. Mike Murphy Reply

    June 2, 2016 at 3:27 pm

    Maybe a lot of people like me who were Conservative Supporters will realise that promising to preserve the Green Belt before an election and then voting to strap the Green Belt in our Local Plan will cause us to never forgive them in the future.

    Guildford has always been a safe Tory council borough maybe this is the beginning of the end for them?

  3. Chris Fox Reply

    June 14, 2016 at 9:42 am

    Mike Murphy is incorrect. Guildford Borough was controlled by the Liberal Democrats in the 1990s and beyond.

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