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Exclusive: New Council Leader Wants To Connect With The Residents

Published on: 8 Oct, 2012
Updated on: 12 Oct, 2012

Cllr Stephen Mansbridge

Stephen Mansbridge, councillor for  Ash South & Tongham, will formally take over the reins as Leader of Guildford Borough Council at its full meeting this Thursday (October 11). Here he talks exclusively to The Guildford Dragon NEWS (TGDN), answering questions on current issues.

TGDN: These are very difficult financial times and council funding is being cut, should residents in Guildford borough expect services to be cut?

Cllr Mansbridge: Guildford is very fortunate to have a lot of investment assets, so is in a better financial position than most other towns and boroughs. But we cannot be complacent and we know there will be cost reductions going forward in this financial climate. However, we will do our best to ensure these do not affect the critical front-line services the residents have come to expect.

TGDN: What can residents do to help?

Cllr Mansbridge: It is our job to keep residents as well informed as they can be. My plea is that they look at this information and realise that sometimes changes are needed in order to allow services to continue at their best. So the required participation from the public is to feedback their views to us and help us get it as right as possible. Better recycling, keeping the streets cleaner and generally looking after our borough is where we can all help.

TGDN: You were at boarding school and became a Guards Officer which sounds like a relatively privileged background. How can Guildford residents in social housing be confident you understand their problems and will work for them too?

Cllr Mansbridge: Seemingly privileged backgrounds are topical at the moment and they do not always portray the reality of people’s thoughts. My background in the army exposed me to the great hardships my soldiers, predominantly from the North East of England, faced in the aftermath of the miners’ strike and the subsequent depression. We dealt with many social issues around poverty, housing and debt and I believe I have a deep understanding of similar issues today.

TGDN: Do you think running Guildford is the same as running a business or are there differences?

Cllr Mansbridge: There are similarities, but it is by no means the same. Business needs profit and needs to deliver a return to shareholders; GBC is paid by the electorate and by government and is not there to make a profit, but to deliver best value services back to the electorate.

TGDN: Your colleague, Cllr Richard Billington, recently wrote that we simply can’t afford to subsidise the Guildford Philharmonic Orchestra. Aren’t there some things that can that can’t be measured in simple monetary terms?

Cllr Mansbridge: Cllr Billington gave a punchy and forceful argument. But often issues such as this are not so black and white. We have have a balance to strike between spending money appropriately on the one hand, and on the other ensuring that our cultural heritage that attracts many thousands of visitors to our town, and is enjoyed by our local residents, is not damaged by the expediency of making easy cuts.

TGDN: There remains a lot of apathy about local politics. Why is that and what should be done to address it?

Cllr Mansbridge: I feel very strongly about this and feel in general that it is a lack of engagement by local authorities that engenders political and general apathy. One of our core themes, going forward, will be to improve engagement with the residents of Guildford so that the decisions we take are ones they support and believe in.

TGDN: Guildford is a naturally Conservative town, doesn’t an apathetic electorate actually suit you?

Cllr Mansbridge: Guildford may be considered a Conservative and apathetic town by some, but it is also a thinking and innovative town which has led the way in many fields: the first sheltered housing; the first Euro satellite; one of the top universities in sustainability, I could go on and on. To my mind, Guildford is anything but apathetic and has a population vibrant in culture and innovation and we need to improve the infrastructure to allow it to prosper.

TGDN: Guildford MP Anne Milton commented recently that she is pleased that there is so much community work carried out throughout her constituency. Would you agree and, if so, why is there still apathy in many quarters?

Cllr Mansbridge: We do carry out a great deal of work within the community and voluntary sectors. We also have maintained, to a very high level, the standard of services that matter to people, for instance refuse collection, recycling and keeping the streets clean. If this creates an apathetic environment then so be it, but I would reiterate the view that a higher degree of engagement is the way to energise local people.

TGDN: Some who live in the town of Guildford have said they want to see more town centre ward councillors on the Executive. The town wards are where most of the population live and where most of the budget is spent. Shouldn’t town residents be better represented?

Cllr Mansbridge: We do have four members of the Executive from the town itself and most others are very regular users of the facilities within the town and shops in the town centre. I think this is an overplayed point.

TGDN: Why shouldn’t there be a town council for Guildford?

Cllr Mansbridge: It will create another layer and more complexity. I strongly believe simplicity delivers a higher degree of effectiveness. Having a member of the Executive dedicated to the town centre, who lives close to the town centre, is the right balance to strike.

TGDN: The town plan documents seem to be in a mess? What is happening? Shouldn’t the legality of the process have been thoroughly checked before now? Why was it ever decided that the plan shouldn’t go before the full council even if it was legally permissible?

Cllr Mansbridge: We have given pause to the progress of planning for the regeneration of the town centre to allow us to assess where we are and what we need to do to come up with a plan and vision that has the support of the people of this town.

TGDN: Do you think Guildford needs to grow? If so, why?

Cllr Mansbridge: You can never standstill. In the end, if you do you will deteriorate and probably become a lesser place. You have to think deeply about what sort of changes are needed to ensure the future of the borough for us and for future generations. This is why we have to look at evolutionary development within our borough and town. Employment generated through high-tech and entrepreneurial business in conjunction with the M3 corridor will provide the borough with the future it deserves and with our university at its heart. In growing, we have to ensure that our infrastructure improvements are ahead of the growth.

TGDN: Do you think building on the green belt is a price worth paying to meet housing needs?

Cllr Mansbridge: We are being driven by the government to build more houses in the future than we have in the past. Our urban infrastructure is already creaking at the seams. So we have no choice but to seek suitable places where we can expand. Does this mean we need to destroy the beauty of our green belt? No. But there are areas currently designated as green belt that could be suitable and we have to face this reality that is being foisted on councils across the country.

TGDN: We are in the digital age which is revolutionising our communications. Do you think this can help the council and councillors communicate with the electorate, taxpayers and residents?

Cllr Mansbridge: The digital age means that we have to raise our game to use all media and electronic means to communicate with our residents and keep them informed. Live recording of council meetings is an area that we need to explore and ways of proliferating high speed broadband services.

TGDN: Would you make one single undertaking in this interview to get the granite setts in Guildford High Street fixed?

Cllr Mansbridge: I would love to give an undertaking now but I will undertake to come back to you once I have investigated the possibilities.

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Responses to Exclusive: New Council Leader Wants To Connect With The Residents

  1. Gordon Bridger

    October 8, 2012 at 12:35 pm

    I am very pleased that we appear to have a Leader at last who is prepared to listen… See ‘Letters – Hopeful Signs’ for full comment…

  2. Bernard Parke

    October 8, 2012 at 12:57 pm

    Why deny the town centre, which was the original old Borough of Guildford a voice, as enjoyed by the neighbouring towns of Godalming, Farnham and Haslemere?

    Even the villages have their own councils.

    Guildford must have a Town Council.

  3. Yvonka Wilkinson

    October 8, 2012 at 8:52 pm

    Congratulations to Councillor Mansbridge on his appointment as Council Leader. He is right, if we stand still, we do not make progress. It is time to move into the future with a clear vision for the future of our great town. The possibilities are endless.

  4. Mary Alexander

    October 10, 2012 at 4:12 pm

    The best way to improve Guildford is to build more houses in the town centre, north of North Street, to provide homes for people working in the town. This would encourage more firms to bring their business to Guildford.