Fringe Box



Experienced Councillor Brought Back onto GBC Executive to Take Over Planning

Published on: 9 Jan, 2024
Updated on: 10 Jan, 2024

Cllr Fiona White

By Martin Giles

One of the most experienced councillors at Guildford Borough Council, Fiona White (Lib Dem, Ash Wharf), has been brought back onto the Executive to take over the crucial Planning portfolio from George Potter (Lib Dem, Burpham).

Observers were surprised in May by the wide range of responsibilities given to Cllr Potter, which some felt would be too much even for a man of his energy. And with the approach of Local Plan review the Planning workload would not be getting lighter.

Cllr George Potter

Cllr White was the first female leader of GBC for some of the time during the  Liberal Democrat and ‘no overall control’ administrations 1997-2003.

But she lost her borough council seat in 2011 and although continuing as a county councillor she did not get re-elected to the borough council until 2019, as a councillor for Westborough, when she was made deputy council leader under Caroline Reeves before the partnership deal with R4GV was struck.

In the 2023 borough council elections Ms White, an Ash resident, successfully stood in Ash Wharf.

In recent years she has been chair of the Planning Committee, showing a thorough understanding of the Planning decision making process.

Planning Chair Fiona White telling a council officer in November 2022: “That is a bloody horrible building” immediately after she had closed the meeting that approved the plan to redevelop the Debenhams building.

Nonetheless, she faced some criticism when she chaired meetings that decided the controversial planning applications for redevelopment of the Debenhams Building. She was heard to make a comment to a council officer: “That is a bloody horrible building,” immediately after she had closed the meeting but while her microphone was still live. Then in January 2023 the North Street redevelopment produced a schism between her party and their coalition partners, R4GV. The voting split, on party lines, caused bad feeling when the proposal, championed by R4GV’s John Rigg, was defeated by Cllr White’s casting vote as chair.

She will assume her new role as lead councillor for Planning with effect from January 8. It is not yet known who will take over as chair of the Planning Committee.

Cllr White’s new portfolio responsibilities include: Planning Applications; Planning Enforcement; Planning Integration and Improvement; Planning Policy.

See also: Dragon Interview: Lib Dem Planning Chair: ‘Current Policy Doesn’t Work for Local People’

Cllr Potter remains as lead councillor for Environment and Climate Change. His portfolio responsibilities include: Climate Change; Bereavement; Green Spaces; Parks; Countryside; Trees; Fleet Operations; Street Cleaning; Waste and Recycling.

The Executive now consists of nine councillors, all from the Liberal Democrat group.

Cllr Julia McShane

Leader of the council Julia McShane (Lib Dem, Westborough) said: “Welcoming Councillor Fiona White to my Executive is a huge positive for our council. Her wealth of experience in the field of planning brings a fresh perspective that will undoubtedly help to elevate this area. This transition allows Cllr George Potter to focus more on important climate change and environmental priorities within his portfolio.

“I’m grateful to Cllr Potter who took on a large portfolio in May, including Planning, and who has helped get our Planning portfolio to a stronger position. In recent months, this includes the important work of overseeing the review of our Local Plan.

“Now, we have an Executive portfolio holder who can focus exclusively on planning and the Local Plan update process. We’re confident that this realignment will strengthen our commitment to serving our communities and delivering our Local Plan.”

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