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Final Hustings Before Election Is A Tame Affair

Published on: 1 May, 2019
Updated on: 4 May, 2019

Guildford Borough Council election hustings on UniS campus chaired by Anna Ouston, President of the University Politics Society.

The final hustings meeting before tomorrow’s election for Guildford Borough Council turned out to be a tame affair, with little apparent disagreement between the parties.

After the meeting at Surrey university, Susan Parker, leader of the Guildford Greenbelt Group, complained that she had not been invited to participate. Electoral Commission rules are that hustings can be selective if the selection is made for impartial reasons.

Paul Spooner for the Conservatives and Howard Smith for Labour at the University hustings.

The speakers were Howard Smith (Labour), Paul Spooner (Conservative), George Potter (Liberal Democrats) and John Rigg (Residents for Guildford and Villages). The meeting was chaired by Anna Ouston, president of the university’s Politics Society.

John Rigg for R4GV at the University hustings.

Guildford’s Local Plan and whether to declare a climate emergency were questions raised by the 40 or so mainly young attendees. But the most passionate problem discussed was the high cost of student accommodation.

Mr Spooner said the Blackwell Farm development would bring investment to the town and enable building a Guildford West train station, as well as an income for the university. He said he was “happy to say that we are overproviding [in the Local Plan] by 20% to get the supply side right and to get students to stay in Guildford”.

Mr Smith thought landlords were the “villains of the piece”. He said the town needed a “root and branch look at the way student accommodation works”. He favoured rent controls and registering landlords to provide some control of the way the market was working.

George Potter for the Liberal Democrats at the University hustings.

Mr Rigg said the student housing industry was very profitable and developers could often outbid other housing providers for town centre sites. He thought the university should provide more student accommodation on campus. He said: “Whole swaths [of the town centre] which used to be families and young people are occupied by students.

Mr Potter believed providing student accommodation was a risk for the university. “If the bubble bursts,” he said, “they can’t convert to anything else.” The university should be “more fiscally responsible and prioritise the needs of students”, he added.

Robust hustings are a time-honoured tradition in UK elections. There are many differences of opinion between the groups who are contesting this election in Guildford. But this event seemed more to highlight their similarities rather than their differences.

The elections are tomorrow, May 2. Details can be found on the council website.

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