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It Was Good To Talk About The Future Of Guildford

Published on: 13 Nov, 2012
Updated on: 14 Nov, 2012

G Live the venue for the debate on Guildford’s future – Photo John Schluter.

An audience of about 375 attend an open forum on the future of Guildford, with the general consensus of those who went along agreeing that it was good to talk!  

Guildford’s Future – What’s Going On? was organised by 96.4 Eagle Radio and was held at G Live on Thursday, November 12.

Some expected a slanging match between Guildford Borough Council representatives and those known to oppose elements of their plans or methods of working. But the debate, although at times forthright, was orderly, and most often polite. One younger attendee who had never been to any kind of planning meeting before said that she was: “Very impressed by the level of debate.”

Several commented that they appreciated the new council leader’s statements that he intended there to be more openness and engagement with the public. During the evening many thanked 96.4 Eagle Radio’s Peter Gordon, who chaired the debate, for organising the event.

Peter Gordon opens the forum. Picture courtesy 96.4 Eagle Radio.

After a presentation, given jointly by the leader of Guildford Borough Council, Cllr Stephen Mansbridge, and its Chief Executive, David Hill, an open question and answer session ensued during which Cllr Mansbridge announced that earlier he and a panel of councillors had received the initial presentations from the three short-listed developers, Queensberry, Lend Lease and Land Securities for the North Street redevelopment project.

He said: “We were examining the initial early day proposals… some of the ideas they [the short-listed developers] were promoting were absolutely fantastic… very much free thinking from planners and architects looking to deliver some of the best solutions they possibly can for all of us here.”

The well rehearsed themes of traffic management, town planning and consultation were much in evidence but other subjects were aired too – the diminishing number of independent traders, the night time economy the need for more social housing, and the need to continue to encourage new technology industries to the town.

The Guildford Vision Group, The Guildford Society and local residents’ associations were all well represented in the audience and, although those under 30 were very few in number, there did appear to be a significant proportion of residents who have not appeared at meetings on Guildford planning issues before. Attracting this sector was a declared aim of the evening.

Peter Gordon introduced the debate by observing that there appeared to be a degree of mistrust of the council. Stephen Mansbridge, apparently wishing to distance himself from the previous Executive regime at Millmead, responded: “This is often generated by a lack of communication. People must feel that they can play an active part to influence the debate. If that has been lost then I, for one, apologise.”

The loudest applause of the evening was in response to a contribution from Graham Hibbert who leads the East Guildford Residents’ Association. He said: “We want to feed in the view of the residents into the council. We wrote a paper on the subject of planning because of the earlier poor plan that was presented by the council. We don’t want you to just tinker we need to know what is the bigger vision for the town. We still have the A3 dividing the town. We want some big ideas.”

The Assistant Director of economy, transport and planning at Surrey County Council, Iain Reeve, responded: “I was clapping your comment too. You are quite right that Guildford needs some visionary transport improvements; something like a Hindhead. The Hindhead tunnel is bringing more traffic into Guildford, we knew it would… we had a plan to spend £40 million on junction improvements in Guildford but we lost that program with the change of government.

“We want to force the Highways Agency to look at the long-term future of the A3 …next year we are going to do a serious piece of work with them and ask what will make a step change to the situation… in the mean time there are some things we can do to bring some relief and we also want to see what we can do about [the better utilisation of] rail.”

But Julian Lyon, who in the past has been highly critical of the borough council, said that there are two issues deterring business coming to Guildford: traffic congestion and the lack of housing that employees can afford. He continued: “At a single planning meeting last week the council approved a plan that will bring more cars into Guildford and chose to ignore the impact on key roads and junctions whilst, at the same time, approving a scheme designed to keep cars out of Guildford, irrespective of local traffic congestion.

“The question of trust [in the council] is an important one… because what we have seen in the past, and I am pleased to see that it is going to change, is that consultation is a sham … there seems to be a flagrant and arrogant disregard for the views of Guildford residents… consequently many people in Guildford feel that their voice doesn’t count. It is essential that the engagement process starts and starts now…” He added that there should be an embargo on any major developments until the further evidence has been gathered.

GBC chief executive David Hill answers a question. Picture courtesy of 96.4 Eagle Radio.

Dominique Fraser, who runs the Boileroom music venue in Guildford, also made comments that drew applause: “I was born in Guildford so was my mother and my grandmother… I talk to my grandparents about the loss of independent businesses in the town. Were are our bakers? Where are our butchers? And our grocers?

“As someone who runs a small independent business, I don’t want an Armani Exchange or a Hollister… what encouragement is going to be given to small independent enterprises. … from the presentation all I really got was, business, money and competition and I would like to know where the passion has gone for my town.”

David Hill responded: “Part of the proposals that we have heard from developers today was to create start up and grow on space for new independent retailers… but let’s be honest, someone has to pay for the services that sustain that.”

Following the meeting the following comments have been made:

Peter Gordon, Eagle Radio:

“I was very pleased how the evening turned out. I never expected any “eureka” moments as such but to have an open debate where local legislators can be cross examined by members of the public and join in with points and views can only be a healthy thing. For almost 400 people to give up their time on a damp November evening to attend shows there is the beginnings, at least, of genuine intent to help Guildford move along. I also thought it was good that some of the people who always speak up got to hear other, less regular contributors too. Listening is great – as long as everyone does it!

Cllr Stephen Mansbridge:

“The event was another fantastic opportunity for the council to listen to, and discuss with, people across the borough about many different local issues. It was great to see so many members of the community turn up and engage in such a lively debate about Guildford’s future. We would like to thank everyone who helped organise and ensure the success of the evening, particularly those people who shared their views.

“We are committed to ensuring that the Council’s policies are shaped by, and for, the people of our borough. In the new year, we will engage extensively with the local community and businesses on a number of key policies for the future of the whole borough, including our Local Plan. We encourage everyone to get involved and continue to give us their views and feedback.”

Bill Stokoe, Guildford Vision Group:

“We would welcome a new era of engagement. GVG will continue to lobby for a proper, professional Masterplan for the town, not just North Street, and for an up-to-date evidence base, particularly to tackle traffic congestion; it needs radical solutions.

“We’ve had three major failed planning documents from the council and officers since this time last year, and now an out-of-town supermarket, with car park, on a residential town centre site. The council told us how well it is doing. We await tangible evidence and constructive dialogue. Let’s hope the new year brings new, sensible plans that really do take Guildford forward in a truly sustainable manner.”

Bernard Parke, Hon. Alderman:

“The organisers must be congratulated on this presentation. I hope that this is just one of many such occasions which will give the people of Guildford an opportunity to comment on issues which will directly effect their quality of life within our borough.”

Gerald Bland, Guildford Vision Group:

“It would be great if Eagle Radio were to run a regular ‘Guildford’s Future’ event. There are not nearly enough public opportunities where local councillors and officers are asked to explain what they are doing and local people can engage with them in an informal setting.

Gordon Bridger, Hon Alderman:

“A splendid opportunity for residents to express their concerns about misguided development of the town centre at which the new leader of of the council appeared to listening and it is hoped he will be able to implement many of the  suggestions made. There was insufficient information available about recent proposals to sell off ( for 250 years) the council’s  North Street property for a 10% share of the profits  generated. This would have led to great controversy.”

The attendance figure of 375 was supplied by G Live.

96.4 Eagle Radio recorded the event and it is available as a broadcast it via the internet. Click here to link.

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Responses to It Was Good To Talk About The Future Of Guildford

  1. Bibhas Neogi Reply

    November 14, 2012 at 9:12 am

    My wife and I attended although we are not residents but we both have very long association with Guildford… for full comment please ‘Letters’

  2. Pauline Surrey Reply

    November 14, 2012 at 5:45 pm

    Was unfortunately not able to be there, but it sounds fantastic, so many people. Please let it become a regular event. It will keep GBC officers on their toes. It’s the officers who need to listen, not just the councillors.

    However, I have one comment about the lack of younger attendees. The start time of 7pm is rather early for young City professionals. Those I informed about the event would have liked to attend, but are either still in the office at this time, or on their way home.

  3. Gordon Bridger Reply

    November 14, 2012 at 6:46 pm

    Congratulations to the The Guildford Dragon NEWS for producing an accurate well balanced report on the meeting. We are lucky to have such a high professional standard of reporting in Guildford.

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