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GBC Political Group Leaders Warned Over Local Plan Peaceful Protest

Published on: 24 Apr, 2019
Updated on: 24 Apr, 2019

Left to right: GBC’s managing director, James Whiteman, leader of GGG, Susan Parker and leader of R4GV, Joss Bigmore who responded to the warning sent to Cllr Rooth.

The managing director of Guildford Borough Council has written to two of the political group leaders at GBC expressing concern over their connection with a peaceful protest over adoption of the Local Plan at Millmead tomorrow, April 25.

To Susan Parker of the Guildford Greenbelt Group and Tony Rooth of the Independent Alliance, now part of Residents for Guildford and Villages, the managing director, James Whiteman, wrote: “What does concern me… is the connection of your group to this proposed protest and your role as a serving councillor on this council.

Cllr Tony Rooth

“Our staff, and councillors have been subjected to very nasty comments, and sometimes intimidating behaviour during the development of this Plan from some residents.  This has been in public meetings, and in public consultation sessions.

“…I feel you have a very clear role in ensuring that any protest does not result in name-calling, jeering, threats or any other unpleasantness before, during or after the meeting and that our staff, and your fellow councillors, do not feel threatened or unsafe at any time during the proceedings.

Responding, Susan Parker told The Guildford Dragon today: “Public protest is an important democratic right. I’m sure everyone will behave well.

“I’m very concerned at the implicit suggestion that protest is inherently disruptive. Councillors must be able to challenge or question the decisions of the Executive and the proposals of officers. If we can’t, what on earth are we elected to do?”

In an earlier email sent to colleagues and contacts, she had said: “I have had no involvement in organising the proposed protest on 25 April 2019. However, please can you note the concerns of Mr Whiteman.

“I completely agree with Mr Whiteman that it is important that there is no intimidation, threat, bullying or harassment (whether this may be directed to councillors, council officers, staff or anyone else).

“Mr Whiteman has listed name-calling, jeering, nasty comments, intimidating behaviour and threats as behaviour that he considers inappropriate. He has stressed that everyone should be treated with respect.

“I am very sure that those protesting would have behaved well in any case. However, please can you note this and pass it on to everyone who may be present at the demonstration and council meeting tomorrow.”

Joss Bigmore, leader of the Residents for Guildford & Villages (R4GV), the umbrella organisation which includes the Independent Alliance of four councillors at GBC led by Tony Rooth, said: “R4GV have absolutely no idea why we have been targeted by the council in this way.  R4GV are merely supporting a resident-led ‘Show of Unity’ on Thursday night. We have not organised nor have we been involved in the planning for the event.

“There is no basis to link us to alleged poor behaviour in the past and presumptively anything unlawful at the event tomorrow night. The council Executive’s decision to schedule this vote tomorrow has incited unrest in the electorate; this letter could escalate things further as it could easily be seen as an attempt to curtail our democratic right to protest.

“For the record, I do not endorse any unlawful or threatening behaviour in any circumstances, and nor does R4GV.”

Mr Whiteman said he had sent the confidential emails to Cllr Parker and Rooth as their organisations were publicised as intending to support and participate in the protest.

He said: “Whilst I do not know of any specific plans, and I accept and encourage the participation of the public in the council’s decisions, it is important that I take steps to promote a safe forum for the public, elected councillors, and council staff at all times. The decision for full Council on 25 April, on whether to adopt or not to adopt the Local Plan is a matter for elected councillors. However, the role of supporting a safe forum for their debate and decision is a responsibility that I and all councillors share in.”

Three of the organisations who were originally listed by the organiser as supporting the event, Guildford Residents Association, The Guildford Society and Guildford Vision Group have, after the press release and resulting story was published have disassociated themselves from the protest.

Organiser Niels Laub has also asked to make clear there will be no march down the High Street, as wrongly stated in the original story and those wishing to protest should simply gather at Millmead council offices.

Below is the full letter from managing director James Whiteman to Ms Parker a similar letter was sent to Mr Rooth.

I am writing to you as the leader of your political group about the proposed ‘Peaceful Protest’ on 25 April 2019.  It has been stated in the Guildford Dragon and Get Surrey that your group, the Guildford Greenbelt Group, is listed as one of the groups that have combined to register protest to the adoption of the Local Plan, and intend to support, and participate in the protests.  I have attached links to the articles below.

The concerns expressed by some residents over the years in relation to the plan are well known.  I am making no comment about whether the Plan should be adopted or not, that is a decision for full Council on the 25 April 2019 and is a matter for yourselves as members.  What does concern me and a number of staff, however, is the connection of your group to this proposed protest and your role as a serving councillor on this Council. 
 
Our staff, and councillors, have been subjected to very nasty comments, and sometimes intimidating behaviour during the development of this plan from some residents.  This has been in public meetings, and in public consultation sessions.
 
While it will be the responsibility of Surrey Police to respond appropriately to incidences of harassment, or public order which may constitute offences, I am seeking your assurances as group leader that you will not be involved in inciting or condoning that behaviour and that the behaviour of those attending will not result in intimidating or threatening approaches directed to staff, or councillors, endeavouring to conduct Council business. 

I would add that within our Constitution, under the Code of Conduct for Councillors and General Obligations, it states that councillors must treat others with respect, and must not bully or intimidate any person involved in administration of any proceedings.  Whilst I am not suggesting you personally are likely to do this, your group appears to have associated itself with the ‘Peaceful Protest’ and I think it is important that you take steps to ensure that the conduct of the protest is appropriate and does not involve you through association.  
 
I absolutely accept people’s right to peacefully protest but I have a duty of care to my staff and councillors, as do you.  I am sure you would agree that it is important that the democratic process is carried out without disruption or unacceptable behaviour.  As group leader of the Guildford Greenbelt Group, and with the group’s public association to the protest, I feel you have a very clear role in ensuring that any protest does not result in name calling, jeering, threats or any other unpleasantness before, during or after the meeting and that our staff, and your fellow councillors, do not feel threatened or unsafe at any time during the proceedings.  
 
Kind regards,
 
James
 
James Whiteman
Managing Director

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test 10 Responses to GBC Political Group Leaders Warned Over Local Plan Peaceful Protest

  1. Valerie Thompson Reply

    April 24, 2019 at 6:02 pm

    What about the rude and intimidating behaviour, sometimes displayed in council meetings towards Cllrs Susan Parker and David Reeve? Their response has always been remarkably patient and controlled.

    The protestors, have three main reasons for being there, the 32,000 adverse comments were never acted on, the exaggerated housing numbers, and the timing of the council meeting to approve the Local Plan during the “purdah” period before an election.

    Anyway, I am sure they will behave well.

    • S Callanan Reply

      April 25, 2019 at 11:54 am

      If there is to be a Code of Conduct worthy of the name, surely it is to be applied consistently and on every occasion when the behaviour of a councillor might be or has been called into question.

      Has the code been consistently applied and on every occasion when it should have been?

    • Jules Cranwell Reply

      April 25, 2019 at 12:30 pm

      This is further politicization of council officers.

      I did not think I’d see the day when such threats were issued from an officer, on behalf of the leadership to opposition councillors.

      Cllr Spooner is worried about the increasing anger at the Local Plan and this obscene rush to push it through on the eve of the election.

      Time for a change at the top.

  2. Jules Cranwell Reply

    April 24, 2019 at 6:57 pm

    The only abuse I have witnessed in the chamber has been from the executive to residents and councillors who dare challenge them. Have they forgotten Moseley’s “bloody rabble”?

    If anyone needs to be reminded of the never enforced ‘code of conduct’ it is them.

  3. A Atkinson Reply

    April 25, 2019 at 11:20 am

    Interestingly, the Liberal Democrats were silent at the Executive meeting today. Yet again a silent “opposition”.

  4. Jan Messinger Reply

    April 25, 2019 at 1:31 pm

    I am currently listening to the GBC executive meeting held this morning at 10.30am. Sadly, the leader of GBC chairing this committee is not conducting himself in the way I would hope from someone in this position. I do hope he receives an appropriate letter from the MD too.

    I am very sad to read this article. I am delighted some of the councillors work extremely hard for this borough and for their residents.

    Good job we can vote on 2nd May for the councillors who we would like for the future for our borough.

  5. Adam Aaronson Reply

    April 25, 2019 at 2:48 pm

    In the run-up to a council election, it seems unwise, inappropriate and some might consider partisan for the managing director of a council to be writing to specific, rather than all, party leaders on matters relating to campaigning and public safety.

    Why didn’t Mr Whiteman address these comments to all of the political parties fielding candidates for election rather than singling out two specific opposition parties?

    Whether intentional or not, in so doing he implies that he thinks that the recipients are in some way at fault.

    Perhaps this should be referred to the Electoral Commission?

  6. Louis ESTERSON Reply

    April 25, 2019 at 6:49 pm

    GBC is behaving like Westminster. Surrey County Council is the same.

    It is a political malaise throughout the country. The whole rotten lot should resign.

  7. Alan Robertson Reply

    April 25, 2019 at 9:38 pm

    Mr Whiteman appears to be a major contributor to the bizarre and seemingly undemocratic way Guildford Borough Council conducts its business.

  8. Anna-Marie Davis Reply

    April 26, 2019 at 3:27 pm

    It does seem to be a case of double standards.

    When I wrote to Satish Mistry, the then monitoring officer, stating that Stephen Mansbridge had not declared his business relationship with Monica Juneja on his register of interests, as he should have, Mr Mistry just called them both and told them to update their declarations. Mr Mansbridge was the leader of the council and had given a position on the Executive to Ms Juneja, with its increased allowance.

    Guildford Borough Council officers can frequently be shown to have favoured the local Conservatives. I did hope this would not continue under Mr Whiteman, having held him in esteem, but after the politicking around the Wisley Garden Plan Bid and now this, he has gone down in my estimations.

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