Fringe Box



GBC’s Explanation of Major Land Sale Notice Error ‘Borders on Arrogant’ Says Councillor

Published on: 26 Mar, 2024
Updated on: 26 Mar, 2024

By Martin Giles

Statutory notices informing the public about the controversial sale of a council-owned ransom strip at Blackwell Farm have been found to contain a major error.

Two notices published in The Surrey Advertiser, one on February 23 and a second on March 1, described the land for sale as being at “LIDO ROAD, STOKE PARK, GUILDFORD”, a completely incorrect address nowhere near the actual site, which has for years been referred to as “Blackwell Farm” and which lies on the northern slope of the Hog’s Back to the west of the University of Surrey campus.

Map showing Lido Road in relation to Blackwell Farm where the land sale of the council-owned ransom strip is proposed

Questioned about the error, a spokesperson for Guildford Borough Council did not apologise for the error but said: “The error in the title of the notice was a drafting error by those preparing the notice, but the content of the notice itself is correct. The notices are therefore not invalidated. We have decided that before completing the actual disposal we will run a new advert for two weeks.”

The notice posted on March 1 in The Surrey Advertiser.

But even the content in the main body of the notice made no mention of Blackwell Farm and might have been missed by interested parties that had found the notice and not been misled by its heading.

Cllr James Walsh

Cllr James Walsh, chair of the Overview & Scrutiny Committee, who voted with Lib Dems to allow the delegation of responsibility for the sale to a council officer to proceed, said: “It is unfortunate, to say the least, that such a basic error was published in a key legal notice on an issue that is clearly important to a lot of residents.”

During the debate in response to complaints that councillors and members of the public had been unaware that the decision to negotiate an option for sale had been delegated to a council director, Susan Sale, the GBC monitoring officer, responsible for ensuring council procedures are carried in accordance with the law argued that there had been proper notification because of the notices published in The Surrey Advertiser. Legally such notices can only be placed in printed media.

See also: The Dragon Says: When Will Our Councillors “Walk the Walk” On Openness?

Cllr Walsh continued: “While the content of the advert was correct, the title clearly wasn’t and it could be construed as having been inadvertently misleading. As a legal requirement, this needs to be corrected sharpish and I welcome the resubmission of the advert for an additional fortnight – although I would have advised the council not to have said that had “decided” to do this in its press release!

“This comes down to a failure to proofread a document before publication and I am concerned that some of the most basic, but important, processes appear to be failing. I have asked officers for an explanation of what happened in this case and I would urge anyone with an interest in the decision to read the advert and make their representation accordingly.”

Cllr Pat Oven

But the angriest words came from Patrick Oven, leader of the Guildford Greenbelt Group at GBC. He viewed the council’s explanation as “utterly inexplicable”, saying: “Of course, the header is part of the advertisement. It is the most important part, as people will look at that and decide whether it is a location that is of interest to them. If it is, they will then go on to read the body of the advertisement. To say otherwise is illogical nonsense.

“Lido Road in Stoke is miles away from the site in question, the notice is entirely misleading and invalid.

“Nowhere is there any attempt to provide a proper explanation as to how this came about – “a drafting error by those preparing the notice” just does not suffice. I see no way such a drafting error could possibly be made. Unless it has been omitted from the extract provided, there is no apology for publishing such a fundamentally incorrect notice. The tone of the explanation borders on arrogant… [it] should have been one of abject apology.

“Like others, I was astonished that there was no mention at all of Blackwell Park or Blackwell Farm, the name by which the site is known. This also could be seen, and is being, as a means of obfuscation.

“There is no purpose in re-advertising unless the decision is quashed. A proposed briefing to councillors in relation to the sale of the option for the ransom strip was cancelled the day before it was due to take place after others and myself “called-in” the decision.

“That briefing could have helped inform the debate at the Overview & Scrutiny Committee. No explanation as to why that was done was provided. An attempt by me to find out who took that decision and why met with no response.

“The whole affair reflects very poorly on us as a council. I trust it will not be repeated.

Pete Bennet, chair of the Residents for Guildford Group (R4GV), had no doubt that the error invalidated the notice. He said: “One only reads detail if the headline is of interest.  This is really quite poor, we all make mistakes but how can one have confidence in officer delegation given this lack of attention to detail?

“This ransom strip should be worth £30 million to the residents of GBC; R4GV has no confidence that this secret deal will ensure we get a fair price for our asset.  The Lib Dems should show some leadership and insist this agreement goes through a formal meeting for scrutiny by councillors and hopefully the public.”

Informed of the response given by GBC to The Guildford Dragon, Sally Blake of Save Surrey Countryside said: “Well, that’s all right then! The council will pay lip service to the public, by appearing to consult them, before they complete the deal anyway.

“We are horrified at this lack of transparency and democracy by Guildford Borough Council on this major decision which will have such far-reaching consequences.

“The Blackwell Farm site was allocated under the unpopular and controversial Guildford Local Plan. However, times are changing, we need our green fields, not only for their outstanding beauty, but also for their contribution to food security, nature and climate.

“The option agreement on the ransom strip should be declared null and void.”




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Responses to GBC’s Explanation of Major Land Sale Notice Error ‘Borders on Arrogant’ Says Councillor

  1. Jim Allen Reply

    March 26, 2024 at 5:18 pm

    Does this mean the Lido land is also up for sale ‘in secret’ as no official notice has been announced?

  2. Frank Phillipson Reply

    March 26, 2024 at 6:41 pm

    In the full notice published in this article it states “property…between the Southern Railway and the Guildford and Godalming By-Pass Road”. The “Southern Railway” as owner of the railway line land hasn’t existed since 1947. It became British Railways/British Rail/Railtrack and now Network Rail.

    Reference to the “Guildford and Godalming By-Pass Road” also seems somewhat archaic.

  3. RWL Davies Reply

    March 28, 2024 at 8:18 am

    No checking of content, no proof reading, no reviewing process, one might say this “beggars belief” if such incompetence was a rarity; unfortunately it’s not.

    On a positive note “lessons will be learned”.

    • Wayne Smith Reply

      March 28, 2024 at 12:23 pm

      Sadly, I think it highly unlikely that lessons will be learned!

      Can any of this shambles be attributed to GBC using contractors to clear the backlog of Planning Applications that threatened to have them put into special measures?

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