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Letter: Cllr Spooner Should Own Up to the Council’s Failures When He Was Leader

Published on: 13 Oct, 2020
Updated on: 13 Oct, 2020

From Bill Stokoe

chair, Guildford Vision Group

In response to: Now It Is My Turn to Urge Faster Progress

Cllr Paul Spooner (now Conservative ‘independent’ group) has a selective memory. Masterplan progress and speed plus town centre development heights are matters, along with others, he could have addressed during his time as council leader. To take a pop at John Rigg and Julian Lyon at this time is unworthy.

A little history may help. Allies & Morrison’s (A&M) first masterplan-related appearance in Guildford was in 2011 when they were retained by The Guildford Society, at the urging of John Rigg, to critique the council’s ill-fated, inadequate Interim Town Centre Framework.

The inadequacies revealed by the critique led to the formation of the Guildford Vision Group (GVG) under John’s determined leadership. GVG’s initial work was helped by continued interaction with A&M.

With GVG’s blessing, the then Conservative administration (before Cllr Spooner’s time as leader) hired A&M to do the work to which Cllr Spooner refers. But, crucially, A&M was restricted by the council’s brief from focusing at any length on infrastructure.

The A&M masterplan never achieved planning status, for reasons that were never quite clear. Sadly, it was not formally adopted by the council when led by Cllr Spooner.

The council’s approach to the town centre in Cllr Spooner’s time was piecemeal, almost on a site by site basis. A better-planned centre would have relieved pressure on the green belt.

So the Local Plan public examination in 2018-19 revealed the inadequacy, indeed absence, of planning for the town centre, spotlighted by GVG’s submission and presentation of its own TCMP concept.

The inspector made incisive comments about the poor state of the town centre. He used the word “appalling”. He demanded the council produce a better policy for the town centre.

That became policy “S3”. Written overnight, the policy was an improvement but still left significant gaps, and with the controversial green belt sites “locked-in”.

The inadequacy of the council’s planning regime was only too apparent when Solum’s plans for a massive, 10-storey development alongside the tracks at the station were approved on appeal. That’s when the height precedent was set for town centre development in a sensitive area adjoining a conservation area. That was under Cllr Spooner’s leadership.

I have been involved closely with GVG since its beginning. I participated in meetings and interaction with Cllr Spooner and others during his time as leader, along with John and Julian.

But GVG’s progress was hampered in recent years by very poor relations with the council led by Cllr Spooner. Maybe there was an element of “not invented here” in that reaction.

Nonetheless, GVG public meetings consistently attracted a very large audience, on one occasion topping 400 (when we launched our TCMP, see our website), so we were regularly reassured by that high level of resident support. Some councillors also expressed support but felt unable to speak publicly.

To my great sadness, and that of others, the real frustration of all these years has been the inability of the council to work cooperatively, progressively and productively with a group of well-intentioned, well-qualified residents towards a common goal of a better town centre, fit for the 21st century.

Residents and businesses should be very grateful for the hours freely given by people such as John and Julian who are devoted to seeing a better Guildford emerge. When it comes to the town centre, good luck, I say, to the present administration. They deserve our support.

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test One Response to Letter: Cllr Spooner Should Own Up to the Council’s Failures When He Was Leader

  1. Jules Cranwell Reply

    October 13, 2020 at 3:14 pm

    I could not think of a better summing up of Cllr. Spooner’s stewardship of GBC. “Inadequate” really nails it.

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