Fringe Box



Letter: Councillors Must Be Allowed to Speak Freely

Published on: 9 Oct, 2018
Updated on: 9 Oct, 2018

Cllrs Marsha Moseley and Paul Spooner

From Gordon Bridger

hon alderman and former Mayor of Guildford

We should all be grateful for reporter David Reading’s excellent coverage of the astonishing event in which it is claimed the leader of Guildford Borough Council was not allowed to address the Planning Committee about a planning application, in his ward of South Ash & Tongham, by the chair of the Planning Committee, Cllr Marsha Moseley.

Moseley (Con, Ash Vale) has been regarded as a close ally of Spooner but some reported that she asked her leader to leave the chamber, or perhaps he left when he was not allowed to speak as he wished to. Either way, it is extraordinary.

The fact that footage was then deleted from the webcast is also worrying. The public was present, it was a public meeting. Council webcasts should not be edited to prevent political embarrassment; we all have a right to see what happened for ourselves.

Fortunately, in this case, it did not stop an attentive visitor reporting the extraordinary event to others outside of the council the following day and The Guildford Dragon following up by making enquiries.

The failure of the council to fully explain why a councillor was apparently stopped from speaking as he wished to, on an issue affecting his ward, raises important constitutional issues which need resolution.

I would suggest that it is nothing to do with personal animosity but was due to contrary advice given to the two councillors by officers. I have been told that Cllr Moseley delayed starting the meeting to seek advice and that the advice she got was that Cllr Spooner should not be allowed to speak and was therefore asked to leave.

The right of a councillor to speak is obviously very important. The council needs to issue a full explanatory statement detailing exactly what occurred. Let us hope that it is not necessary to insist this be done by a Freedom of Information request.

If the reason for not allowing the council leader to speak was legal advice, that he would be seen as “predetermining” a planning issue, it was mistaken. The Localism Bill expressly allows councillors to say what they think about a development before a planning meeting, as long as at the planning meeting they follow planning guidelines.

This was set out in a report I gave to Cllr Spooner in 2016 and at his request was circulated it to all councillors.



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