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Letter: For the Sake of the Community, GBC Must Meet Its Section 106 Obligations

Published on: 21 May, 2022
Updated on: 24 May, 2022

From: John Ferns

In response to: Concern About Section 106 Money is Misplaced and Alarmist

Residents of Ash and Tongham have for a long time been aware of the inadequate control of Section 106 agreements within Guildford Borough Council.

It came to a head two years ago when we were told there was no money to fund the two “hotspot” projects to ease traffic build-ups on the A331/A31 and A323 Guildford Road/Pirbright junctions, both of which had been funded by earlier s106 obligations.

Apparently, Highways at Surrey County Council had told Cllr John Rigg, the borough’s Lead for Regeneration, that it was up to GBC to do the job as “GBC had undertaken to do the work and there was no money in SCC’s pot”.

See: Letter – How Consultation With Informed Resident Identified Route to Solving the Hotspot Issue

That was the background for Cllr Rigg’s damning attack on GBC’s project management capability at a meeting of the Overview and Scrutiny Committee in March 2021.

See: Council’s Project Handling Bungled, Committee Told in Shock Outburst

It was this that reinforced the need for a small group of interested residents to redouble their efforts in recording the promises made in every s106 agreement since 2004, and then monitoring them against the reality on the ground.

The first “detailed” information emanating from GBC was in the agenda published in advance of the Corporate Governance and Standards (CGS) committee meeting on 21 April, 2022. The volume of inaccuracies, inconsistencies, and omissions was shocking.

This is what led to Sue Wyeth-Price’s detailed analysis, presented in advance of the meeting to all committee members, ward members and a key GBC director, and providing the context and background to Cllr George Potter’s subsequent admonitory response in The Guildford Dragon.

Cllr Potter’s letter said: “Sue Wyeth-Price wrote to all members of the committee in advance of the meeting, and many of her claims are completely incorrect.”

We note the word many. In using that word, Cllr Potter is conceding that there is some justification for her claims. In our opinion, there is much justification for her claims. GBC is not infallible, as has already been established with the earlier scandal of HMG’s clawback of Right-to-buy monies.

All we are asking is that GBC sits down with a blank piece of paper, identifies all the very many planning approvals for Ash and Tongham, and reconciles them with the details contained in the s106 agreements.

This will provide a blueprint with which to identify what has been promised, when it was/is to be provided and what is still to be done to ensure that the infrastructure requirements, detailed in the Local Plan, are being implemented now, or will be in the future.

That base work has been provided by Sue Wyeth-Price, free, gratis and for nothing, so a common-sense and cost-effective solution might be for her work to be audited and then become the blueprint to be properly monitored by those whose job it is. Let it not be forgotten that this year alone, £62k has been provided by developers in “monitoring fees” to keep on top of the job. And it has been admitted that more needs to be spent to make the GBC software work to do the job that has already been done by Sue Wyeth-Price.

To finish with Cllr Paul Spooner’s questions to the GBC Executive at the meeting on 28 April: “Are we on top of this? Are you absolutely sure as an executive that this is a comprehensive list? Is the executive monitoring and focused on ensuring that we’re not returning funds to developers because we’ve not spent the funds within the appropriate time? I’m looking for reassurance please.”

See: GBC webcast at minute 15.07

This is fundamental for the restoration of any degree of trust to be regained in Millmead’s systems and processes, in the minds of local residents.

As a start, we will look forward to hearing that Cllr Spooner is satisfied that there are, or if there are not, there will be processes put in place in Millmead to ensure that all that has been promised for the infrastructure in Ash and Tongham will be spent appropriately in our wards and that it is not being squirrelled away to fund a new school in Effingham or a health centre in Marlow or is at risk of being reclaimed by developers.

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