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Letter: Former Council Leader’s Claims Are Extremely Worrying

Published on: 23 Apr, 2020
Updated on: 23 Apr, 2020

Burchatt’s Barn – photo Mandy Millyard

From: Gordon Bridger

hon alderman and former Mayor of Guildford

Former council leader Cllr Paul Spooner’s claims that the purpose of the KPMG investigation is to investigate the decision from the “officers’ point of view” and that it was a “political decision” are extremely worrying because he does not seem to understand what should happen.

If the terms of reference do state or imply either of those claims they must be challenged at once: their purpose is to see it from the public’s point of view. The officers all supported the change. That is why it needs evaluation.

It being a “political decision” is nonsense. He has forgotten that he was on the Planning Committee which voted unanimously, to its credit, against the officers’ recommendation. Even Cllr Matt Furniss,  who had previously not objected to its transfer, voted against it. Cllrs Spooner and Caroline Reeves abstained.

Has it not yet sunk in that the emergence of a new residents’ group was non-political?

Most supporters were traditional Conservatives fed up with mismanagement in planning and in the Burchatts Barn fiasco, the Pop-up Village and £1m spent on Tunsgate (but not High Street, one good job done).

The instructions to officers for whom he was responsible which included raising as much money as possible from council assets were indiscriminate, led to losing the Surrey Archaeological Society and Burchatts Barn and overpricing other assets,  which has meant their traditional community function has been lost or restricted.

The Guildhall, Guildford’s most treasured building, has very little community use (50 times per year) because of a ridiculously high commercial rent and requirement that community users should pay half, which is well above what they can afford and way above what others sites offer.

Community users had to pay some £220 for evening use. Even charities raising funds for such as the Pancake Race pay a rent for using it. This is disgraceful because these funds are deducted from cancer relief. The hall was once available free to the Mayor for community use now the Mayor has to pay.

The Guildhall should be returned to become a community facility free to charitable users, open to the public and properly manned by someone responsible for promoting its use by, for example, musical students staging free concerts and Age UK events.

There are other borough community facilities which I am told are not used or beyond the capabilities of local people to enjoy. Are there residents who have knowledge of facilities denied them because of overpricing or, if not, I am willing to compile a list and ensure it goes to relevant councillors. If so, I hope they respond.

The new council, facing huge deficits in current income, will no doubt wish to draw in as much as possible but needs to be, unlike Cllr Spooner’s lot, discriminate in users and charges and ensure the very small incomes which community assets raise do not inhibit their use.

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