Fringe Box



Letter: I Admire the Way Cllr Rigg Took on His Workload

Published on: 17 Mar, 2023
Updated on: 19 Mar, 2023

Model of the proposed North Street development refused by GBC’s Planning Committee

From: Julian Lyon

prospective R4GV candidate in the forthcoming borough council elections

In response to: R4GV are Embarrassed About North Street

I first got involved in local politics when arguing against Cllr Tony Rooth (former Conservative borough council leader) when he and his cohort were trying to kill off the Guildford Philharmonic Orchestra without consultation.

I argued that the Civic Hall was too small when the council turned down an opportunity (under Cllr Rooth’s leadership) to develop a new feeder school for the Royal Ballet in consortium with the University (freeing up a development site for circa £20 million in the process).

I used to say that if Tony Rooth’s council, at the time, gathered all the information, considered it and made a decision I did not like, that was politics. That they did not do so and yet made decisions was, in my view, negligence. I still believe in giving people a voice, listening, stepping back and making a sound decision.

After falling out with the Conservatives and following a brief interlude as a councillor with R4GV, Cllr Rooth finds himself in a minority of one on the council. Out of touch yet again.

He seems to fail to recognise that North Street is surely part of the ambitious plans for urban regeneration writ large in the R4GV leaflets – part of the process of directing development towards the urban areas instead of the countryside.

I will be standing for the newly-formed Stoke ward on May 4 along with Annelize Kidd and Arjun Lakhani under the R4GV banner because we believe this is the best way to make progress on so many levels in the town centre – for and on behalf of Guildford’s beleaguered residents.

The North Street site is part of that ward, but so are many other vital parts of the town and its vitality – The Friary Centre, the bus station, the one-way system, the law courts and police station, both Guildford’s railway stations, Spectrum, the Ladymead retail park, the northern section of the river which is most prone to flooding.

The main pumping stations for Guildford’s water, the incoming electricity transformer station for most of Guildford, the railways and the A3 are all at least partly in the Stoke Ward. The ward also includes the cricket ground, Dapdune Wharf, Stoke Park and the Recreation Ground.

It is host to three schools and Guildford College. And yet, it has some of the highest population per hectare in the borough. It has been shockingly overlooked for many years has some pockets of substantial, relative deprivation; most of the town’s homeless charities and facilities are in this ward. The ward also suffers from poor air quality despite its green and blue infrastructure.

I think those of us standing as R4GV candidates to make all of Guildford a better, fairer and more democratically accountable place might be forgiven for not choosing to focus on North Street at the expense of all the other issues.

Since we are on the topic of North Street, however, there has been plenty written on The Dragon’s pages (and aren’t we lucky to have this forum for all our opinions?). The weakness of the Local Plan adopted in 2019 is that it lacked controls. It included a development scope for North Street almost twice the size of the application scheme as part of its land allocation, but with no indication of expected heights or other urban impacts.

In the aftermath of the Solum consent (on appeal) R4GV helped ensure that Guildford is covered by the Vu.City application which enables the planners to view the impact of developments on their surroundings – including the effect on strategic views and bulk and massing. Sadly, the applications for developments on Debenhams and at North Street were not uploaded onto the Vu.City platform.

A computer-generated view of the North Street development from Woodbridge Road. Image Julian Lyon

I have attempted to replicate the height of the North Street site on a view along Woodbridge Road. This is not the whole story, but it is perfectly possible (and other local authorities do it) to set up view corridors and strategic ranging views, and to police them via Vu.City. We have the tools and we should be able to share the outputs with the public as part of both policy-setting and planning decision-making.

I would have preferred a higher affordable housing content but, again, as I pointed out when chair of the Guildford Society, the Local Plan policy on affordable housing is too weak, and the contributions for ‘higher priority’ planning issues such as SANG (for the protection of the Special Protection Areas) add to the financial (viability) challenges of delivering affordable housing. The Local Plan needs to be reviewed because it doesn’t really work for anyone – including developers as it happens.

I am full of admiration for the way Cllr Rigg took on his workload (including having to see several of the former GBC’s vanity projects through to completion).

His professional skill set is programmed to try to cut through procrastination and to deliver developments – in this case where 40 years of inertia have seen absolutely nothing of any merit happen on the North Street site. Think of how that wasteland feels when the residents of Stoke Ward are coming into the town centre. Think of the vast improvements in street-scene that would be delivered in a comprehensive redevelopment.

Yes, we need to give this some serious thought after the May elections. But there are many other things that have been left to be done – and all this whilst ensuring we help deliver a carbon-neutral, bio-diverse, socially inclusive and accountable Guildford for the benefit of future generations.

We could start by harnessing energy from hot air – now that’s something Cllr Rooth should be able to help with!

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Responses to Letter: I Admire the Way Cllr Rigg Took on His Workload

  1. Paul Spooner Reply

    March 18, 2023 at 9:45 am

    Anyone would think that R4GV were preparing to join the council rather than sharing leadership for four years, including running the council for two of those years.

    Now we have Mr Lyon using words like “have to” take forward GBC’s “vanity projects” as if it was a requirement of office. What nonsense!

    Is he trying to tell us that the Lib Dems as coalition partners forced Cllr Rigg to work day and night on behalf of the former administration to deliver projects that were only for vanity? I somehow doubt that.

    Cllr Rigg worked for Savills and gave up his role when he was elected. Very noble of him. Will Mr Lyon give up his role at Savills if elected?

    Savills seems to be the partner of choice over the past four years at GBC. I am sure that has nothing to do with the close links with R4GV senior leadership.

    Perhaps Savills could take the lease on Old Millmead as it continues to be prepared for rental. It would make for a very close relationship and provide some income to GBC, a more reciprocal arrangement, in my opinion.

    Paul Spooner is the leader of the Guildford Conservative group at GBC

  2. Bill Stokoe Reply

    March 18, 2023 at 2:28 pm

    As leader of the Conservative group presumably his comments carry the approval of the party. So it’s a shame to see the Conservatives resorting to gutter politics. It makes the case for the Residents for Guildford & Villages Party even stronger.

    Bill Stokoe is the chair of the Guildford Vision Group

  3. George Potter Reply

    March 18, 2023 at 8:55 pm

    Julian Lyon, R4GV party member, Savills director and Guildford Vision Group member, praises John Rigg, R4GV party member, former Savills director and Guildford Vision Group founder, and absolves him of any blame for the North Street fiasco which Cllr Rigg so demonstrably caused.

    What a surprise.

    George Potter is a Lib Dem borough councillor for Burpham

  4. David Roberts Reply

    March 19, 2023 at 4:29 pm

    I seem to remember that last time Mr Lyon stood as a local election candidate he was forced to stand down after Cllr Spooner cast similar aspersions about his links to Savills.

    I also seem to remember Cllr Spooner declaring he had received hospitality from property developers before he foisted the Local Plan on us.

  5. Jules Cranwell Reply

    March 20, 2023 at 2:58 pm

    Cllr Potter conveniently ignores the fact that his Lib Dems blew the North Street scheme out of the water.

  6. Bill Stokoe Reply

    March 20, 2023 at 3:18 pm

    Cllr Potter demeans himself. I had thought better of him.

    Bill Stokoe is the chair of the Guildford Vision Group

  7. David Ogilvie Reply

    March 20, 2023 at 3:18 pm

    When commentators have no real merit in their arguments they revert to character derogation.

  8. George Potter Reply

    March 20, 2023 at 4:21 pm

    Incredible how some people think it is “derogatory” or “demeaning” to make factual statements.

    Of course, it does demonstrate very clearly what R4GV supporters find a touchy subject. The real question is why?

    If everything is proper and above board then why be so sensitive about the very clear overlap between R4GV, the Guildford Vision Group and people who work (or have worked in) in the property sector?

    George Potter is a Lib Dem borough councillor for Burpham.

  9. Tony Rooth Reply

    March 20, 2023 at 8:17 pm

    I regret to say that Julian Lyon demeans himself (and his arguments) by his attempted personal derogation of my character. I had thought better of him.

    I have often said that Cllr John Rigg’s time and efforts should be appreciated. His many years’ experience at Savills has doubtless been important in GBC’s involvement with the North Street project where Savills act as agents for the developers, likewise Cllr Rigg’s commitment to some GBC major projects where Savills have been instructed by the council.

    Tony Rooth is the Independent borough councillor for Pilgrims ward.

    • Ben Paton Reply

      March 22, 2023 at 1:04 pm

      The attack on Mr Rooth was/is baffling.

      What was the point?

  10. Ben Paton Reply

    March 21, 2023 at 9:10 am

    What serves the public: a bit of common civility, attention to the objective facts and rational analysis of arguments?

    Or: ad hominem attacks and toxic personal remarks?

    Sadly, poisonous commentary and denial of responsibility have become the trademark of key leaders of the main national parties in local politics in Guildford.

    Is a candidate to be condemned because of the trade he plies to earn a living? Would it be tolerable to denigrate a person because he was a union leader, or worked for the police or the prison service or could be labelled with “something or other”?

    It is jaw-dropping to see the way certain local politicians routinely play the man and not the ball.

    Not very liberal or conservative is it?

    If this was widely understood the public would give them the red card. If a resident suffered such insults from a neighbour on the other side of the wall of their semi they’d start looking to move house.

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