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Letter: I Am Horrified – the Deputy Leader Wants Developer to Appeal Against His Own Council

Published on: 13 Jan, 2023
Updated on: 13 Jan, 2023

From: Liz Hogger

Lib Dem borough councillor for Effingham

In response to: North Street Decision Reactions

I am amazed and horrified to read that Cllr Joss Bigmore, the leader of R4GV and deputy leader of GBC, expresses the hope that the developer St Edwards will appeal against his own council and that the council will lose the appeal.

What an appalling lack of respect this shows for members of the council’s Planning Committee from all parties, who bear the heavy and difficult responsibility of making planning decisions, compliant with planning law, on behalf of our community.

Cllr Bigmore seems to forget that GBC itself owns part of the North Street site. The council ought to be able to use that fact to tell the developer they must talk further to the council and to the community, and come back with an amended scheme which satisfied the Planning Committee’s legitimate concerns.

If instead the developer chooses to go to appeal, I trust Cllr Bigmore and the R4GV group will agree to GBC telling the developer that they would no longer have access to that council-owned land.

As the proposer of the motion to refuse this application based on sound planning policy reasons, I can absolutely assure Cllr Bigmore that my Lib Dem colleagues on the committee decided how to vote using their own individual judgement. There was no Lib Dem whip – that would be grossly improper. I would hope the same was true for councillors of other groups.

I would also remind Cllr Bigmore that the Lib Dems do not have a majority on the Planning Committee, so it is ludicrous to suggest we can “vote down” planning applications leading to appeal on our own.

All decisions are cross party (do the maths) and indeed some R4GV members voted for refusal of the most recent major planning applications which went to appeal. This attempt to politicise the planning committee is deeply regrettable and certainly not in the best interests of the Guildford borough community we all serve.


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Responses to Letter: I Am Horrified – the Deputy Leader Wants Developer to Appeal Against His Own Council

  1. Joss Bigmore Reply

    January 13, 2023 at 1:13 pm

    I call things as I see them. Throughout the meeting I saw a committee that ignored clear advice from a QC and the planning officers, and ultimately came up with grounds for refusal that are not likely to hold up.

    The barrister could not have been clearer that affordability and viability were not defensible grounds yet inexplicably the committee decided it knew better.

    For me that is an inexcusable gamble with public money. My only hope is the recklessness and poor judgement doesn’t cost our taxpayers too much at the inevitable appeal, where we may end up paying the developer’s costs as well as our own.

    Obviously we are all entitled to our own opinion as to the merits of the scheme, just as I am entitled to my opinion as to the quality of the Planning Committee’s decision.

    As for the land deal – we are under contract.

    • Liz Hogger Reply

      January 13, 2023 at 2:08 pm

      If the council is already under contract to St Edwards, that must have been signed during the period when Cllr Bigmore was Leader of GBC. If the contract precludes the possible loss of the land deal being used to dissuade the developer from going to appeal, I am dismayed that Cllr Bigmore took it for granted that the Planning Committee would be content to approve the application.

      It should be clear to all councillors, especially lead councillors such as Cllr Bigmore, that the Planning Committee is obliged to consider applications on the grounds of planning policy alone, and must not have regard to the commercial interests of GBC.

      To sign such a contract before understanding the views of the planning arm of the council seems reckless, to put it mildly.

      Liz Hogger is the Lib Dem borough councillor for Effingham

      • Joss Bigmore Reply

        January 14, 2023 at 8:56 pm

        As Cllr Hogger is aware (or should be) the heads of terms for this contract were agreed by the Executive back in 2021.

        Yes I was the leader of GBC then, but the four Lib Dems on that Executive all supported the proposals.

        It would be my assumption (naive considering recent events) that the agreement of the Executive members meant this vitally important transaction had been subject to discussion within the entire Lib Dem group. Obviously if you had personal concerns you could have spoken up at the Executive meeting.

        Prior to the Executive meeting the heads of terms were discussed at various working groups containing councillors from all parties.

        The Executive decision would also have been subject to ‘call-in’ for further scrutiny by Cllr Spooner’s `Overview & Scrutiny Committee, a right that was not exercised.

        Given this information my inference is that councillors did not have any concerns about the Heads of Terms that were used as the basis for the contract. To imply this was a decision I could make alone shows a worrying lack of understanding about council process.

        Cllr Joss Bigmore is the deputy leder of GBC and a R4GV borough councillor for Christchurch.

  2. David Roberts Reply

    January 13, 2023 at 2:29 pm

    You’d never think The Lib Dems and R4GV were coalition partners, would you? Or that the planning application was rejected on the casting vote of the Lib Dem committee chairman, who sided with the Tory opposition.

    This is the same Lib party who have put out a leaflet praising the development and stating that “Zoe Franklin and the LibDems have made redeveloping North Street a top priority… delivering on a scheme after it was left for years ignored by the Conservatives… This is excellent news for the community. For too long this area has been left looking tired and empty”.

    As usual, the Lib Dems are at sixes and sevens, with no known policy on any planning issue. Cllr Hogger grumbles, Cllr Potter launches pro-developer attacks on residents. But Cllr McShane, the Lib Dem party leader and leader of the council, is studiously silent whenever the issue comes up.

  3. Jim Allen Reply

    January 13, 2023 at 3:07 pm

    Gamble with public money! I’d say the weyside urban ghetto was a far greater gamble with public money. It wasn’t commercially viable in 2004 and remains unviable today, only now, 20 years on, I’d guess it must be millions in the red before even the first accommodation unit has had its foundation dug.

  4. David Smith Reply

    January 13, 2023 at 3:30 pm

    As we are under contract, perhaps Joss Bigmore could explain what the terms of that contract are – what happens in the event planning is not secured? What are the appeal rights? Does GBC have any control whatsoever?

    Of the £500k of taxpayers’ money on failed appeals this year due, Cllr Bigmore says, to the poor judgement of the Lib Dems. How much did the Urnfield appeal cost the council? I seem to remember R4VG voting against an officer’s recommendation on that application.

    • Joss Bigmore Reply

      January 14, 2023 at 8:58 am

      I believe it was £15k, but relatively immaterial.

  5. Paul Spooner Reply

    January 13, 2023 at 4:38 pm

    Perhaps councillors should review the contract signed in our names? The sooner the better in my opinion.

    Paul Spooner is he leader of the Conservative group at GBC.

    • Jules Cranwell Reply

      January 14, 2023 at 4:56 am

      Perhaps, if Cllr Spooner had not pushed through such a deeply flawed and unwanted Local Plan we would not be in this mess.

      And perhaps he would be better off keeping his counsel.

  6. Simon Mason Reply

    January 14, 2023 at 2:31 pm

    Personally I much prefer a politician who actually makes a decision whether right or wrong.

    Liz Hogger will always be tainted by her decision to sit on the fence and abstain from voting on the adoption of the Guildford Local Plan back in 2019. I can’t understand why she is attacking her fellow councillor in this public manner rather than speak to him in private.

    Very unprofessional behaviour.

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