Fringe Box



Letter: I Apologise Unreservedly – Cllr Hunt Was Not Responsible for Building Heights Decision

Published on: 23 Apr, 2023
Updated on: 14 Aug, 2023

Image showing the comparative heights of the existing Debenhams building and its proposed successor “St Mary’s Wharf”.

From: Julian Lyon

R4GV candidate for Stoke in the forthcoming GBC election

I am writing to apologise unreservedly to Cllr Tom Hunt.

In my haste to respond to the relentless muck-spreading and nasty vitriol from Cllr Potter on various social media platforms [not in The Dragon, Ed], I have misallocated responsibility for involvement in parts of the planning process to Cllr Hunt.

I had got so used to Cllr Potter condemning me as if I had been on Guildford Borough Council for the past four years and had made decisions for some arbitrary and non-existent vested interest, that I omitted to fully fact-check my comments.

In fact, I had responded to Cllr Potter, seeking some clarification from him as to exactly who and what he was shouting about when going on about height policies, and received more political effluent from him for my pains.

I had been under the impression that the role as lead for Development Management, made Cllr Hunt the person responsible for the Development Management policies, but in the cold light of day, and with a closer look – and a far gentler nudge from Cllr Hunt than his colleague would have given, based on the evidence of this campaign so far – it is clear that his role for the last 18 months or so was not as I thought it was. Here it is:

“Cllr Tom Hunt
Planning Development, Legal and Democratic Services
Portfolio Responsibilities: 
Planning applications, Planning enforcement, Planning integration and improvement, Democratic and committee services, Elections; Executive and civic support, GDPR, Information security and governance, Legal, Overview and Scrutiny support.”

Indeed, my fellow candidate Cllr Joss Bigmore had the lead for planning policy after Cllr Jan Harwood crossed the floor for the first time towards the end of 2021. His job description was “Cllr Joss Bigmore, Deputy Leader [GBC], Finance and Planning Policy, Portfolio Responsibilities: Finance and Accounting (General Fund/Housing Revenue Account), Internal Audit, Procurement, Revenues and Benefits, Planning policy, design, conservation.”

The Local Development Scheme (LDS) (December 2021 in the wake of Cllr Harwood’s defection from the Lib Dem benches) set out a timetable to get the Development Plan adopted within this Council’s tenure:

My own experience shows that, whilst the councillors could have pulled the process and added in a heights and views policy after the Reg 18 consultation, they would probably have had to go back through the loop and consult again on Reg 18, meaning that none of the other Development Management policies would have been ready for adoption before these local elections. The dye was, in all probability, cast by Cllr Harwood.

Further to this, though, I had taken note of the revisions to the council’s Executive and the LDS identification of the roles in the preparation of the Development Management Plan sets out that the management of that process sits with: “the Corporate Management Team, [and] the lead councillor for Planning, [and] the Local Plan Panel will consider draft documents prior to consultations”.

It is not immediately clear from the outside who was on the Local Plan Panel, but it has been described as comprising: “cross-party representation of members and is designed to act as a sounding board in the development of the Local Plan.”

Meetings with the Local Plan Panel have facilitated discussion between officers and members regarding the scope of the document and the wording of policies within the draft plan.”

What is clear from Cllr Hunt’s nudge and further analysis, is that a heights policy was not blocked by Cllr Hunt, and that plenty of councillors from across the chamber were disinclined at first to adopt a heights and views policy but have since changed their minds.

I have seen heights and views policies that work well and that can be policed using the Vu.City tool that planning officers in Guildford have available to them.

There does not appear to be an express culpability in any individual party or group – and maybe not even with any individual councillor once the die was cast after the Reg 18 Consultation.

This broadly means that all councillors should have borne the responsibility for the suite of policies, adopted and emerging, that informed the North Street application.  In fact, it is most likely the over-allocation of the site in the Strategic Sites Local Plan (adopted just before the last election) that led to the 750-unit scheme, before it was negotiated down.

The upshot of this matter is that I am even clearer than I had been before that there is more to do to make processes more transparent and that the consequences of the mud-slinging we have seen are (1) it will almost certainly affect the way some people vote and may affect the result in this election; and (2) the aggressive use of social media in an election campaign demands almost instant responses which make it difficult to deliver fully-considered replies, and which is deeply unfair to and disrespectful of the electorate and other candidates.

Once again, therefore, I apologise to Cllr Hunt for any distortion of the facts in this matter and trust that my comments will not have been taken in bad faith and that my unreserved apology is accepted in the spirit it is intended.

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Responses to Letter: I Apologise Unreservedly – Cllr Hunt Was Not Responsible for Building Heights Decision

  1. Tom Hunt Reply

    April 23, 2023 at 12:54 pm

    I thank Julian Lyon Thank for his gracious apology.

    Tom Hunt is the Lib Dem candidate for St Nicolas in the forthcoming GBC election.

  2. Lynda Willis Reply

    April 23, 2023 at 4:34 pm

    I really don’t care ….just for goodness sake get something done. Guildford has been in limbo for years and it is frankly embarrassing showing visitors round the town. It is a derelict embarrassment!

  3. RWL Davies Reply

    April 25, 2023 at 7:34 am

    Lynda Willis is absolutely correct; many parts of Guildford town centre are a “derelict embarrassment” and getting “something done” isn’t an attribute that can be ascribed to Guildford Borough Council.

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