Fringe Box



Letter: Legal Opinions Are a Devastating Indictment of The Council

Published on: 13 Sep, 2012
Updated on: 13 Sep, 2012

From Gordon Bridger

Hon Alderman

The conclusion of two eminent QCs that the planning reports produced by the Council, which, prior to their last minute withdrawal, were expected to be debated and approved by the GBC Executive, last Thursday (6 Sep), is a devastating indictment of the management of the Council.

I can recall no greater setback to the Council in the past four decades, than this one. Not only does it mean a massive waste of staff time and money but it seriously damages the Council’s credibility as a planning authority. Major companies, already reluctant to invest in Guildford because of traffic congestion and expensive housing, are even less likely to do so now.

What can be done to remedy this lamentable situation? First, councillors need to review the management style and decision-making process. Due to the state of these, many valuable staff members have left and others are keen to go. The Legal Department has been seriously weakened and the Planning Department often ignored.

Second, councillors should revert to the previous committee system abolished by the Labour Government. The present system, of an overworked eight-member Executive means that proposals are not carefully examined. It also  leaves the other 40 councillors with little to do. The committee system (which the new Localism Bill allows Councils to return to) ensured that all reports went through them to the Executive. This meant that councillors  could and would suggest improvements. Most errors of this Council arise from inadequate scrutiny before reports get to the Executive.

Third, there needs to be a better understanding of the Guildford economy and its future. While the town centre, because of its unique topography and architectural history, will always remain a quality shopping centre, it does not seem to be appreciated that retail and associated development in the centre only accounts for about 10 per cent of Gross Value Added. Knowledge, science-based and financial services, based mainly outside the town centre, account for about a third of our GVA; and they are our  future, not more and more shops.

The Council now has an opportunity to think again, take a comprehensive approach to planning the Borough and engage in a constructive debate with the many people who have expressed concern about shaping the future of Guildford.

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