Fringe Box



Letter: My View, As a Former Tory Councillor, of the Dragon Hustings

Published on: 23 Apr, 2023
Updated on: 24 Apr, 2023

Anne Rouse (Labour) and George Potter (Lib Dem) at the Dragon Hustings.

From: Dennis Paul

Former Conservative borough councillor for Holy Trinity

See also: Listen to the Dragon Hustings Here

I had the pleasure of attending the Dragon Hustings for the forthcoming Guildford Borough Elections.

As a former Conservative councillor, I was interested to see if anything had changed since my time serving the good people of Holy Trinity (as the ward was back then) from 2015 – 2019.

With regret, I have to say, following the event and reviewing the election coverage of many “whack-a-mole” candidates standing in various wards, very little seems to have changed in recent years.   I would like to share with your readers, a reminder of why the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats locally will struggle, this time round, to win many seats.

1) Consider political judgement. As an example, there is Cllr Matt Furniss – a leading figure for the Conservatives in Guildford [currently a county councillor for Shalford and a candidate for Pilgrims in the forthcoming GBC election].

On a series of political judgements, initiatives and campaigns, I believe his political influence or judgement may have placed his party out of step with the views of local residents over a number of years on various issues.

For example:

a) The lead members’ ill-advised trip to Dong Ying, China on behalf of the borough, collaborating with the Chinese authorities and partnering our town with a city of whioch no one outside the University of Surrey had heard.

b) As the Cabinet member at Surrey County Council for Transport, Infrastructure and Growth he approved a plan to pursue a local cycle route scheme through Burpham in January. It was quickly postponed following the lack of proper consultation and considerable objection from local residents culminating in a packed meeting to discuss the matter, where the same councillor, although present, failed to address the meeting.

c) Blocking off north-to-south access through Walnut Tree Close leading to traffic congestion and larger bottlenecks around the Guildford Town Centre gyratory system, creating a hazard for cyclists trying to navigate through the town centre.

e) In July 2020, a temporary pop-up cycle lane in Reigate was installed without adequate consultation, only for it to be removed three days later following pressure from a local MP.   Cllr  Furniss, tweeted that the trial of the cycle lane would “remain in place for a minimum of three weeks” and that the council could “start to make changes after the first week.”  However, the SCC leader Tim Oliver responded to say that it was his view that the cycle lane scheme, “is not achieving what it sets out to do for cyclists or is essential for social distancing for shoppers.”

The electors of Pilgrims Ward would be wise to think very carefully at this election before considering who to represent them for the next four years on the borough council.  There is no telling what problems might pop up in future.

At the hustings I heard very little discussion about public services and what exactly is being proposed to improve those delivered by the borough council.   To be elected, you need to respect the people who will work for you, lead them, and present a vision of future services that people can aspire to.  Sadly, very little time was devoted to questions about the matters GBC do control, and what improvements residents can expect over the next four years.

The old “40 per cent affordable housing” trope.  It is a public commitment that sounds great for the electorate, but there is no real commitment at all to deliver.  By setting a high level of affordable housing on schemes, it ensures that few are actually financially viable, in turn discouraging property development (yes that’s the game!).

To their cost, the Liberal Democrats have found out that 40 per cent of nothing equals nothing, and their 3,000 affordable homes promise in 2019 was a shallow pipe dream mis-sold to the electorate.   Again the public are sadly being sold a pup.

And of course the Local Plan.  Yes, it is of Conservative’s making and I share responsibility for voting it through.  This is a matter I personally regret, though I have to say at the time, no one else had a better alternative plan.   Sadly, 40 minutes of hustings time was spent debating building height policy in the Local Plan.

Curiously, the Liberal Democrat leader Julie McShane did not even bother to attend the hustings to speak for her party.   Instead, represented by George Potter, a chap who seemed to me to delight in scoring political points, virtue signal on any cause going while failing to piece together any coherent political manifesto or argument.

I hope the good residents of Guildford, and its surrounding villages look at all candidates’ literature, research all the spin, mistruths and all to get a rounded view of the choices put in front of them at this election, and choose wisely, for candidates that will put the interests of the Borough and it’s people first.

To be clear, my support shall be going to R4GV at this election in the hope they form a majority at the council. Then they must deliver the expectation of the borough to provide improved services and make it a better place to live and work for everyone.

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