Fringe Box



Letter: Old Style Politics Have Served Guildford Poorly

Published on: 20 Feb, 2022
Updated on: 20 Feb, 2022

From: John Rigg

R4GV borough councillor for Holy Trinity

In response to: My Advice to Councillor White

Oh dear, Richard Mills, local Conservative vice-chair, is really scraping the barrel on criticising this council. It is the old-style politicking which has served Guildford and, ironically, the local Conservatives so badly. It has not persuaded many of us when practised nationally either.

The borough council’s reserves would mostly be unchanged if it were not for Covid which has cost the council about £10 million plus. Of course, continued central government cuts in grants to councils are conveniently waived away by Mr Mills.

But it is not just lost government grants. Car parking revenue was slashed while thousands of food parcels were delivered and extra services provided by GBC during the lockdown.

Our capital reserves have also been impacted by various vanity projects embarked on by the last council, many of which relate to infrastructure (roads, bridges etc) which should have been undertaken by Surrey County Council.

Infrastructure is the responsibility of Surrey County Council (SCC). They and the police receive 91p of every pound of our local rates. GBC gets just 9p in the pound and are not responsible for roads and infrastructure.

But our last Conservative council, perhaps in the knowledge that SCC were £100 million in the red in 2018, decided to embark on infrastructure schemes for which we are having to pay the bill. No wonder our reserves are challenged.

Why take on schemes we do not have the technical resources, expertise or authority to implement?

So we have had to bring onboard external and expert agency staff. If we want our bins emptying during Covid with staff shortages we need the agency staff.

There are no panic sales of council property of which anyone in the council is aware. The one property sold, an empty office building called Liongate, GBC happily sold for £11 million last year.

At the time of sale, it was professionally valued at £4 million for office use. It was bought in 2013 for £13 million, ironically as an office investment by the then Conservative council. I wouldn’t have brought it up but Mr Mills mentioned it.

We were very fortunate that a developer offered £11 million relying on new “permitted development” for housing which GBC rejected for this site, not least due to its location by the A3.

To continue, what £2.5 million has been handed back for non-delivery of a sustainable transport project? We know the University of Surrey agreed to make available a small parcel of land to facilitate transport improvements, then changed its mind after the designs and grant had been obtained, so we have had to put the scheme on hold.

It was another infrastructure project which should be Surrey County Council’s responsibility, not GBC’s.

On the town centre master plan, yes it will take years, more than that, it will take bravery and commitment and involve risk but this town needs a plan, it needs progress and action because absolutely nothing has happened for a decade in Guildford because political parties have been more interested in tribal knockabout mainly on national issues rather than getting on dealing with Guildford issues, looking after Guildford residents.

For us to be the sixth-worst urban area for congestion in the UK is terrible. It probably means there is serious pollution too in the heart of our town centre. We know we have the most polluted stretch of road in the UK according to National Highways on the A3 as it passes through one of our most densely populated areas.

There is also the serious risk of flooding, materially increased by climate change and we have been only able to build on the green belt because no one has addressed brownfield sites in the town. These are the real problems we need to address.

Those that are happy with deterioration and continued inaction should vote for Mr Mills’ chums.

But if you want to make a different choice now that a real alternative at last exists, then use your vote in future elections carefully.

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Responses to Letter: Old Style Politics Have Served Guildford Poorly

  1. Howard Smith Reply

    February 21, 2022 at 7:05 am

    This new style is no great shakes either. And John Rigg again fails to address the point why an investment that could have solved many of the council’s financial difficulties was undersold.

    Why was Liongate not marketed properly to achieve a fair price? £millions were lost.

    Howard Smith is the vice-chair of Guildford Labour.

  2. David Bilbe Reply

    February 21, 2022 at 2:49 pm

    I really do think that the “Emperor’s new clothes” applies to Cllr Rigg and his periodic and somewhat rambling attacks on previous Conservative achievements. It really is time for him to stand up and be counted after three years in administration and, frankly, with nothing to offer by way of achievement.

    This so-called leadership spends its whole time criticising the past and squandering the time it has had since it was elected rather than actually doing anything of value for Guildford.

    The asset mentioned valued at £4 million and sold at £11 million was in fact sold for less than that and residential planning was allowed within weeks of the sale when GBC itself was told there would be no possibility of approval for residential development thus increasing value significantly.

    The A3 is not in fact the most polluting road in the UK and wild assertions with no facts are a common feature of Cllr Rigg’s occasional lists of excuses and blame. Offer some proof rather than wild assertions – it may help people to see clearly what is going on

    My advice is:

    1. deliver on major projects including something to improve the town centre and stop saying it is everyone else’s fault;
    2. boost enforcement and protect Guildford from improper development;
    3. do something to support culture and the arts and stop slashing budgets when people are trying to rebuild their lives after Covid;
    4. be clear and transparent as was the election pledge about what is going to happen in Guildford, including the old Debenhams building.

    Maybe not “Emperors clothes”, rather “Glass houses” and “stones”.

    See: A3 Guildford Pollution Worst in England, GBC Leader Blames ‘Infrastructure Deficit’

    David Bilbe is the Conservative borough councillor for Normandy

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