Fringe Box



Letter: Secrecy Does Breed Distrust

Published on: 7 Oct, 2023
Updated on: 10 Oct, 2023

From: Terry Newman

chair of the London Road Action Group

In response to: My Response to Niels Laub’s Letter on the London Road Scheme

Just over two weeks into the public engagement Surrey County Council has finally seen fit to acknowledge and respond to many of the concerns expressed about the design of the Active Travel Scheme.  However, this has not been through any of their official channels, but by letter to The Guildford Dragon NEWS.

This route of communication has proved necessary because direct answers to direct questions posed to Surrey CC have been previously unanswered and now refused, on the grounds that: “…it is not appropriate for officers to be asked to respond to questions providing information to only parts of the community and not others during the engagement period”.

As one of the Nolan Principles (the code for elected officials, appointed officers and those working in public life) states: “Information should not be withheld from the public unless there are clear and lawful reasons for so doing.”

To some this behaviour may seem perverse.  First, the information provided is not where it ought to be, alongside the Survey Questionnaire on the website (

Second, it has taken a sustained campaign by a local resident to elicit information that ought to have been available at the outset of the engagement period.  All those commentators who have already submitted answers to the survey will have done so without having been presented with all the existing available knowledge.  This information may not have swayed their conclusions, but they should not have to be searching local journals for it.

Frequently, statements have emanated from SCC that this survey has been the result of a co-production with stakeholders’ representatives. Several stakeholders, representing a large number of organisations within the local community, raised major objections to a first draft but were never afforded the opportunity to review the final version.

It was not a co-production!

Although it has been announced on the survey website that the engagement has been extended by two weeks, including an additional drop-in event because of the delay in distributing the announcement letters, there has been no mention of any option to amend previous submissions, if new information comes to light.  And, of course, there is still no information about modelling to show how the scheme might affect local traffic flow.  That, too, may be a cause for further reconsideration.

Is this the right way to run a public survey, when information about so many concerns has to be prised out of the county council via the media? Their guidance document, for creating a public engagement, states clearly: “When communicating the proposals be confident about it and absolutely be clear about your intentions, the benefits and disadvantages. Proposals must be clear and unambiguous, as detailed as possible, including good maps and drawings, and frank about the disadvantages, to build trust and discourage misrepresentation.”

As the Dragon editor said in his Comment: Another Sad Failure of Openness and Accountability) “secrecy breeds distrust”.

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