Fringe Box



Letter: Social Media Attacks Did Affect Election Result

Published on: 2 Sep, 2023
Updated on: 2 Sep, 2023

A CGI of Friary Quarter in North Street from developer, St Edward.

From: John Rigg

former R4GV borough councillor

I write in response to Robin Horsley’s latest Dragon comment on the opinion piece: North Street’s Development and the Dilemma Facing Our Politicians.

For Horsley to accuse The Dragon of not having balance, and that it requires a bit of fairness and decency, is laughable.

We know fake news and social media, unfortunately, can work and it is the modem phenomenon so loved by Trump and the like, but is it good for democracy or Guildford? Horsley’s biased attacks swept away all the issues on which the election should have been fought.

In his response to Dragon editor Martin Giles, Horsley understates his achievement, stating with claimed innocence, “I was only raising public awareness”. His company though focuses on “producing strategic and tactical video-based, and other marketing collateral for organisations in all markets”; so effectively he’s a “gun for hire” using, as we see, politically-motivated videos and social media.

Sending out thousands of emails and posts on North Street, with links to his videos telling people how to vote, has not just “raised public awareness”. He was the principal agitator influencing the 2023 election – threatening councillors, selectively damaging electoral parties, unnecessarily impugning peoples’ reputations and, through half-truths and misrepresentations, he badly damaged hard-working, sincere local people who have contributed public service over years.

The Tories promoted his videos but they ironically landed Guildford with an invisible Lib Dem council. The town centre Horsley claims to be so passionate about, will now continue to degenerate as the Lib Dems show no interest in the town or in a vision for the future.

But Horsley can claim responsibility for putting in place a new council likely to walk away from: flood remediation; traffic management; pollution studies; opening up of the riverside and new parks; and new homes and business space. Despite much of the work being already undertaken.

His focus on himself made the election about a single issue, through his honed agitation skills. But it was ultimately a blundering approach. He remains ignorant of the hundreds of issues councils and councillors have to address and progress and on which elections should be decided.

And his apparent ignorance of key facts, particularly with regard to regeneration continues. He now advocates starting afresh at North Street. He is still misleading people by implying planning can be about his own or voter preference.

In fact, the relevant legislation is the 2019 Guildford Local Plan, 10 years in the making by the Guildford strategic planning team and promoted by the then Conservative council. The plan mistakenly allocated the equivalent of a million square feet on the North Street site, twice the proposed scheme size.

Like it or not, this policy still applies. The same strategic planning team, this time under Lib Dem leadership, blocked height restrictions. This lack of restriction also still applies, so a new developer can still apply for a scheme twice the size and height of the current proposals.

Most developers have neither the skills, the time, the patience, the resources or the appetite to take on such complex long-term schemes like North Street and certainly not in Guildford, with its planning history and now the presence or preference of Robin Horsley.

Any decision by a developer is based on their resources, competence and appetite for risk in financing and managing huge teams over the years of design evolution through to planning with all the associated uncertainties. Even then, once consented, delivery is even harder. If the latest scheme attempts (they are the ninth and tenth!) fail, by arguably the most competent UK residential developer, who else would take on the risk?

With a wave of his magic wand and, claiming to have talked to anonymous experts (significantly anonymous) Horsley concludes we should go for an implausible new scheme (the 11th!), with either yet another developer or the council itself taking on the development role (a council at serious risk of bankruptcy, mind you).

This would mean ignoring St Edward and other parties whose cooperation is required for a comprehensive development.

Horsley says, let’s appoint a new developer who, he imagines, will not care that £millions have been lost on abortive schemes by their predecessors over 30 years, and bearing in mind GBC can only offer 17 per cent of the site, which is all the council owns.

From his first letter to all councillors threatening to damage anyone in the forthcoming election who disregards him, does he assume threats are enough to make things happen? Agitators find it easy to destroy; it’s far more difficult to be constructive, understanding and balance the constraints all parties have to face.

Certainly, due to his social media skills, he can and has caused damage. Thanks to his videos, we candidates, on countless occasions during the May election campaigning, were confronted by the dirtiest form of politics. It damaged the residents’ parties [R4GV and GGG] for sure and, as a result, the chance to tackle the town’s serious deterioration and now its struggling council.

But in the end, with notable irony, his actions have made little or no difference to the passage of the North Street scheme.

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Responses to Letter: Social Media Attacks Did Affect Election Result

  1. David Ogilvie Reply

    September 2, 2023 at 11:44 am

    As John Rigg points out, St Edward’s planning application for North Street is for about half the floor space allocated in the Conservative-promoted Local Plan. This application was recommended for approval by Guildford’s planning department. Bearing this in mind if the planning appeal goes ahead the inspector is almost bound to approve.

    So much for Robin Horsley’s intervention.

  2. Ben Paton Reply

    September 3, 2023 at 12:37 pm

    In his comment on the Dragon article (cited by Mr Rigg) Mr Horsley made several statements that seem at best questionable and at worst false and untrue:

    “It seems the editor is unaware of the circumstances if the scheme fails to be approved – the council then has the opportunity to own the entire site and then can either work alone or with a funder or development partner to build something much better.

    “It’s odd that The Dragon is so ill-informed about this. The Lib Dems have made it very clear what the contractual situation is on the land.”

    Would the present council or the Lib Dems or Mr Rigg please enlighten the public and explain exactly “that the contractual situation is on the land”?

    Is it true that if the “scheme fails to be approved – the council then has the opportunity to own the entire site”?

    Or has Mr Horsley made this up?

    Given GBC’s current financial position, it seems implausible, to say the least, that the council has the resources to take ownership of the entire site. But would it even have legal right to buy it?

  3. Robin Horsley Reply

    September 4, 2023 at 8:03 pm

    Sorry to see that Ben Paton hasn’t had a response from John Rigg. Here is the Lib Dem’s piece answering your questions concerning the contract for the North Street land:

    As you can see, it’s exactly as I described.

    Re GBC’s financial position, as I understand it, GBC need to either cut services or increase revenues or some of both to make ends meet. Their outgoings now exceed their revenues.

    It may make sense to generate future revenue from the North Street site with a modest retail/housing development perhaps with a large element of affordable housing or affordable rental housing hopefully without the density of the St Edward proposal to make it a more attractive place for people to live.

    One way or another, the council needs to solve the problem and this site is not a short-term solution. But it could be part of a longer-term one to generate much-needed revenue. One way or another, capital will need to be employed if additional revenue streams are to be generated.

    And as the Lib Dems have said in the piece, linked above, they could either finance development as a council or work with a partner to develop the site.

    We will have to see what is decided on St Edwards’s proposal and then beyond I guess.

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