Fringe Box



Letter: I Am Standing For the People of Lovelace

Published on: 16 Sep, 2014
Updated on: 16 Sep, 2014

soapbox_clipartBen Paton, the Conservative candidate in the Guildford Borough Council (GBC) by-election for Lovelace ward, responds, in an open letter, to Cllr Paul Spooner, lead councillor for governance, who questioned Mr Paton’s allegiance in a letter: Who Does Ben Paton Stand For?

Dear Cllr Spooner,

It is regrettable that the council has used the shortage of social housing and the currently very high level of house prices in order to justify a flawed local plan. The Draft Local Plan is a means to an end and not an end in itself.

It is unscrupulous and disingenuous to argue that the ends justify the means – particularly when the means adopted depart from the National Planning Policy Framework and show little respect for the rule of law, the Guildford electorate, and the many thousands of people who responded to the Issues and Options paper and signed many petitions.

The Lib Dem and Labour councillors – out of a commendable desire to put in place a new local plan and see more houses built – have mistakenly supported the draft local plan. Only in the final vote to approve the start of the consultation process did the Lib Dems finally see that the Executive’s failure to revise the flawed Strategic Housing Market Assessment (SHMA) as required by the Scrutiny Committee was unacceptable.

Credit for this change of heart should be given where it is due, to Mrs Parker of the Guildford Greenbelt Group (GGG). She has worked prodigiously hard to understand and uncover the errors in the evidence base. I doubt if any elected councillors have put as much time into understanding the draft local plan as Mrs Parker and GGG members.

Credit should also be given to Cllr Phillips of the Lib Dems (Onslow) for demanding that the Scrutiny Committee revise the SHMA numbers and to the Conservative Cllrs for Horsley and Clandon and the others who voted against sending this draft of the local plan out for consultation.

So far meaningful opposition to the draft local plan in the council chamber has not been very apparent. If elected, I intend to provide that opposition from within the Conservative Party. I intend to rally councillors of all parties whose loyalty is where it should be – to the truth, to sound public administration and to the public interest rather than to party political labels.

Some of the electors of Lovelace Ward are indeed concerned about my brand of conservatism: they are worrying that it may be too close to yours! They are worrying that a vote for me might be a vote for the Local Plan. Here is a paragraph from a recent email from an elector:

“…the most annoying thing is the complete disregard to the potential effects on traffic in Ripley and of course surrounding areas ! It will be like going back to the pre bypass era when Ripley was a car park and local residents dare not cross the road.

“My other major concern is the fact that currently your party are in fact in power and appear to be driving this through despite the local tory vote and its effects and therefore I am reluctant to vote for the conservatives as I wonder whether you as one man can really make a difference to what happens. In fact it would look as if I am supporting the Tory council efforts and the draft local plan!”

Lovelace voters have a proud history of disagreeing with the government. This is an extract from a press cutting in December 5, 1980:

“Infuriated by the Government’s handling of the Wisley Airfield affair Ripley Conservatives have withheld branch subscription money in protest. The Ripley branch of the Conservatives takes in Ripley, Ockham and Wisley. Chairman, Mr John Cooper of Ockham, said members in the area were so annoyed by the whole affair they have withheld a proportion of the money normally paid by the branch to the Dorking constituency.”

Today Lovelace voters are as opposed to development of the former Wisley airfield by its new owners, (who I believe to be a Russian speculator and a hedge fund) as they were in the 1980s. If they elect me I shall continue our proud tradition of independence and dissent.

Like many voters I am deeply concerned about:

  • the unexplained resignation of the head of planning in the middle of the local plan consultation process;
  • the arrest and prosecution for fraud of the former lead councillor for planning;
  • inappropriate development on the green belt;
  • the failure of the council to uphold its Codes of Conduct;
  • the failure to revise the SHMA figures as required by the Scrutiny Committee;
  • the issue of the draft local plan before the necessary preliminary studies were completed (the SHMA, the Sustainability and Heritage Assessments etc);
  • the failure to take properly into account the Issues and Options consultation responses or the public petitions;
  • the failure to disclose information openly or at all until challenged by Freedom of Information requests.

The voters of Lovelace are far too intelligent to vote blindly for anyone just because of their party affiliation. I believe that their primary concerns are to be represented by someone who cares about the facts and believes in a fair process and the rule of law.

I am standing to defend the interests of Lovelace voters. If that requires me to vote against the GBC Executive I shall. If it requires me to join with Effingham Parish council and others and demand councillor Mansbridge steps down as leader, I shall.

I can also assure you that it is rather improbable that I should cross the floor and join GGG. But if it became a necessity to defend the electorate in Lovelace I would.

I hope this is sufficiently clear and that you will not feel it necessary for the GBC Executive to form a ‘House Committee on Un-Conservative activities’ to cross-examine me further. But should you wish to pursue McCarthyist tactics I shall be delighted to testify before your committee and to defend my position against all-comers.

Kind regards,

Ben Paton

A list of all the candidates standing in the Lovelace by-election, which will take place on Thursday, September 25, can be found in the article: It’s Officially a Four-horse Race For the Lovelace By-election.

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Responses to Letter: I Am Standing For the People of Lovelace

  1. Colin Cross Reply

    September 16, 2014 at 9:51 pm

    Well said Ben and good luck in fighting the problems that exists within your party.

    And remember, your enemy’s enemy is your friend.

    Lovelace has a straight choice centred around our experience and local backgrounds.

    Let’s retain a mutual respect and may the best man win.

    Colin Cross is the Lib Dem candidate in the forthcoming Lovelace by-election.

  2. Colin Cross Reply

    September 16, 2014 at 10:21 pm

    Susan Parker [Guildford Greenbelt Group] is a human dynamo and will one day get the recognition she deserves from both Guildford and the wider Surrey community for her heroic efforts.

    Colin Cross is the Lib Dem candidate in the forthcoming Lovelace by-election.

  3. Ben Paton Reply

    September 17, 2014 at 9:38 am

    Information overload and shortage of time pose the constant risk that policies are reduced to trivial one liners.

    The real world is complicated and we should make it as simple as possible but no simpler – as Einstein said.

    What provokes this observation? It is inspired by the catchy one liner that one’s enemy’s enemy is one’s friend. It sounds good. But in the real world it is dangerous.

    The Americans used Al Qaeda when they were both fighting the Russians in Afghanistan. We all know what happened since. Churchill and the Allies fought alongside the Russians – led by Stalin – against Hitler’s Nazi regime. Over the next 50 years the Russians did not subsequently prove to be overly friendly.

    There is no substitute for a) examining the facts b) following the rule of law c) having a competent and objective civil service and d) hard work.

    The draft local plan has too many apparently simple cures for difficult problems – like building on the green belt- and has not been properly thought through.

    A few of the important complications with the local plan, as I see it, are these:

    1. The rules oblige the council to plan for housing need. But how need is to be assessed is not adequately defined in the guidance. Most people think of need as something irreductible without which we cannot do – eg a minimum amount of water or calories. But need has been framed in economic terms – as a ratio of incomes to the value of a capital asset – houses. This gives rise to some strange and counter intuitive results. It means that most people who live in Kensington, where a one bedroom flat costs £1m, cannot afford to live there. And apparently half the population of Guildford Borough cannot afford to live here – according to the draft local plan. So the rules need to be applied with judgement.

    2) The rules say the council must use demographic forecasts of population to appraise housing need. This is always going to be a subjective exercise to some degree. With political interference almost any result can be achieved by careful selection of which periods and which trends you choose to project. Again we have a rule which appears to be objective but which in fact requires subjective interpretation.

    3) The rules say that the council must have a supply of houses which meets demand for the next five years. This rule was doubtless created with good intentions. But in practice there are serious problems – highlighted by the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England (CPRE) – about how supply is measured. Permissions granted to build housing e.g. to the university are not necessarily counted. And the council has no power to compel the recipient of a planning permission to carry out the development. Again we have a rule which appears objective and even well intentioned but which requires careful and subjective interpretation.

    Rather than blindly apply the rules – or cynically using the rules to justify a pre determined policy – the rules themselves need to be challenged – in just the sort of way that CPRE are.

    The process requires judgement. And sadly trust in the leadership’s judgement in this exercise is evaporating. The breaches of the Council’s Codes of Conduct appall everyone except, it seems, the Executive. And not even back bench councillors seem to care.

    A committee system might not be any better. But surely it could not be any worse. Machiavelli’s conundrum applies: those for change cannot prove it will work and those against it are sure it wont.

  4. Michael Bruton Reply

    September 17, 2014 at 3:23 pm

    May I congratulate Ben Paton on his response to one of the ‘Ash Group’ who now run Guildford – Cllr Spooner.

    I congratulate both Ben (Con) and Colin Cross (Lib Dem) on their opposition to Wisley New Town. Both are ‘good guys’

    Ben’s eight points above are an indictment of the Millmead regime. What I find so nauseating is the silence of nearly all other Conservative councillors on what is happening within their group.

    Just looking at the current edition of Private Eye – it appears that turning a blind eye and maintaining silence is par for the course in much of local government. And we see the results in places like Rotherham, Portsmouth and Tower Hamlets.

    The Americans have the phrase ‘Draining the Swamp’. I do hope that voters in May 2015 are able to return a multitude of ‘real’ Conservatives like Ben Paton and that Guildford’s swamp is fully drained.

  5. Paul Spooner Reply

    September 17, 2014 at 5:14 pm

    Thanks to Mr Paton for his statement and I look forward (should he be successful) in welcoming him to the Conservative ‘team’ at Guildford Borough Council. I believe that Mr Paton will find things somewhat different once he gets directly involved as a borough councillor.

    • Robert Burch Reply

      September 17, 2014 at 9:40 pm

      Perhaps Cllr Spooner can elaborate on what would be found to be different on becoming a councillor? Some details would help us all to understand the position of the Executive.

  6. Jim Allen Reply

    September 17, 2014 at 7:52 pm

    Interesting comment from Mr Spooner. If things appear so different once elected perhaps he can say why?

  7. Adrian Atkinson Reply

    September 18, 2014 at 1:02 pm

    Very strange comment indeed to add to a long list from Millmead.

    Conservatives “United” have some players who have publicly put themselves on the transfer list (voting against the Exec on the last vote) and what is left of the squad is heading for relegation. And then the team captain has made it perfectly clear he does not want Mr Paton on his team.

    Cllr Spooner should certainly elaborate for clarity. I’m sure there are many things which are not obvious to the public in the day to day dealings as a councillor but that does not change the mandate they have following the last election.

    If that isn’t the case Cllr Spooner should be very specific. The inference I have taken from the comment undermines a core pillar of our democracy and that Mr Paton would have to be part of the “team”.

  8. Paul Spooner Reply

    September 18, 2014 at 4:17 pm

    Mr Paton comments:

    “The process requires judgement. And sadly trust in the leadership’s judgement in this exercise is evaporating. The breaches of the council’s Codes of Conduct appall everyone except, it seems, the Executive. And not even back bench councillors seem to care”.

    If he has new evidence of genuine breaches of the council’s Codes of Conduct then he should report them to GBC. If not then he should stop making claims that he cannot substantiate.

    There is a world of difference between challenging the Local Plan (perfectly understandable for a multitude of reasons, whether objective or subjective) and claiming breaches of the Codes of Conduct.

    There is no place in politics for attacking individuals just because they have a different point of view. I trust that Mr Paton and I can agree on that.

    Paul Spooner is a Conservative borough councillor for Ash South and Tongham and lead councillor for governance.

  9. Simon Walker Reply

    October 1, 2014 at 6:33 pm

    It is a shame that Jules Cranwell debased this serious issue with his ridiculous comment about his old school experiences.

    Paul Spooner asked a serious question and the electorate were entitled to know.

    I am pleased Ben Paton didn’t get many votes because he doesn’t seem like a problem solver and Guildford needs solutions.

  10. Adrian Atkinson Reply

    October 1, 2014 at 11:15 pm

    I refer Mr Walker to various recent posts that the main issue is that we don’t know the true problem to solve. That is the serious question to which we have to find answers.

    If the problem is determined by party politics I can guarantee it’s wrong.

  11. Colin Cross Reply

    October 3, 2014 at 12:37 am

    Well let’s have a go at solving the heart of the problem shall we?

    All the primary reports GBC have rolled out to justify their land grab involve the blatant sacrifice of the green belt and total lack of proportionality.

    Add to that the void in their infrastructure argument and you have a plan not fit for purpose – same as the GBC Executive really.

    No, it’s not about party politics, just right and wrong in the end.

    Colin Cross is the Lib Dem borough councillor for Lovelace

  12. Paul Spooner Reply

    October 7, 2014 at 3:10 pm

    Mr Cranwell made the following comment on this comment trail on 18 September 2014 at 2.40pm:

    “Sounds to me like the new boy might be required to fag for the house prefects, and can anticipate some form of humiliation, as part of initiation from the school bullies”

    This comment is referenced in Mr Walker’s response on 1 October 2014 at 6.33pm above.

    May I ask Mr Cranwell to put this in context and confirm who he was referring to in this comment?

    • Jules Cranwell Reply

      October 8, 2014 at 12:11 pm

      I apologise if my comment re Ben Paton caused offence. These remarks were intended to be metaphorical, rather than factual, which should have been evident. I therefore withdraw the comment.

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