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Letter: The Daylight of Transparency Would Do Wonders for Guildford

Published on: 23 Dec, 2018
Updated on: 23 Dec, 2018

From Julian Lyon

Prospective Independent candidate for Guildford Borough Council

I have noted from the Twitosphere that Cllr Spooner believes I misrepresented the council’s position on the Guildford Shakespeare Company’s offer for Burchetts Farm Barn.

Let me be clearer. I do not purport to represent GSC, but I do long for them to find a permanent home from which to run their excellent operation, and the council has it within its gift to help them, not by giving them a home, but by working with them to make it mutually beneficial, bearing in mind GSC will shortly be turned out of their temporary GBC-owned home at Middleton Industrial Estate for redevelopment.

In general, however, I was lamenting GBC’s shortcomings on the arts over the years rather than seeking to make a specific point about that proposed transaction.

A decade of piecemeal approach to the arts has left the town poorer than it might have been, and GSC is a shining beacon in our midst (without being a drain on scarce council funds), to be encouraged and treasured. If, in making my point, I appeared to misrepresent the council, I apologise unreservedly.

In a letter to the Surrey Advertiser on 22nd April before the 2011 elections, I was very critical of the then leadership in much the same way as now. On that occasion, it was over the replacement Civic Hall and the treatment of the Guildford Philharmonic Orchestra and staff.

In that letter I referred to a recently held council meeting as follows: “The meeting was described to me” (by a couple of councillors) “as having been handled with orchestrated non-answers to concerned councillors’ questions and some very personal remarks which had to be withdrawn immediately.” Perhaps your readers will recognise that ‘plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose’, as they say.

Sometime before that, the council had rejected the proposal put forward by the University of Surrey for a larger concert facility which was to also house a proposed feeder school for the Royal Ballet. The major sticking point, if I recall, was that the council would have had to commit to an annual subsidy of £250,000.

Scroll forwards and Guildford forewent the opportunity to sell the Civic Hall (G-Live) site for in excess of £20m for residential units and a Waitrose supermarket (before the York Road debacle), spent £25m building G-Live plus the thick end of £400k on year-one subsidies, and around £320k per year ever since. By my calculation, the university proposal would have cost us about £2 million in the time we have spent around £48 million in capital and revenues foregone.

Although the vanity projects of today are generally on a smaller scale than G-Live, the propensity, unchecked, for the council to waste our money remains a constant and real threat. The failure to see the wood for the trees is very much the norm rather than the exception.

Cllr Caroline Reeves [Lib Dem, Friary and St Nicolas], in responding to my announcement that I will stand as an Independent candidate in the forthcoming local elections, said: “If this critic is elected, he will soon find out how we members are forced into the slow process of council business, our endless rounds of public consultations, all heavily constrained by the restrictions that form part of local government systems and protocol.

“Progressing anything within the council is always frustratingly slow and cannot be compared to the private sector in any way.  This is not an excuse. It’s a stark look at our reality on the council.”

Let me just say that I have dealt with numerous councils and councillors across the country. Most find a way to get things done; many of them much more inclusively; the requirement for consultation should not prevent the council doing business. It should, however, at least nudge the council in the direction of a consensus.

If the Local Plan is seen as an example, the failure to address some very real and fundamental concerns – time after time – has led to a much more prolonged process than need have been the case. It has taken a large amount of pigheadedness to manage to offend town and village in almost equal measure, when putting the two sets of concerns together could have solved both within the same time as it has taken so far to fall short of a sound plan.

Guildford remains steadfastly the least approachable, most procrastinating and least strategic council with whom I have ever dealt.  The problem does not seem to lie with officers but seems to be with the way the two lead councillors operate. Cllr Reeves may be frustrated, but I intend to make sure that Guildford Borough Council ups its game.

A strong burst of the daylight of democracy, transparency and interactive community engagement would do wonders for Guildford at a time when the accumulation of so many piecemeal initiatives will otherwise ruin our town for generations to come – a loss to our built environment and a loss to our arts.

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Responses to Letter: The Daylight of Transparency Would Do Wonders for Guildford

  1. Fiona Clayton Reply

    December 30, 2018 at 2:42 pm

    Hear Hear!!

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