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Letter: There Are Lessons to Learn From the Previous Council

Published on: 6 May, 2019
Updated on: 6 May, 2019

From Julian Lyon

In response to: The Dragon Says: Out of Touch, Out of Reach, Out on Their Ear

Thanks Guildford Dragon for another thought-provoking opinion piece.

Whilst absolutely agreeing with the analysis of the apparent attitudes of the parties and their leaders before and during the Local Plan adoption saga, I want to point out a couple of things in case they get lost in the noise.

Firstly, several councillors and officers have worked incredibly hard (even though we may disagree with substantial parts of the evidence base, the strategy and the plan itself) and, dealing with the amount of feedback they have had was not easy. There probably needs to be some review of how we can make sure all representations are more than just categorised – there was little sign that the Guildford Society representations were read (especially the representations on relative deprivation which should have pointed the council in a somewhat different direction for key parts of the Borough).

Secondly, there needs to be some sort of code of conduct or agreement written into the council’s constitution whereby we never again see the unedifying spectacle of such issues being forced through clearly against voters’ wishes and counter to the spirit of the Local Government Association guidance on purdah. The self-congratulation is misplaced, and the land mines that have been laid, as if part of a scorched earth policy, will occupy more of the new councillors’ time and attention than should have been necessary.

I feel very optimistic for the R4GV contingent of really strong councillors (feeling sorry for Fiona Davidson and Howard Moss – Fiona was one of the two highest scoring losing councillors across the borough, and Howard fell short by a similar margin to that by which councillor Spooner won his third place – and I wish I had been able to join them.*

I hope that governance through the leader’s Twitter account – which was actively publicising announcements throughout the election campaign, but which was also used for caustic putdowns – will be at an end, and that some kind of Social Media Code of Practice can be adopted to make the council accessible but not personal.

I wish all new councillors well and I hope there can be a new spirit of co-operation and of governance with and for the residents. I look forward to seeing how the discussions and decisions of the next few days and weeks plays out as to who will lead, how parties will work together in co-operation or coalition, and how personalities can be put aside for the good of Guildford and all of its residents how so ever they voted.

* Footnote:
My position as a director of Savills had been politicised to the extent that it was clear that my own integrity and my own political priorities would be confused with or be taken as conflicting with the interests of the Borough, of Savills and/or of its clients.

I maintained that I would manage conflicts of interest in strict accordance with both the council’s governance rules and with the Code of Conduct of the RICS, of which I am a Fellow, continuing in the way in which I have never commented on Slyfield Area Regeneration Plan locally (whether within GSoc, GVG or otherwise) or at work (where part of my team acts for Thames Water in managing their property portfolio – to the extent that I have left the room when Slyfield has been discussed).

Tweets referring to meetings between the then- council leader and Savills (of which I was unaware and in respect of whose content I am still in the dark) meant that my candidature had become about Savills and not my own ideological and social objectives.

If issues of great importance were to become focused on Savills rather than on the borough, this would undermine everything I would have wanted to achieve for regeneration and for helping to redress social and economic imbalances, it would undermine Savills, and possibly the workings of the borough itself. I took the only course open to me (having taken soundings from colleagues and their clients) and stood down as a candidate in the borough council election.

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