Fringe Box



Letter: Time to Put the Election Result into Context

Published on: 12 May, 2023
Updated on: 12 May, 2023

From: Julian Lyon

Now that the election is over it seems appropriate to start to put this narrative back into some real context.

Please note, I was an unsuccessful R4GV candidate for the Stoke Ward (in which the North Street redevelopment site sits), and I am a director of Savills where I head up the UK Occupier and Strategic Occupier Services department (acting for organisations for whom property is not their primary purpose). I have had not involvement with projects in Guildford nor with the Savills office or their planning & development department, nor with the developer or any of their consultants from multiple firms.

The comments I am making are my own, not as a member of R4GV. I am making them as a concerned citizen and not in any vested interest of any kind, based on my own involvement in community issues, charities, etc, in Guildford for more than 40 years.

Anyone is free to disagree with me politely without fear that they will somehow be shouted down. My expertise and experience may be helpful in getting to grips with this topic rationally and pragmatically – and without me saying whether I am for or against the scheme that went before the GBC Planning Committee on January 11.

Robin Horsley’s message to all GBC councillors before the North Street Planning Decision on January 11.

It is my clear understanding that, before the North Street development went to the committee, Robin Horsley wrote several times to councillors, copying his message to every councillor using phrases such as: “There are political consequences. If you R4GVs and the LDs push this scheme through without a proper consultation then it will cost you many, many votes in May. My campaign will be huge by then.”

I am absolutely clear that R4GV responded to Mr Horsley at the time to the effect that they could make no such commitments to Mr Horsley.

They said they would determine the application on its merits as they saw them,  having listened to the arguments on the night, examined the scheme and having balanced the harms and benefits before voting (which he should have known, since his father, Chris Blow, was an R4GV councillor who was on the Planning Committee at Guildford Borough Council, Robin Horsley has said that he changed his name from Robin Blow at the request of his wife.)

R4GV also confirmed that the development had been widely consulted on over a long period of time.

Based on the political evidence at the time (ergo, Zoe Franklin’s leaflet dropped through letterboxes across the borough which celebrated the Lib Dem Council achieving the regeneration of North Street, saying “Now Lib Dems on the Council have worked with a developer, St Edward, to bring forward a scheme to redevelop North Street. This will include the provision of over 470 homes, along with leisure, hospitality and public space.

The article in the Lib Dem pamphlet claimed it was their councillors who had worked with the North Street developer.

Zoe Franklin said: ‘This is excellent news for the community. For too long this area has been left looking tired and empty. This development will provide a new bus station, improvements to the public spaces and over a hundred trees. It will also provide much-needed housing in the town centre, taking pressure off development of new sites in the Greenbelt. However, the lack of affordable housing in the development does concern me.”

But Ms Franklin is not a councillor and had no say in determining the application, but it cannot be ruled out that at least one councillor voting against the development at committee on January 11 had at least some part of that balanced argument tipped towards refusal by Mr Horsley’s aggressive communications. In other words, pre-determination.

Those voting for refusal of the application on the night did so against legal advice and the planning officer’s recommendation.

Oversight of the planning officers and the process of negotiation with developers in pre-application consultations, the soliciting of material input from the South East Design Review Panel (which, contrary to R4GV aspirations, had no local participation), the obtaining of suitable legal guidance, the management of the process of scrutinising the compliance of the application with the Localism Act 2011 in terms of consultations, etc., all sat with the Lead Member for Planning (a Liberal Democrat).

There was clear separation in this planning process between the R4GV lead member for Regeneration [John Rigg] and the planning process – as is customary and in compliance with proper fiduciary management.

Far from the development being an R4GV construct, this was a complex scheme, promoted by St Edward (a joint venture between M&G Real Estate and Berkeley Homes) on the basis of a conditional contract between St Edward and Guildford Borough Council, who own 20 per cent of the site. The development was consulted on by the developer – as is the legal requirement – and revised on the basis of those public consultations.

The scheme that went to committee that night was the culmination of at least five years of discussion and negotiation of commercial terms, the expenditure by the applicant of a large amount of money (well into seven figures I would expect) in the expectation that, having met the requirements of the Local Plan (2019) and having consulted the community, it would have a good chance of securing planning consent.

Having failed to secure the planning consent, St Edward will most likely appeal to the Planning Inspectorate, and the grounds for refusal (to my mind at least) are weak – six of them were answered by St Edward prior to the committee meeting, and two relate to the lack of a legal document securing delivery of wider benefits (under Section 106 of the relevant Planning Act).

Had Mr Horsley asked the right questions, he would know that it is customary for Planning inspectors to require the appellant, St Edward [using Savills as agents] and the defendant (Guildford Borough Council) to agree or execute the S106 agreement conditionally upon a favourable appeal decision.

Predetermination may very well be a strong card in the appellant’s hand – and Mr Horsley may have handed that to them on a silver platter.

The behaviour of Mr Horsley in threatening councillors with a social media electoral Armageddon if they were to vote to approve this scheme, may very well have jeopardised the appeal, therefore. Let me reiterate, any whiff of pre-determination where a planning application was determined by casting vote is likely to be frowned on by the inspector and by the courts if there were a subsequent request for Judicial Review of the inspector’s decision – it will leave the door wide open for the developer.

Mr Horsley, in failing to take sufficient interest in Guildford before last December, and apparently in the vain belief that he is the sole arbiter of issues such as this (speaking up for everyone else and putting any dissenters down with aggressive responses), and that he has Social Media as his own political plaything is abhorrent.

It is abhorrent for local democracy, it is abhorrent for the rule of law, it is abhorrent in all respects if we cannot know (except by chance) that he has sought so aggressively to influence a statutory vote in the council chamber – an unelected individual who couldn’t even be bothered to stand for election to seek official backing for his position, who, unless he is stopped, will seek to influence who knows what by the aggressive threat included in his communication to councillors.

By the nature of his interventions in the recent local elections, we know this to be a tangible threat, a political interference in the running of the borough council.

I came last in the Stoke Ward; I failed to make my case to the voters – albeit we were all rather distracted in having to fight a rearguard action across the borough against Mr Horsley’s campaign.

This is not sour grapes on my part. This is about my sense of fairness; it is about the indignation of many people on the doorstep; it is about a frustration that so many people seem to have been seduced into thinking that, because of Mr Horsley’s assertion that he had nothing to gain and was doing this for the good of the community, with his own money, etc. he must be telling the truth and nothing but.

Ultimately, this is about ensuring our elected councillors are free to make decisions without threats or menaces, without irrational and erroneous character assassination over some misrepresented innuendo, implicating individuals in dodgy behaviours.

There are laws and processes that have been built over time to ensure councillors are elected fairly, can operate fairly, and make fair decisions – in planning terms especially – fairly and without pre-determination.

This letter is about processes, it is about democracy, it is about preventing our council from being corrupted by menaces; overly influenced by individuals. I will return at another time to set out the facts of the matter as I see them – the relationship between the decisions made in introducing the Local Plan in 2019 (which had their roots in the Mansbridge-Juneja saga back in 2013 to 2015), the missed opportunities to introduce height and views policies with teeth, and the evolution of the North Street site, culminating in the application and planning refusal.

This will highlight where I believe Mr Horsley’s opinions were valid and where the facts are not borne out by his assertions. I bet Dragon readers can hardly wait!

Mr Horsley may think he is above the law, he might act as if he is the law. Perhaps he thinks the law is an ass! But who is the ass here is for others to decide, including perhaps lawyers.

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Responses to Letter: Time to Put the Election Result into Context

  1. David Ogilvie Reply

    May 12, 2023 at 2:26 pm

    A first-class review of Robin Horsley’s biased intervention in the recent GBC Local Election.

  2. Jim Allen Reply

    May 12, 2023 at 3:07 pm

    I think Mr Lyon has summed up the situation rather well.

    Though taking specifically the North Street planning application, I would, if I had bothered to object it would have been for five technically sound reasons:

    1/ Totally inadequate Sewage treatment capacity until at least 2030 current capacity was exceeded pre 2018- needing a very strong grampian clause to prevent occupation;

    2/ Inadequate water supply with no answer. No one has the answer!

    3/ The bus station capacity would be inadequate to cope with the predictable demand from the people of Weyside Urban Village and Gosden Hill Estate when they are built;

    4/ The building overhang, encroached over the road and paths (an SCC objection);

  3. Robin Horsley Reply

    May 12, 2023 at 3:56 pm

    It is disappointing to see Mr Lyon making a series of complaints again. It is indeed sour grapes. He lost his bid for election.

    Perhaps he should reflect on the fact that the reason he and many R4GV candidates lost was perhaps because the electorate didn’t want the aggressive, accusatory attitude that Mr Lyon displays here and many like me were horrified that the council had failed to inform the electorate about, let alone consult them on, this huge scheme prior to the attempt to push it through planning in January.

    Incidentally, the Liberal Democrat councillors voted against it as they did against the Debenhams scheme in November [one Lib Dem, John Askew, abstained. Ed] on a similar basis – long before I was aware of it or the North Street scheme – a fact that Mr Lyon choses not to accept. But it is a fact that should be no surprise given his admission that the developers very limited statutory consultation exercise was the only one undertaken.

    There are those who seem to think that public commentary on and lobbying of elected representatives is somehow wrong. But it is, in fact, the absolute foundation of our democracy. There is a reason why “Central Lobby” in the Palace of Westminster is named as such. Any individual is perfectly entitled to lobby elected representatives and campaign democratically for any cause they feel motivated to campaign about.

    Those who think that despite their electoral pledges to represent residents, and despite the council’s pledge to consult residents, ignore this and act as delegates with unquestionable power are doomed to failure as this election proved.

    The high-handed and unpleasant threats and allegations made by R4GV and their supporters on social media channels made it very clear to electors what they were being asked to vote for. I was quite staggered to see such an approach so widely and publicly displayed. It helped my campaign enormously.

    I offer the following advice to Mr Lyon and others. If you want people to elect you, be nice. And if they don’t elect you – have the simple good grace to accept the great collective wisdom of their decision.

    Finally, I changed my name to Horsley (my Grandmother’s maiden name) over 30 years ago… not recently as Mr Lyon’s odd piece perhaps tries to suggest.

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