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Lib Dem Harwood Says Sorry For ‘Rant’ Accusing Planning Members of Disdain For Officers

Published on: 4 Aug, 2020
Updated on: 6 Aug, 2020

Cllr Jan Harwood (pictured during a council meeting in May)

A Lib Dem councillor has apologised for erupting in a “rant”, accusing fellow Planning Committee members of treating council officers “with such disdain that [they were] creating unhealthy and… abusive working conditions”.

Councillors were left angry and perplexed by the outburst from Cllr Jan Harwood (Merrow), lead for Climate Change. The July 29 virtual meeting had been lengthy, the committee trying to catch up with a backlog of planning applications caused by the pandemic.

One witness said the outburst came after Cllr Harwood, until recently the lead councillor for Planning, was told public access to the meeting had been switched off but some public speakers could still hear. “The rant went on for about a minute and a half and he was shouting.”

Cllr Harwood, the witness added, went on: “Some of the members in this committee, one in particular in this meeting, treat the officers with such disdain that you are creating an unhealthy and, quite frankly abusive working conditions.

“I am not going to name names now, you know who you are and I am going to allow you one chance to correct your behaviour.”

“But if this happens again, I will not hesitate to name and shame you in public at the next meeting.”

Cllr David Bilbe

Later, in an email exchange seen by The Guildford Dragon, Cllr David Bilbe (Con ‘ind’, Normandy) wrote to Cllr Harwood: “I found your comment at the conclusion of a long and gruelling planning meeting last night after the termination of recording completely incomprehensible. To make indirect reference to behaviour by unnamed committee members as unacceptable and the warning the committee as a whole that unless that behaviour stops you threaten to name and shame those individuals [sic].

“That statement was threatening, intimidating and lacking any form of specificity and in my view is not the way in which any councillor should conduct themselves. You are achieving a reputation generally and from what people say to me as a councillor who has a lecturing style and that you have a tendency to talk down to people.

“I offer this as an honest statement of what some councillors who speak to me perceive but it is up to you how you conduct yourself personally unless and until it steps over the line of appropriate conduct and behaviour.

“You[r] comment last evening was threatening. Please could I ask that you inform me about the specific facts which underlie your warning so I can understand to what you are referring? Without that I am left at a loss.”

Councillor Harwood responded: “Thank you for your honest email… I have never had any issue with admitting when I am wrong. I apologise for the way I tackled the issue last night. It was late after a long meeting with many more of the same to come and I lost my composure. I say this not as an excuse but as context.

“My intent was not to threaten but I completely accept how my words would have come across. I undoubtedly choose [sic] my words poorly in that moment. My judgement was clearly clouded by the strength of my feelings on the subject.

“As to the specifics, I personally feel and have witnessed how some members of this council have treated planning officers with open hostility, rudeness and contempt not just in private but also in recorded meetings. I would be happy to go through each recorded meeting and identify at least one such occasion each time.

“For example, in the meeting last night, I thought Cllr Nagaty’s behaviour on the first application with regards to a simple IT issue was incredibly rude and unprofessional. I would go as far as to call it openly hostile. Thankfully, [council leader] Cllr [Caroline] Reeves [Lib Dem, Friary & St Nicolas] stepped in. There are many such incidents throughout almost all the planning committees and planning-related events and last night’s example is perhaps one of the less egregious.

“I believe this has started to create a work environment which is rather unpleasant and borderline abusive. There is not a single private business that would tolerate this, so I strongly object to it being normalised here. I believe I have been complicit in normalising this behaviour by not immediately speaking up when I come across it.

“What I wished to convey last night, which I failed to do in a coherent fashion, is that I intend to call it out wherever it may be going forward, in private or public. I think it is fair to say I have a lot to learn. I appreciate the frank feedback to help me adjust my approach to various aspects of the councillor role.”

Cllr Ramsey Nagaty

Asked to comment, Cllr Ramsey Nagaty (GGG, Shalford) was magnanimous. He said: “With planning meetings being held online by [Microsoft] teams during the Covid-19 pandemic, in this case late into the evening, it is not a normal situation. Jan Harwood, like myself, was a newly elected councillor last year and has taken on a very high profile, complex and heavy workload. At the end of a very long meeting Jan made a statement he later regretted.

“In apologising, Jan regretfully alluded to my behaviour, which he said is perhaps one of the less egregious. Councillors across the spectrum (GGG, Conservative, R4GV) and CPRE’s Tim Harrold all concurred that I had not been rude or unreasonable. Jan Harwood has since apologised verbally and in writing and I consider the matter closed.”

Cllr Harwood told The Dragon he also considered the matter closed and “not much of a story”. He declined to comment further.

In May, Cllr Harwood appeared to lose his temper with Cllrs Paul Spooner and Nigel Manning who had suggested a party political motive behind a move to allow councillors more leeway if their personal circumstances made council attendance difficult.

See also: Tempers Erupt Online in Borough Council Non-attendance Dispensation Debate

The webcast of the planning meeting on July 29 can be seen here.

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Responses to Lib Dem Harwood Says Sorry For ‘Rant’ Accusing Planning Members of Disdain For Officers

  1. J Brown Reply

    August 4, 2020 at 9:22 pm

    But why did the incident in the first application give rise to such passion in Cllr Harwood?

  2. Jules Cranwell Reply

    August 5, 2020 at 9:27 am

    Not much of an apology is it? He threatens to “name and shame” councillors, says sorry, then singles out Cllr Nagaty, accusing him of being “rude, unprofessional” and “openly hostile”.

    Anyone who knows Cllr Nagaty knows that he is none of those things. He is ever courteous, measured and polite, in fact, quite a contrast to Cllr Harwood. Fortunately, Cllr Nagaty took it all with his habitual good grace.

    It seems that several of these new Lib Dem councillors would benefit from some anger management training. I highly recommend it.

    I suggest Cllr Harwood concentrates his energies on his Climate Change brief and starts to mitigate the massive impact from the Local Plan on our local climate and environment.

    Having listened to the webcast, and the application at Brittan’s Farm in West Horsley, it was remarkable, that Cllrs Bilbe, Spooner and Moseley from the west of the borough, were all very keen for this development to go ahead, the latter two, on the grounds that unwanted development had happened in Ash.

    We appear to have an east/west divide.

    At least the new chair did not follow the precedent set by Cllr. Moseley, and to demand a recount, until it was approved.

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