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Local Groups Criticise and Question MP’s Initiative for a New ‘Guildford Forum’

Published on: 24 Jun, 2021
Updated on: 26 Jun, 2021

The ‘Guildford Forum’ is an initiative by Angela Richardson MP. Its chair will be Peter Gordon.

Local Liberal Democrats are scathing in their criticism of Guildford’s MP’s proposal for a new Guildford Forum to debate local issues. And they describe Angela Richardson as a “lacklustre MP” scared by recent election results.

George Potter, speaking as deputy group leader for GBC’s Lib Dems questioned the role of the new Forum and how it will fit with existing forums, in particular the borough council, a question repeated by the chairs of Guildford Labour, the Guildford Society and others.

There is also disquiet that the proposal was publicised through a press release without prior contact to the various bodies it is hoped will participate.

But all groups who have commented say that they will take part, hoping for a constructive outcome.

See also: ‘Guildford Forum’ Launched by Guildford’s MP

Cllr Potter (Lib Dem, Burpham) said: “Angela Richardson first announced that she was setting up a “Guildford Forum” in July last year (2020) so there is a strong sense of deja vu with this re-announcement. What exactly has she been doing?

Cllr George Potter

“Why, yet again, is our MP claiming to be setting up a representative forum and announcing it via press release before she’s even spoken to the various stakeholders she claims to want to engage with?

“Guildford is blessed with residents’ associations, the Guildford Society, Guildford Vision Group, Experience Guildford, G-BUG, Guildford Environmental Forum and other local groups, all of whom work with the democratically elected borough council to do exactly what she claims her “forum” will do.

“Last year we questioned why she was refusing to engage with these existing groups and why she was making an announcement without having spoken to any of the bodies, including the borough council, which already represent the interests of the people of Guildford. Almost a year has passed without receiving a reply from her and now we’re seeing the same announcement all over again.

“As Liberal Democrats, we will always engage with anything which will help local people, but this new announcement smacks far more of headline-chasing by a lacklustre MP who’s suddenly running scared after seeing her party lose four of their seven county council seats last month and similarly watching her complacent Conservative colleagues sent packing by the voters of Chesham and Amersham, in last week’s by-election.

“We hope something more constructive comes of this announcement than came of last year’s, but we won’t be holding our breath. When Ms Richardson is willing to seriously engage, our door will always be open and we will welcome her input.”

Fiona Davidson

Fiona Davidson, speaking as chair of the Residents for Guildford & Villages (R4GV) party was less critical. She said: “It’s good to hear of this initiative via The Dragon and we look forward to receiving further details.

“R4GV is very supportive of all efforts to consult with and involve the community in developing Guildford, and how we can all work together to ensure our borough and its businesses recover from the results of the pandemic.

“With the same objective, Guildford Borough Council will be launching a full consultation on the draft proposals for the Guildford Economic Regeneration Project being produced by the council’s master planning team later this year.

“This will involve a wide range of resident, community, and special interest groups from right across the Borough. Cllr John Rigg (R4GV, Holy Trinity) emphasises that input from all focus groups – both political and non-political – is welcomed. Further details will be announced in due course.”

Alistair Smith, chair of the Guildford Society was circumspect. He said: “From the limited details available, the Society is interested in understanding more on the objectives and scope of the Forum, and its positioning and interrelationship with other groups/organisations; including the council – which is our existing local democratic forum.

“Will the Forum add value, or just confusion? GBC via its Guildford Economic Regeneration Programme (GERP), has recently gathered a lot of information on the economy, infrastructure etc related to the town and the borough.

“Frustratingly, for unclear reasons, these documents have not yet been made publicly available; although we understand the programme will be conducting public consultation shortly.  The Forum needs an evidence base to work with, to be effective, and the GERP should provide this.

“Another question is will the Forum collaborate with the council? Angela Richardson states the government recognises that Guildford is a strategic hub, this is a welcome change to reported comments made to her predecessor [Anne Milton by PM Boris Johnson]. This recognition from central government can be used to facilitate discussion with SCC/GBC and enable the investment required in Infrastructure etc in the borough.”

“If invited, we hope July 8 provides clarity.”

A Guildford Labour Party spokesman said that they would be “delighted” to join the Guildford Forum, or any other initiative, if it appears that it might lead to something positive for the residents of Guildford.

Adding: “But is this not properly the job of the local elected council? It is not immediately clear to us where the Forum fits between the borough and parish councils and already established groups such as residents’ associations, political parties, the Guildford Vision Group and Guildford Society.

“How is it going to benefit Zero Carbon Guildford? How will it support the work of Guildford Action? Will it work with educational organisations such as Surrey Lifelong Learning Partnership to improve adult basic skills? How will local music venues like The Boileroom and The Star benefit from this Forum?”

Brian Creese

Guildford Labour Chair Brian Creese added: “I think that perhaps our MP should be paying more attention to the massive issues in her House of Commons in tray: the struggling health service; the disaster of social care; the aftermath of Brexit; and social inequalities revealed by the pandemic, rather than creating a new group for local worthies. We need a lot more detail about this group before being convinced it is anything more than a Tory-led talking shop.”

Liz Critchfield the Secretary of Burpham Community Association echoed the questions others had asked: “Any proposal that involves local people in decision making on important local issues is to be welcomed. However, the last thing we need is a talking shop that results in much sound and fury but achieves nothing.

“We shall be interested to see the terms of reference and composition of the proposed Forum. How will it relate to existing administrative structures? How and to whom will it report?

“It is suggested that “everyone interested in the future of the town and surrounding villages” could participate. Is this invitation to be extended to individuals or existing groups such as residents’ associations and the Guildford Vision Group?

“The BCA is interested in this initiative but would want answers to the questions posed before coming to a decision.”

And Richard Jarvis, speaking on behalf of Guildford Residents Associations Coordination Group, was also wary: “Guildford Residents Associations gives a cautious welcome to this initiative, which we will be discussing with our members next week.

“It can provide the opportunity for constructive engagement with our MP on a range of topics.

A more positive view came from the Guildford Vision Group (GVG) which says it has been focused on the future of the town for the past eleven years, challenging the status quo.

Bill Stokoe

Its chair Bill Stokoe said: “We welcome an initiative that closely involves our MP, especially given government’s inevitable and crucial involvement in regenerative infrastructure spending – a vital component in securing Guildford’s future.

“We look forward to helping in the establishment of the Forum and the setting of the parameters of its work, goals and measures of success.”

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Responses to Local Groups Criticise and Question MP’s Initiative for a New ‘Guildford Forum’

  1. Sallie Barker Reply

    June 25, 2021 at 1:26 pm

    It is disappointing that once again the Liberal Democrats choose to repeat unjustified attacks on Angela Richardson MP in response to her efforts to consult with voices from across the political spectrum and outside politics to help shape Guildford’s future.

    We hope they will take a more positive approach when liaising with the Guildford Forum in practice, as the input of all local representatives will be important in shaping the conversation, for the benefit of the town.

    Sallie Barker is the chair of the Guildford Conservative Association

    • Andrew Calladine Reply

      June 30, 2021 at 1:53 pm

      Sallie Barker may consider these attacks as unjustified, but as an opposition party to the Conservatives, it is the job of the Liberal Democrats to seek to hold the sitting Conservative MP to account.

      I personally agree with their view that Angela Richardson is a lacklustre MP who has little understanding of engaging stakeholders or understanding the correct processes to engage to get things done.

      Her setting up of a Facebook group regarding her campaign to have a tunnel for the A3 under Guildford was a good example of this, it smelt of an attempted populist move which caused a great deal of confusion (leading to a group name change) while doing little to achieve the goal that it claimed it wanted too.

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