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MP Richardson’s Sudden ‘Guildford Forum’ Plan Meets Mixed Reception

Published on: 31 Jul, 2020
Updated on: 31 Jul, 2020

By Martin Giles

Angela Richardson, MP

A plan by Guildford’s Tory MP Angela Richardson to set up a forum to give “a voice for residents and businesses” has met a mixed reception at the borough council.

Council leader Caroline Reeves (Lib Dem, Friary & St Nicolas) said: “There was no consultation before this announcement which is unfortunate… Honestly, I’m not sure how another forum will be beneficial.”

GBC leader-in-waiting Joss Bigmore (R4GV, Christchurch) said: “We have the Town Centre Masterplan in hand. We welcome our MP’s support but not if it is a vehicle for self-.promotion.”

But Cllr Paul Spooner (Con ‘ind’, South Ash & Tongham) welcomed the plan and SCC councillor Matt Furniss, cabinet member for Transport, was effusive. “The Guildford Forum is a great way for local residents and businesses to have a say in the regeneration of Guildford town centre. We look forward to joining in with discussions and working constructively with Angela Richardson on this.”

And support came too from Bill Stokoe, chair of the Guildford Vision Group which, under John Rigg, now a R4GV borough councillor, was the first to promote a masterplan for Guildford. Mr Stokoe said: “The forum is a great initiative… The support of our MP will be invaluable…”

In a press release, Ms Richardson said: “In my maiden speech back in February, I called for a Town Centre Master Plan and I welcome the decision by Guildford Borough Council to set up a Guildford Economic Regeneration Programme Masterplan Board and to appoint an external specialist adviser to build on the work done in the Town Centre Masterplan by the Conservative administration.

“As part of this process, I feel it is important that stakeholders in Guildford Town Centre and surrounds have an opportunity by which they can discuss and feed into the Town Regeneration process, in addition to the public consultation process held by Guildford Borough Council.

“These stakeholders include businesses, residents and environmental groups and those who have been looking at the need for a Masterplan for many years such as Guildford Vision Group.

“Big and bold decisions need to be taken to ensure the future economic vitality and competitiveness of Guildford. The pandemic has only shone a spotlight on an issue that has long needed addressing. Therefore, I am announcing a new Guildford Forum to bring together all these partners in regenerating, protecting and improving our vibrant town centre.

“The first meeting to be held either virtually or physically as government guidance allows in September, and thereafter to be held quarterly. Further details of date and time to be published.”

Council Leader Caroline Reeves

Cllr Reeves said: “The most pressing issue is how, as a whole community, we can best respond to the Covid pandemic situation, its impacts on us plus how we recover, and how we support our residents and businesses.

“Guildford Borough Council’s finances are very different now to what they were in February due to the amount we spent supporting our community through the crisis which has not been fully reimbursed by the government. As a result, we will need to reassess many areas of our responsibilities.”

Asked how the Guildford Forum would fit together with GBC and SCC? Cllr Reeves added: “The GBC team are already working on the Guildford Economic Regeneration Plan and we have made it clear this will involve wide consultation throughout.

“Honestly, I’m not sure how another forum will be beneficial. It would have been more helpful to have had a conversation before this announcement, after all, Ms RIchardson and GBC councillors alike are elected by residents to act together in their best interests.”

Cllr Joss Bigmore

Cllr Bigmore said: “This is the first I’ve heard of this ‘Guildford Forum’. The fact that Angela Richardson thinks we would undertake a Town Centre Masterplan without consulting the residents and stakeholders both formally and informally throughout the process, highlights the fact she should have spoken to us before. It makes her look ill-informed.

“I never cease to be amazed at the ability of politicians to try to rewrite history. Cllr John Rigg, as GVG [Guildford Vision Group] chair, started his Masterplan campaign in 2011 with extensive stakeholder engagement. Successive Conservative administrations ignored his work, preferring instead to put housing in less sustainable green belt locations.

“R4GV campaigned last year on a manifesto to produce and deliver a Masterplan, winning 88% of the seats, all from the Conservatives. This is a clumsy attempt by our MP to take the work and successes of others and rebrand it as her own.

“As one political newbie to another, I advise Ms Richardson to assist where it is necessary. There are plenty of areas we are desperate for her help. Can she find out why Highways England have kicked the A3 improvements into the long grass? Or maybe she should get residents’ views on the proposal for a huge single unitary authority for Surrey before she dutifully supports the SCC’s ugly power grab?

“She should talk to us directly rather than via the press. Politicking is tiring and best avoided when there is so much proper work to be done.”

Cllr Paul Spooner

Cllr Spooner, who led the recent breakaway from the official Conservative Group at GBC, said: “I welcome any initiative to progress regeneration and master planning in Guildford, along with maintaining economic vitality for the town centre and the wider Borough.

“Ms Richardson did advise me many months ago that she wished to create a Town Centre forum, and it is disappointing, given the need for funding from central government, that no Conservative councillor at GBC has been appointed to the Guildford Economic Regeneration Programme Masterplan Board, given the extensive work by the previous administration.

“For me, the most pressing need is to agree priorities and address funding gaps to deliver any plan. That will inevitably require agreement at ministerial level. Having our MP at the forefront has to be welcomed.”

Alastair Smith, chair of The Guildford Society, also welcomed the proposal but highlighted a need to clarify roles. He said: “Guildford Society supports the development of a Guildford Economic Regeneration Programme Masterplan Strategy. Stage 1 includes developing ‘a stakeholder matrix and an initial programme of consultation with stakeholder groups’.

“The forum as proposed by Ms Richardson is useful. It is unclear if the role of the forum, versus the consultation process that is part of the GBC Masterplan Strategy, has been agreed. This is essential, to avoid duplication and confusion.

“Our MP has a critical role in ensuring infrastructure spending to support Guildford town and the wider borough is agreed with central government and delivered and must be integrated into the Masterplan Strategy development process.

“A key issue is that public attitudes to working from home, shopping, commuting, use of town centres etc. are evolving rapidly; the Guildford Society believes early engagement with the public and other stakeholders in the Masterplan Strategy, is required.”

Bill Stokoe

GVG chair Bill Stokoe added: “The town centre lacks a voice. The forum is a great initiative, alongside the present TCMP [Town Centre Master Plan] progress; see last week’s GBC Executive’s decision.

“The support of our MP will be invaluable, particularly when it comes to the inevitable infrastructure funding requirements. I welcome the progress in addressing the pressing needs of our town centre. GVG’s town centre priorities remain wider pedestrianisation, opening up of riverside, tackling the gyratory, including congestion and more town centre, ie brownfield, housing

“Lockdown has re-emphasised the need to address these issues, alongside a compelling vision for our town centre.”

Angela Richardson is inviting organisations who would like to take part to contact her by email at: angela.richardson.mp@parliament.uk.

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test 8 Responses to MP Richardson’s Sudden ‘Guildford Forum’ Plan Meets Mixed Reception

  1. Jim Allen Reply

    July 31, 2020 at 7:12 pm

    Would such a forum even be considered if the 80,000 comments on the Local Plan had been listened to?

  2. J Brown Reply

    August 1, 2020 at 6:53 am

    If only Caroline Reeves and her fellow Lib Dem councillors practised what they preach: “GBC councillors alike are elected by residents to act together in their best interests.”

    Really? If they are unable to challenge officers, but instead blindly support them, they should step aside, they have made themselves redundant.

    No wonder there is talk of a unitary authority, the borough councillors are no longer needed.

    The public wants councillors who represent them, not councillors who represent the council.

    • Ben Paton Reply

      August 1, 2020 at 10:40 am

      The public wants councillors who represent them, not councillors who represent the council.

      That’s the nub of it.

      We are sick of councillors who gild the lily for policies that make no sense and seldom challenge evidence prepared to support building interests.

  3. Peter Elliott Reply

    August 1, 2020 at 9:47 am

    I agree with Cllr Joss Bigmore that it’s hard to see why Guildford needs another forum when it already has the borough council, the Guildford Vision Group, and The Guildford Society.

    I was shocked, however, to see that he is in favour of the A3 being widened to six lanes through Guildford, as he must surely know that this would unlock all the huge developments in the green belt that he and the R4GV party were elected to prevent.

    Protecting the villages against the crass overdevelopment included in the Conservative Local Plan is what the V in R4GV [Residents for Guildford and Villages] is all about, isn’t it?

    It is beginning to look as if the climate emergency declaration was just an empty gesture.

    • Jules Cranwell Reply

      August 1, 2020 at 1:05 pm

      I have to agree with Peter Elliott. If R4GV fail to challenge and improve the Local Plan they will surely lose the “Vs” at the next election. Very disappointing from them thus far.

      Let’s see them rescind the plan, on the grounds of breach of purdah, and create a Local Plan that residents, not developers want.

      Editor’s comment: Legal opinion was obtained at the time of the Local Plan’s adotion that “purdah” requirements had not been breached.

  4. Frank Phillipson Reply

    August 1, 2020 at 9:24 pm

    It seems that it’s catching. First, the Lib Dem councillor failed to consult with anyone (apart from his leader) and now the Guildford MP makes no attempt to talk to the parties involved.

    These are all attempts at political point-scoring.

  5. George Potter Reply

    August 2, 2020 at 1:15 pm

    I find it remarkable that Cllr Spooner claims to have known about plans for this forum for months and yet appears not to have mentioned it to any of the other councillors on Guildford Borough Council.

    Indeed, it’s almost as remarkable as an MP deciding to set up a forum to participate in the borough council’s regeneration plan without talking to the council first. On the other hand, however, perhaps setting up this forum explains why she’s been too busy to answer correspondence from constituents for the past several months.

    As for Cllr Spooner’s complaint that there are no Conservative councillors on the GERP board, he should bear in mind that:

    a) If we went on the basis of political balance then the official Conservative group (which he no longer sits with) has no more right to representation than GGG does.

    b) Years of the previous Conservative administration’s failure to come up with a plan for the town centre is a big part of why they were so resoundingly punished by the electorate in May last year. I’m not sure why anyone would want to put the architects of years of failure in charge of the next big step forward for our town centre.

    George Potter is a Lib Dem borough councillor for Burpham

  6. Jules Cranwell Reply

    August 2, 2020 at 3:57 pm

    I could not agree more with Cllr Potter on this. Respect.

    We don’t need Westminister to tell us how to manage our town.

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