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Opinion: Green Shoots of Openness and Transparency Sprout at Millmead

Published on: 9 Mar, 2021
Updated on: 12 Mar, 2021

Cllr John Redpath

By John Redpath

R4GV borough councillor

Just more than two years ago, a group of residents formed a new political party. Our mission statement to the electorate was to put Guildford’s residents before national party politics and to greatly improve the transparency of the borough council in all its decision-making and operations.

Our concerns were many, the new Local Plan, which ate into the green belt and inset many villages, the waste of £1.6 million on a failed design for the Walnut Bridge and the disposal of a community asset, Burchatt’s Farm Barn, with the threat to another, West Lodge, at Chilworth Gunpowder Mills.

These, together with the sacking of the Surrey Archaeological Society, from their more than 100-year tenure at Guildford Museum and the rumours about the Wisley “Garden Village” bid caused us to believe something had gone wrong with the way the borough council was representing its residents.

Unfortunately, just before the May 2019 elections, the Conservative administration, together with the support of some Liberal Democrat councillors, passed the Local Plan in the purdah period, one week before the borough elections. A succession of judicial reviews could do nothing to change this because, in each case, the Plan was found to be sound.

Those May 2019 elections proved a watershed. Of the 17 R4GV candidates 15 were elected, reinforcing our view that Guildford voters also knew something was wrong. The new blood would find out why.

By October 2020, R4GV had quickly learnt how to negotiate the politics at Millmead and, while not the majority group (now 16-strong, including the Green Party’s Diana Jones), because of the Lib Dem readiness to share power, they were given the leadership of the council for two years. With this, R4GV moved into action.

In the first month of tenure, the KPMG report on the disposal of Burchatt’s Barn was released. Last week, R4GV Cllr John Rigg (Holy Trinity), reported bluntly on his first tough year and why the Major Projects Team must be rebuilt, having inherited missed deadlines and huge budget overruns.

R4GV Cllr Deborah Seabrook (Merrow), in her role on the Corporate Governance & Scrutiny Committee, made officers and the leadership aware of her concerns about the Right-to-Buy return of £2.7 million to central government. Very likely, this spurred the chair of that committee, Cllr Nigel Manning (Con, Ash Vale) to make that public even though, by his own admission, he had known about it since July last year.

Why had this been kept a secret? Could it have been because more than half the money that had to be repaid was due to a lack of delivery of social housing during the previous administration?

Soon, we should be seeing another report on Burchatt’s Barn as well as one on how and why GBC bid for funding from the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government to help pay for the Wisley development project.

As we said, before the election, R4GV pledged to improve openness and transparency at Millmead. So, after only five months leading the council, R4GV is opening the curtains, true to our promise.

We haven’t forgotten why residents voted for us.

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