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Planning Committee Rejects Tory Bid for Full Council Consideration of North Street Plan

Published on: 4 Jan, 2023
Updated on: 5 Jan, 2023

Aerial view of the North Street regeneration site.

By Martin Giles

A motion demanding that the North Street application goes before the full borough council was rejected overwhelmingly at this evening’s Planning Committee meeting at Guildford Borough Council.

Cllr Paul Spooner

The motion was proposed by the leader of the Conservative group at GBC, Paul Spooner, (South Ash & Tongham) and seconded by his Conservative colleague David Bilbe (Normandy), substituting for Cllr Marsha Moseley (Ash Vale), a former Planning Committee chair.

See also: Tory Leader Makes Bid for North Street Plan to Go Before the Full Borough Council

Introducing his motion Cllr Spooner referred to an instance ten years ago when a motion for a 450-unit scheme in Ash was referred to full council “for exactly the same reason,” he said.

“This is a very important application for the borough and is certainly a very important application for the town. We have many members who are not on this committee, who clearly are expressing opinion…

“It seemed sensible to me to give everyone an opportunity by bringing this forward for determination at full council. So it’s as simple as that. I do believe that every member should have an opportunity on an application such as this, which is so important to the future of Guilford and to the direction of the town.”

Cllr David Bilbe

Cllr Bilbe seconding added: “This is a popular debate, meaning that many people would wish to comment about this application. …this is a highly unusual one because it is right in the town centre. It is prominent. It attracts a lot of attention. We all know that.

“So I would endorse this motion in the spirit of openness, transparency and allowing people to have voice in a democratic environment.”

Responding, the chair of the planning committee, Cllr Fiona White (Lib Dem, Westborough) said she was going to speak on behalf of the whole committee.

She said that councils have planning committees because councillors were needed who had received appropriate training and had a certain level of expertise in planning issues, who are able to look at applications particularly difficult applications in detail.

Cllr Fiona White

Cllr White continued: “If this application was to be referred to full council there are a number of members who have either not done any planning training at all, or have done such limited training, and so long ago, that they would certainly need a refresher course.

“There are also members of this council who, for very good reason, may well have made comments that have predetermined their decision… and therefore that means that they could not take part in the debate.

“I hope that members of this planning committee will recognise that we are here we have a responsibility to actually decide some of these more contentious matters. We are the councillors who have the experience and the training to be able to look at the application in detail and to make those decisions.”

Members from all the non-Conservative parties echoed the chair’s remarks so the vote was only a formality with only the three Conservatives supporting the motion and the remaining 12 committee members: 5 Liberal Democrats; 5 Residents for Guildford & Villages; 1 Guildford Greenbelt Group member and 1 Labour, all voting against.

Whether this indicates that it will be equally plain sailing for those in favour of the scheme next week on Wednesday (January 11), when the application is considered, remains to be seen. There is clearly considerable disquiet in the community but there is also support.

See also: Guildford North Street Plans Recommended for Approval

Comments submitted on the application show a roughly 50-50 split but there has been no extensive polling of public opinion.

See: Single Vote Decides Debenhams Plan Following Wide-ranging Debate

Cllr John Rigg

The Lib Dems came close to defeating the Debenhams proposal and,  with five committee votes, their positioning will be again be crucial. Planning decisions are supposed to be apolitical but often political allegiances can be discerned.

Cllr Rigg was said to be very disappointed with the lack of support from his party’s coalition partners, the Lib Dems, for the Debenhams proposal.

Chris Blow (R4GV, Shalford) the father of Robin Horsley who has started a campaign against the North Street scheme, is said, as a result, to have recused himself from the January 11 Planning Committee meeting at which the decision on North Street had been expected. But he did take a full part in this evening’s meeting.

Robin Horsley

Robin Horsley who has started a campaign for the scheme to be delayed and considered further, responded to news of the council’s decision to press ahead saying: “This decision by the council reflects very badly on them. Essentially they have disenfranchised a large percentage of the residents of the borough.

“This scheme affects everyone in the borough and therefore they should all be fully represented by their elected councillors. To suggest that some councillors hadn’t done a necessary training course for planning, as the chair and others said, was to miss the point.

“Pause the proposal and get the training… simple.”

See: Councillor’s Son Starts Campaign for More Consultation on North Street Plan and There Has Not Been a More Comprehensive Consultation in the History of the Borough

See also: Debenhams Plan – the Whole Character of Our Town is at Stake
Cllr Paul Spooner refuses to communicate with The Guildford Dragon NEWS.

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Responses to Planning Committee Rejects Tory Bid for Full Council Consideration of North Street Plan

  1. Peter Mills Reply

    January 6, 2023 at 9:26 am

    “….councillors were needed who had received appropriate training and had a certain level of expertise in planning issues….”

    Does the electorate of Guildford have training in how to select councillors?

    Does the electorate of the UK have training in how to determine whether we are better in or out of Europe?

  2. David Smith Reply

    January 6, 2023 at 4:00 pm

    I think there is quite a bit of training still required for those on the current Planning Committee, with some councillors more experienced than others.

    As a minimum, committee members should be able to provide reasoned arguments if they are looking to refuse an application against a planning officer’s recommendation by citing relevant policy and understanding what that policy means.

    They should also be able to read plans and understand them.

    Also, I do not feel it’s right that councillors can abstain from making a decision as I keep seeing – this to me shows either they don’t understand the application in front of them or they don’t want to be accountable if a controversial application is before them.

    It would be interesting to know the percentage of cases refused by GBC’s Planning Committee, against officers’ recommendations, how many of these were successful at appeal, and how much this has cost the tax payer.

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