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Lib Dems ‘Stunned’ By Head of Planning’s Sudden Departure from Borough Council

Published on: 19 Jul, 2014
Updated on: 22 Jul, 2014
Carol Humphrey and Cllr Monika Juneja side by side at the Opening of the Local Plan shop in Swan Lane  October 2013.

Former GBC head of planning Carol Humphrey (left) and Cllr Monika Juneja, side by side at the opening of the Local Plan ‘shop’ in Swan Lane, October 2013.

Liberal Democrat councillors at Guildford Borough Council (GBC) say that they were “stunned” to hear that the head of planning Carol Humphrey had suddenly left her post yesterday (July 17). They are now questioning what the impact will be on the Local Plan process.

Ms Humphrey is understood to have decided to quit following the commencement of a fundamental service review of planning services, conducted by independent consultants called in by the Executive led by Stephen Mansbridge and approved by one of the council’s scrutiny committees.

In a statement,  group leader Cllr Caroline Reeves (Friary & St Nicolas) said: “The Liberal Democrat group was stunned to receive a brief email at midday yesterday notifying councillors of Carol Humphrey’s sudden departure. Those of us who have sat on the planning committee knew her as well-liked officer whose professional advice and guidance was greatly respected and appreciated.

“We are very concerned that her departure comes at such a crucial time during the Local Plan process and as group leader I shall be asking the leader of the council for a very clear indication of how the Local Plan process will continue.

“Given the current uncertain circumstances of the lead member for planning and the need for clarity throughout the Local Plan consultation, we appear to be facing a time of chaos just when crucial decision making and leadership is needed.”

Ms Humphrey’s unexpected and sudden departure was announced in an email sent to all councillors and senior council officers by the managing director, Sue Sturgeon.

Cllr Monika Juneja, lead councillor for planning said last night that she had no comment. The council leader Stephen Mansbridge and Sue Sturgeon have not yet responded to a request to comment.

A GBC spokesperson said: “Yes, we can confirm that after 15 years Carol Humphrey has now left the council to pursue other personal and career opportunities.  We wish her every future success.”

Planning has become a controversial and emotive subject in Guildford during the formulation of a Local Plan and tensions between some councillors and the planning department have been known to exist for some time.

Criticism of GBC’s planning department has also been heard in comments from those campaigning for preservation of the green belt who have criticised both councillors and council officers.

In October 2013, council leader Stephen Mansbridge made, what some observers felt to be, a half hearted apology after criticising planning officers in a public meeting to discuss plans for Ash and Tongham, in or near the leader’s own council ward. Some councillors described it as the worst meeting they had ever attended.

Councillor Mansbridge said at the time: “I would like to inform the council that I have already written to individual officers apologising for my comments at the last council meeting when we were dealing with the planning application for Ash Lodge Drive.

“I realise that I did not pay proper respect to the officers present and I am sorry for the upset and offence that I caused.”

Cllr Goodwin, then the leader of the Lib Dem group, also had to apologise because of personal remarks he made about the council leader. He said: “It made me very angry to see the planning officers mistreated that way.”

It is understood that Ms Humphrey who was present at the stormy September 2013 meeting was one of the council officers who received a written apology from Cllr Mansbridge.

During an Guildford Dragon News interview in November Ms Humphrey was asked: “Council planners seem to be constantly criticised. Do you think it is fair? Is it sometimes based on misconceptions about the planning process?”

She responded: “Planners have a difficult task in balancing all the many requirements of Government as set down in national policy and regulations with the expectations of the local community.  There are often difficult choices to make especially when they impact upon a particular community however we need to make decisions that benefit the entire borough.”

Karen Stevens organiser of the Save Hogs Back group said yesterday evening (July 17): “The news that Carol Humphrey has left Guildford Borough Council has come as a complete surprise.

“I don’t know the circumstances that surround her departure, but given her central role in the local planning process, it will undoubtedly have an impact on the council’s ability to produce a plan in the time-scales it has set out. This is particularly difficult timing as there is currently also uncertainty surrounding the lead councillor for planning.

“Hopefully, this will give the council an opportunity to take a step backward and look again at where we’ve reached in the process. We’ve had an issues and options consultation, but it is apparent that any input into the debate by the public has largely fallen on deaf ears. This is particularly surprising given the strength of feeling among residents and the strength of planning arguments being tabled.

“Despite the pressure that the council has been placing on itself to push through the Local Plan – the argument of planning by appeal doesn’t appear to ring true (Nick Boles has said that less than 1% of planning applications are overturned on appeal). We need to have a Local Plan that produces a better Guildford, which our residents can buy into and we should use this as an opportunity to reflect on where we are.”

Another green belt campaigner, and former Conservative county councillor, Michael Bruton said: “I have been surprised at the low profile which Ms Humphrey appears to have adopted throughout the Local Plan process. As an observer of GBC  I felt she appeared to have been sidelined.

“I have been surprised at the low profile which Ms Humphrey appears to have adopted throughout the Local Plan process. As an observer of GBC  I felt she appeared to have been sidelined.
“All Officer type decision  making seems to be in the hands of Flo Churchill who I gather is an external consultant.”

It is understood that Ms Churchill remains continues to be employed by GBC.


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Responses to Lib Dems ‘Stunned’ By Head of Planning’s Sudden Departure from Borough Council

  1. Jim Allen Reply

    July 17, 2014 at 9:14 pm

    No surprise to me.

    All the current planning documents presented to our elected representatives were presumably signed off by her. So, if there are any faults in the documents, presumably it is her responsibility.

  2. Jules Cranwell Reply

    July 18, 2014 at 2:48 pm

    This just goes to show what a mess GBC is in over the Local Plan process. Even the head of planning has had to quit due to the overbearing attitude of the Executive.

    They have not listened to the public’s concerns, or their own scrutiny committee, and it now becomes clear that they have not listened to their own planning department. Instead they have ordered them to obey their demands for indefensible housing targets and destruction of the green belt.

    Small wonder Ms. Humphrey has found it impossible to continue, under such pressure. Being forced to defend such a flawed plan must surely have taken its toll.

    Those wanting this to change should join GGG at:

    And sign/return the petition available from the site.

    • Jim Allen Reply

      July 18, 2014 at 5:10 pm

      I don’t think Mr Cranwell understands, it is the council officers who have prepared and contracted out the writing of the documents which have been presented to the population, via the elected representatives.

      The dreaded SHMA (Strategic Housing Market Assessment) is a document written by a council officer. It did not come from the Executive; they only presented a document signed off by the senior officer.

      The awful green belt assessment was done before the current executive were in power, if I remember correctly, and held back by the officers.

      The Executive and all the councillors are caught between a rock and a hard place. They have to take the documents and the numbers therein put before them by the ‘professionals’ or ignore the professionals and follow the electorate and then be found wanting at the later stages of the plan by other professionals. This is what has happened in Waverley.

      So I would agree that the plan is in a bit of a mess, it contains many paragraphs which cause people concern, but that is the fault of the document’s authors, not those presenting it.

      There is a saying – don’t shoot the messenger. I think Mr Cranwell should consider this.

  3. Ben Paton Reply

    July 19, 2014 at 12:45 am

    The production of a new local plan has been a shambles:
    – the process apparently only started after the date by which it should have ended
    the preparatory documents were not produced and necessary decisions not taken before the draft plan was issued
    many of the required studies will not now be completed prior to the public consultation. (So how can the public form an opinion on documents which they will not see in time to comment?)
    – some of the sites appear to have been included because they were zealously promoted by private developers instead of on the basis of a disinterested analysis of the planning merits
    – changes were still being made to the draft right up to the date the council approved it
    new ‘Topic’ papers have come out subsequently – still more bumpff for the public to wade through
    – public consultation? Parish Councils have been ignored.
    – consultants with zero local knowledge have been brought in to do top down studies rather than seek bottom up input from local democratic institutions.
    – responses to the Issues and Options document have not been properly taken into account.

    It looks like they wanted to put the roof on the house before the walls were built. And they don’t seem to have agreed on how big the house was going to be before they started digging.

    Who is responsible? We may never know. They all blame each other and especially central government which is conveniently not present to defend itself.

    Professional? Well organised and well presented? Reasoned and logical? Clear and succinct? Supported by relevant facts?

    Have the civil servants given clear guidance on planning law?

    Has the council upheld the principles in its Code of Conduct? Have the politicians wanted to pursue a ‘growth agenda’ despite the planning constraints?

    Isn’t it about time the council lived up to the fine principles in its Code of Conduct – like ‘openness’ and ‘accountability’?

    Yes, of course. That’s why everyone should sign the petition to have a referendum on the way the council is run.

  4. Martin Elliott Reply

    July 19, 2014 at 1:27 pm

    “Given the current uncertain circumstances of the lead member for planning and the need for clarity throughout the Local Plan consultation, we appear to be facing a time of chaos……..”

    With Cllr Juneja refusing to comment on the situation, the pressure is surely on her to take a sabbatical until her circumstances are certain.

  5. Dotty Hinkle Reply

    July 20, 2014 at 12:46 am

    Perhaps after 15 years in the role Guildford is due a change and fresh perspective.

    I mean compared to other comparable places what have we seen in the town in the last 15 years?

    Time to get building again and get started on some of this greenbelt.

    • Jim Allen Reply

      July 22, 2014 at 3:22 pm

      By “getting started on the green belt” one must presume you mean picking the flowers, wondering at the bird song and pruning some dead wood; much the same as GBC planning has just done. Because in the past two years while some have been screaming for affordable homes – these very same people in planning department have supported the approval of 17 new homes in Burpham of the “Country Life style”.

      The first five have come on the market a cost each of a cool £1.15 million but it has not put some buyers off, three have already been sold.

      So lets get real: building on the green belt is not going to solve the problem of high house prices. Increased pollution, traffic congestion, crammed car parks is what we will get instead. Soon when you go shopping you will have to schedule your car parking space at the shops just so you can park. Now there’s an idea…

  6. Bernard Parke Reply

    July 22, 2014 at 5:31 pm

    We are but trustees of the green belt which has been handed down to us to.

    It is our duty to hand it on to our children and our children’s children, pure and unsullied.

  7. Pete knight Reply

    July 23, 2014 at 3:26 pm


    I’m not sure we are trustees of the green belt – in fact most of it is privately owned, for example Gosden Hill in Burpham is owned by Martin Grant Homes.

    Secondly – do we not have a duty to provide our children with homes? Or are you happy to see them priced out the market as no new properties are built?


    I think you’re completely missing the point – the houses in Orchard Road are expensive and have broken all ceiling prices for Burpham – when speaking to one of the agents stating “that’s a lot for Burpham” they agreed and said “it’s because nothing else is available”

    Can you really not recognise that these high prices have come about from an acute shortage of new homes being built? I don’t live in Burpham but I would rather have an alternative type of development that doesn’t see my immediate surroundings completely built over. The 17 homes approved in Burpham are just the start of it and developers are already eyeing up land at London Road and New Inn Lane for further infill. This will keep happening until we all look out our bedroom windows directly into another house and why – to protect some farmland adjacent to the A3 (in both cases Gosden Hill and Blackwell Farm) which has no landscape value at all?

    Can the Guildford Greenbelt pressure group start consulting people before again adopting Guildford in their name (when they don’t represent me or anyone else I know) and start to explain the options – namely protect the green belt but destroy our existing settlements by allowing aggressive garden grabbing?

  8. Jim Allen Reply

    July 25, 2014 at 1:42 am

    I think Pete Knight is missing the point.

    I don’t drive a rolls Royce because I cannot afford one. I set my budget on what I can afford and then search for what is available. Not hanker for the impossible and what I cannot afford.

    If we build on Gosden Hill Farm, a working farm, and not in the inset villages perhaps he could explain where our food is going to come from? It has to be produced somewhere before it gets to the supermarket.

    Far better the people who need housing should move to where the empty houses lays waiting for them in the North and that jobs are created for them there. It makes no sense to create jobs in Guildford where there is little unemployment and bring more people into the area.

    Just where would Mr Knight put the additional 9000+ vehicles, including 300 LGVs planned for Clay Lane Bridge per day – if the plans go ahead as drafted.

    Why should Burpham be the dumping ground for new homes? We took over 1500 in the 1980s & 90s. Now we are expected to take another 2000 more. Come on, gives us a break.

  9. Jules Cranwell Reply

    July 25, 2014 at 9:41 am

    For once I find myself agreeing with Jim Allen on something. It makes far more sense to invest in jobs in the North, South-West etc, so jobs can be created there, rather than making the South-East even more attractive to southerly migration, as this daft local plans proposes.

  10. Michael Bruton Reply

    July 25, 2014 at 9:39 pm

    Nothing surprises me about the latest shenanigans involving Guildford Borough Council (GBC) – namely the sudden departure of Carol Humphrey. None of the normal tributes from those at Millmead who normally rush to the press. Just silence. “You could not make it up” is an appropriate description of the Tory shambles at Millmead. The good thing is that may hasten the end of Tory control in May 2015.

    But looking back, first we had the “redundancy” of the previous chief executive who had months off, left with a massive [£160,000] pay-off and had done, apparently, nothing wrong. Then (or was it just before?) the so called redundancy of the HR director who had complained that the chief executive had done something wrong.

    Redundancy takes place when the requirement for work disappears/diminishes. But hey presto, Sue Sturgeon then emerges as managing director in a job that looks very similar to the job held by the previous chief executive. So much for “redundancy”. But this is the public sector where our money is no object.

    GBC spent £50k with an outside consultant on putting the new management structure together. Many of us could have done it for free. Now, I believe, it is going to spend another reported £50k on working out why much of what it did a couple of years ago did not work.

    Money for old rope. GBC spends mega on consultants. You would think it might have employees capable of actually doing most things themselves. After all it employs 20 people on more than £50k per annum.

    I gather that GBC will spend up to £2,000,000 on producing its Local Plan. Again more consultants. Ben Paton’s letter above describes the omnishambles well. As an observer of GBC in action, no wonder Mr Mansbridge seems to appear ever more irritable in council meetings.

    The Lib Dems have at last got out from under Tory coat-tails. The Tories are well split – many fear that they will lose their rural, and some town, seats in the borough council elections in May 2015.

    It will not take too much then to end the Tory fiefdom. The great beneficiaries of such changes will be we electors. The great losers will be developers who are salivating over Tory intentions towards the green belt. I will not cry for the latter but I will raise a toast to the former.

  11. Keith Parkins Reply

    July 26, 2014 at 7:37 pm

    Were the head of planning at Rushmoor to suddenly depart, there would be dancing in the streets.

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