Fringe Box



The Dragon Says: Is It Payback Time for the Lib Dems?

Published on: 21 May, 2023
Updated on: 23 May, 2023

The Battle for Guildford video certainly made an impact in the recent election. Views differ on how much and it might never be measurable but R4GV (Residents for Guildford and Villages) candidates reported it being mentioned frequently on the doorstep.

It is likely the video, with its recommendation not to vote R4GV, cost them seats and gave some to the Lib Dems; enough, just, to take control. And now, the video’s creator, Robin Horsley, the one-man, single-issue campaigner, is expecting payback.

This puts the Lib Dems in an invidious position and it will be difficult for them to deflect blame from now on. Even the legacy of the last four years was 50 per cent their responsibility.

Given the prominence of the subject in the election, many might be asking what is going to happen next about North Street?

Unlike Horsley, it is clear that planning is not the Lib Dems’ favourite subject nor their top priority. Their leader said NHS services and the Cost of Living Crisis were the issues being raised on the doorstep during the election campaign; surer ground for her, but what can a borough council do about those?

Cllr Tom Hunt

Meanwhile, email correspondence between Horsley and Cllr Tom Hunt (Lib Dem, St Nicolas) sent to The Dragon, shows that Horsley continues with unrealistic expectations.

He does not seem to want to hear the rational assessment of the situation, however sad, laid out by Hunt, who held the Development Management portfolio on the GBC Executive in recent years.

The campaigner wrote to Hunt: “I would have thought that to defend an appeal you need to be committed to that result, not capitulate before such an eventuality occurs.”

He goes on to seemingly demand Hunt’s resignation: “I understand you were supportive of the (North Street) scheme. So it would hardly seem appropriate for you to be involved in defending an appeal – a clear conflict.”

Then, presuming to know what the voters of Guildford want, he says: “The electorate will want to be sure, therefore, that whoever becomes the lead member for DM [Development Management] is not a supporter of the scheme…”.

The Lib Dem group at Millmead must feel that it is on a hiding to nothing with Mr Horsley. Realistically, as Cllr Hunt has tried to patiently explain, either a second application or an appeal (costly for the council to fight), is likely to succeed. This has been obvious to those more familiar with the planning process, who have been following this unhappy saga for some time.

In fact, the course was set when GBC failed to include an enforceable height limit in their Local Plan, a lamentable lapse for which all parties share some responsibility – with the notable exception of the Guildford Greenbelt Group.

But once the inevitable happens, Horsley and some Lib Dem voters might say: “But we thought you were going to stop it!” and declare open season for criticism and even more campaign videos.

Perhaps the Lib Dems, rather than meeting with Horsley to swap information, as one of their senior councillors did, should have distanced themselves and stuck to the truth; that by the time of the election there was little any party could do about North Street Planning.

Michael Gove MP

If the Lib Dems fail him perhaps Horsley will turn back to the Tories hoping that the scheme can be scotched by housing minister Michael Gove.

Gove might calculate that politically it is in the Conservatives’ interest to call in and block the scheme and come to the rescue of the traditionalists, for whom high blocks of flats should not be the future for Guildford.

This could win back some support for local Tories perhaps and help out his former PPS Angela Richardson, our MP, when it comes to the next general election – but it would look a bit odd for the normally pro-development Tories to get all Nimby.

As we all know, the Conservatives receive significant funding from the building industry. Gove himself has been criticised for receiving donations from developers, one who had a registered address in Chertsey Street, Guildford. Why would they make these donations without expecting something in return?

See: Local MPs’ Declared Outside Interests

Of course, North Street, and planning generally are not the only daunting challenges to face the new administration. Thanks in large part to government cuts, the financial situation is critical. It will be a struggle to maintain services, especially with a workforce that has itself been cut to the bone in order to make ends meet.

No wonder one Conservative councillor commented: “It is a time when it is better to be in opposition.”

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Responses to The Dragon Says: Is It Payback Time for the Lib Dems?

  1. Robin Horsley Reply

    May 21, 2023 at 8:46 pm

    Thanks to The Dragon for bringing this up. I am not sure “payback” is the best way of putting it as such. But the result of the local elections clearly indicates that the people of the borough are not happy with R4GV’s scheme and will therefore expect the GBC to defend any forthcoming appeal on the basis of the eight reasons for refusal that were given.

    The Lib Dems on the Planning Committee all voted against this scheme in January but I gather Tom Hunt was supportive of the scheme and therefore it would seem to be a mistake if he were given the task of defending any appeal by taking on the role of lead member for Development Management when the new Executive roles are announced this week.

    The position of lead member of Development Management carries significant power over the outcome of an appeal. I have sought opinion on the likelihood of an appeal succeeding and the general impression is that the decision of the council is entirely defensible but the outcome cannot be predicted with any certainty.

    As yet the developer has not appealed and has committed to re-designing the scheme with second stair-wells which would realistically mean a new application – the Lib Dems have already stated that any amendments to the scheme would mean a new application would be required – as The Dragon has reported.

    We will have to see how this plays out. I am hopeful that the Lib Dems will robustly represent the clear mandate they have.

    Editor’s response: Reporting a comment does not mean we endorse it. Cllr Tom Hunt (Lib Dem, St Nicolas) in recent correspondence with Robin Horsley wrote: “Applicants can apply to the Planning Inspectorate to make modifications to a scheme which is at appeal. The extent to which the applicant can alter the scheme will be considered by the Planning Inspector against the Wheatcroft Principles. Ultimately, this will be a decision for the Inspectorate (as once appealed, it is their application).

    “However, they are likely to seek GBC’s views on the changes before making a decision. The Inspector must consider if the suggested amendment(s) might prejudice anyone involved in the appeal, or if the amendment would result in impact on people or the environment that has not been properly assessed. Without being aware of the exact nature of the possible amendments, it is impossible to predict the likely outcome.”

    • Daniel Hill Reply

      May 22, 2023 at 5:19 pm

      Robin Hosley’s constant fake news is getting bit boring.

  2. David Roberts Reply

    May 21, 2023 at 9:15 pm

    The Lib Dems are insolently proud of having no planning policy, which is why they won only 3.4 per cent of the vote in the three eastern wards most affected by the housebuilding free-for-all unleashed by the Local Plan. This part of the borough could well decide who wins Guildford at the next general election.

    The new Lib Dem ruling group at Millmead is so lacking in basic expertise that Cllr Hunt has already decided to do whatever planning officers tell him – a case of the tail wagging a very toothless dog.

    On North Street, however, they are probably right. The council should have approved this application as recommended. There are far more important planning issues to worry about and Robin Horsley is merely an attention-seeker who is best ignored.

  3. Jules Cranwell Reply

    May 22, 2023 at 7:01 am

    “Why would they make these donations without expecting something in return?”

    I made the same point concerning the 2019 Tory Leadership, in a formal complaint to GBC. In that case it was about the disproportionate level of hospitality accepted by the three members of the leadership from developers. This during the period the Local Plan was being written.

    The response I received from GBC’s monitoring officer was “No case to answer, as they may have accepred such hospitality in a private capacity.”

    You could not make it up!

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