Fringe Box



The Dragon Says: Guildford Plans Need All Sides to Compromise

Published on: 18 Mar, 2013
Updated on: 19 Mar, 2013

Dragon Roar Still 470So the plans to build Waitrose may face two judicial reviews and many residents, especially parents with young children, remain fed up with the announced intention to close the York Road underpass.

Some who were looking forward to the redevelopment of the Bellerby Theatre site are angry with delays to progress, others appear glad that a plan, that they feel is critically flawed, may yet be thwarted.

There is no doubt that it is impossible for the council to keep everyone happy. That’s fairly normal, especially when it comes to planning. So what should we all do now?

Opinion Logo 2In democracies majority views should apply. But what is the majority view? All groups will claim to represent the views of many residents but how many exactly? The truth is nobody knows.

Some feel that in such circumstances strong leadership is required to force through the necessary and beneficial changes. But who is to say what is necessary and beneficial? The danger is that proposed changes might, in fact, only have the support of the few.

Some councillors and some citizens feel that the councillors should decide. They have, after all, been properly elected. This is true. And even if, given our first past the post system and low turnouts at local elections, the number of voters that elected them is only a small percentage of their constituents it is, like it or not, our current process for local democracy.

But those of us who vote do so to elect councillors to represent us, not dictate to us. They must always have their ear to the ground, assessing the views of their constituents and determining what are the prevalent views in their wards. This is not a straightforward task but vital.

They should also, if democracy is to really mean anything, represent that majority view when they speak for their constituents and in the way they vote. They should not represent their personal view, they have no superior wisdom, nor should they simply follow a party line (something, to his credit, council leader Stephen Mansbridge has said he would not enforce on planning matters).

And what of other groups? Residents Associations, although they have no statutory standing, normally do elect their committees and are consulted and kept informed by the council. But the elections are normally very limited and it would be impossible for them to claim to accurately represent a majority view.

The Guildford Society has a proud track record of successfully protecting some old buildings in Guildford, our town, where so many were unnecessarily lost, and anyone who witnessed their latest design awards knows that they have an eye to the future, as well as the past. But they are a society made up mainly, as they admit, of older citizens.

The Guildford Society’s off shoot, the Guildford Vision Group, are criticised by some who ask, “Who elected them?” It is a fair question because the answer is no one. Nonetheless, it is likely that they do represent the views of a considerable number of people and their commitment can hardly be doubted. The Vision Group’s insistence on the need for tackling the traffic problem first and the requirement for a masterplan is a view that has been supported in several public consultations.

The use of the courts and the law to stymie government decisions (at a national and local level) is fashionable. Sometimes it is justifiable, where for instance a proper procedure has not been followed. The GVG did the town a service when they stopped apparently flawed planning documents (the Guildford Interim Town Centre Framework (ITCF) and the North Street Design and Development Brief Plan) proceeding by obtaining expert legal opinion. A mistake, despite some cost to the taxpayer, the council has never properly admitted.

However, judges are no more elected than members of the Vision Group and courts should not be used as an pseudo upper political house, accessible only to those with sufficient resource. The Waitrose decision was properly debated, there had been public consultation and the Secretary of State had concluded that he did not need to intervene.

The Guildford Vision Group should have been more mindful of the need to compromise in some areas and resisted any instinct to put a spoke in the wheel, just because they could, however strongly they feel. They risk losing considerable support and goodwill.

Meanwhile Hermes, the other judicial review applicants who own the Friary Centre, appear to have been motivated more from frustration at being excluded from the North Street development project. If this is the case, it is not an alturistic reason to hold up progress.

So, once again, what should be done now?

The council should defend their position on the Waitrose decision. The area has been blighted long enough and even if, in the view of some, the new Waitrose will not be an architectural asset, it will be a useful resource in a town centre where food shopping is limited. Perhaps GVG should consider withdrawing their application?

In any case, the council must be magnanimous and maintain open communication channels with all the parties interested in the future plans for Guildford. They must assess, as best they can, how much public support each view has. There is nothing to be gained by an isolationist approach, however aggrieved they might feel at the further delay.

In fact, it is time we all heard more about the the talks they have had with the short-listed North Street developers. They have been described as ‘exciting’ but it is hard for the rest of us to share the excitement or be enthusiastic when we are kept in the dark.

Finally, and most importantly, we must all accept that no one person or organisation, including the council, has the monopoly on wisdom. No one view or opinion is 100% right or wrong on such things. Much is a matter of taste. We will all need to compromise.

For one thing is for certain, no one will get exactly what they want so the council needs to ensure that they fully engage with the people of Guildford and really understand what most people want. A difficult task, no doubt, but the only way to proceed democratically.

Oh, and I nearly forgot, if most people around York Road and the parents with children at Sandfield School want their underpass to stay open is it really beyond planning experts capabilities to find a way of doing so? Surely not.

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Responses to The Dragon Says: Guildford Plans Need All Sides to Compromise

  1. David Smith Reply

    March 19, 2013 at 1:53 pm

    Thank you for the story Guildford Dragon.

    A great attempt to empathise with all parties.

  2. Pauline Surrey Reply

    March 19, 2013 at 5:32 pm

    Once again, a really good article, Guildford Dragon, thank you!

    And please, please let’s keep the underpass open for the children and parents from Sandfield School!

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