Three ways David Cameron has played a good hand badly on Europe.
Let’s suspend any notion of whether I am for Brexit or against it. The debate is turning into more of Civil War (or perhaps an uncivil war of words) every passing day in the run up to the referendum on 23rd June.
- When Mr Cameron came back from Europe with the (best we can do) deal, he was attacked by Brexiters for the notion that Europe would simply not be bound by it and would refuse to endorse it. Mr Cameron could have lanced the boil in his normal statesmanlike way (suspended for much of the Brexit argument along with collective cabinet responsibility on Europe) by offering Britain a second vote if the EU nations failed to endorse it and failed to introduce a meaningful programme of democratising reforms.
- When Mr Cameron sat in front of his divided cabinet, the right answer was not to give access to data to one side and deny access to civil servants to the other. Mr Cameron should have demanded (probably many months previously) that each side come up with their plans for the country post referendum. We need a plan for Brexit and a plan for Remain. If we Brexit, we need the country to continue to trade and to grow. We need to be ready on day 1 post Brexit and to implicitly have the nation’s backing to a plan. Equally, we need a plan to Remain – how do we bring our nation back together after a bitter war of words (it would have been naïve to assume we would simply agree to disagree, and to debate quietly).
- Finally, Mr Cameron is wrong to countenance inviting the world’s leaders and institutions to make emphasis ones knee-jerk (and rather self-serving) speeches on behalf of the Remain campaign. The damage that will be done by pejorative interference in the UK’s democratic processes may never be fully repaired. The effect on the collective reputations of Mr Cameron, Mr Osborne and other evangelists for the status quo could be fatally toxic, and the uncertainty in the UK may be equally bad whether we stay or go. That is all down to the way the Prime Minister’s hand has been played.
Meanwhile, bad data, negative arguments and undemocratic interference all combine to undermine Britain. We will slide as a world power because of the way we are handling this debate and referendum. When there is so little good, real information what does a result one way or the other actually mean? Does a Brexit vote mean we really want out or that we are annoyed by the Remain camp’s tactics? Does a Remain vote mean we really want to stay or that we are terrified we will not be able to trade with the US?
At the time of writing this there are just under 9 weeks to go before we reshape our future one way or another. We know little about the consequences of a vote either way. We cannot expect more of the same if we stay or if we go. We do not know whom to trust. We may toss a coin on the day to decide heart versus head. That is no ringing endorsement for the way the Prime Minister has led us, but neither does it reflect well on Boris Johnson And other Brexiters whose rhetoric has been largely unhelpful to constructive debate.
For voters like me, we are torn between tying ourselves to a table in the dining room on the Titanic and throwing ourselves into the icy water in the Arctic darkness.
You know things are getting out of hand when the political debate becomes personal; when people start to challenge the personal standing of the Lead Member for Planning instead of trying to put forward a valid argument.
As we progress laboriously through the Local Plan process, some people are so annoyed with potential development solutions that they have taken to vitriol and aggression in lieu of reasoned arguments.
I have no great desire to see the extent of development proposed in our town and borough of Guildford but neither do I want to see metaphorical-manure-flinging defences of the Green Belt as if that were the only issue.
Stack the buildings high in the town ‘so that we can continue to enjoy our protected environment in the countryside’.
The problem seems to be that the sequence of publication of documents for consultation and the spectre in print of some rolling back of the green belt has been enough to generate loads of ‘Save the…’ groups campaigning for a do-nothing-very-much strategy.
I am not enthusiastic for rolling back Green Belt; neither am I fundamentally opposed.
The key to this difficult process is GOOD INFORMATION leading to GOOD DECISION-MAKING.
I lament the poor quality of some of the data and feel sure that with an overlay of greater detail, the Local Plan process could actually be a cathartic experience. As it is, there is no doubt we will be at war amongst different parts of the community at least until the moment a new Local Plan is in place.
Come on one and all, let’s get the debate to an altogether higher level and collectively help to improve the evidence base. That way we are more likely to have a town and borough we can be proud of and which allows our children and their children to expect to be able to live here to share in that pride.
It is very often the case that we all have some idea of what needs to be done to fix urban issues but we have been schooled in the art of the possible – limited by what we know and affected by what we fear.
Masterplanning is the once-in-a-generation re imagining of the urban space to make the impossible seem possible and the possible achievable.
All it takes (and it is not exactly a small thing) is vision… Oh yes, and a wedge of cash!
But when it starts, a whole new energy is created and the community is able to come together to agree, disagree, put forward ideas, comment on others’ brainwaves, consider a few hairbrained scheme and put it all together in the glaring light of publicity to arrive at a democratically accountable masterplan with a vision, a clear set of priorities and an outline of the steps to make it deliverable.
What is clear is that towns and cities such as St Albans and Stratford upon Avon are already beginning to benefit from their masterplanning process and that towns like Guildford, with its traffic congestion and disconnected spaces and infrastructure, are starting to recognise that a masterplan could deliver solutions.
Guildford Vision Group is pressing the Local Authority to embrace a masterplanning exercise and have had excellent advice and support from Allies & Morrison who are holding a drop-in workshop at St Marys church in Quarry Street, off the High Street, from 11.00am to 1.00pm on Saturday 29th September at which everyone is welcome.
Allies & Morrison were responsible for masterplanning the Olympic Park and we all know how well that worked out. What we should all understand from that exercise is that masterplanning is not only worthwhile, it is also essential.
In 1946 the far sighted Councillors of Guildford’s Municipal Council set up a Municipal orchestra. Those who were experiencing post-war rationing and hardship were able to enjoy some community cohesion and were able to enjoy the classical music played by professional musicians.
By the time I was attending concerts with my parents in the mid to late 1960’s the orchestra was fêted across the country as a top division professional orchestra and at the time Guildford Council directly employed the musicians and the phenomenal conductor and musician Vernon (or ‘Tod’) Handley was making a name for himself and for Guildford at the cutting edge of English music. The modern programmes were not always the crowd-pullers that would have underlined the success of the orchestra, but hundreds if not thousands of young people were inspired through his Proteus Choir to perform at a remarkably high level – in the process learning about teamwork, camaraderie, musicianship and a great love for English song.
The model of employed musicians was under strain for a long time before the retained conductor position was removed (Sir Charles Groves being one of the last holders of the post) and with it the in house musicians. Continue reading 20120923 So what if we lose our orchestra?
Retail-led Regeneration of Guildford?
Locals question the thinking behind Guildford’s retail plans
The new National Planning Policy Framework of April 2012, and the Localism Act of 2011, should encourage local Councils to fully engage with knowledgeable and interested local residents.
Apparently this is not the case in Guildford. A single-issue campaign group is calling for a properly established, professional masterplanning process. The Guildford Vision Group (GVG) was formed in March 2012 by, among others, John Rigg (Director of Savills Commercial) and Gerald Bland (former property partner of Herbert Smith) in response to a poor plan for Guildford, a thinly-disguised prospectus for the sale of a number of Council-owned properties.
GVG has been trying hard to engage with Guildford Borough Council (GBC) who can easily afford a proper professional master plan which should more than pay for itself. GBC makes (£6m per year from its car parking and the cost of a comprehensive masterplanning process is likely to be between £500,000 and £1 million – a few weeks of revenue. Continue reading 20120914 PropertyWeek Opinion Piece
On 12th July I submitted an objection to the Waitrose Planning Application in Guildford.
Basically, my objections are summarised as:
- The main thrust of my objection surrounds the impact of the development on the traffic system in Central Guildford and a failure to take into account other proposed developments set out in the Draft Guildford Town Centre Masterplan.
- I also object to the inappropriate choice of site for a supermarket, notwithstanding the oblique references in the Bellerby Theatre Planning Brief to a supermarket use being acceptable, including the loss of a logical town centre residential site and non-compliance with the Local Plan 2003.
- The application and decision is premature pending adoption of a properly constituted and engaged Town Centre Plan formulated in accordance with Clause 12 of the National Planning policy Framework.
- I believe the design is inappropriate in scale, character and materials when compared to the surrounding period housing and will also have an adverse impact on the street scene from York Road.
- Finally, I believe the application should be exposed to an independent planning inspector due to the perceived potential or actual conflicts of interest between the Council as vendor and its role as planning authority; and between, the council’s strategic retail consultants (Cushman & Wakefield) role in advising on the allocation of sites, their role as agents for the Council and their close agency relationship with The John Lewis Partnership.
The full explanation of my objections is in the document linked above.
To view the planning application please click here.