Category Archives: Letters to Surrey Ad

20140523_Councillor Under Siege

Councillor Juneja not deserving of vitriolic criticism

Letter to Surrey Advertiser (printed 23rd May)

I was dismayed to read on the front page of the Surrey Advertiser (16th May) that Councillor Monika Juneja has been subjected to such personal attacks about her ethnicity and qualifications.  I am also disappointed that some people must feel there is so little merit in their own arguments that they have to resort to smearing the Lead Member for Planning.

In many ways we are incredibly fortunate to have someone of Cllr Juneja’s undoubted ability who is prepared to spend vast amounts of time and energy managing the Local Plan process.  I would rather help inform the debate (the process of which has been substantially enabled by Cllr Juneja’s efforts) than have a competition to see who can deliver the nastiest rhetoric.

In my own efforts to shape the Local Plan (and leading the response for the Guildford Society), I have tried to stick to the evidence, find the facts and track the logic and imperatives that lead us to adopt one particular solution or another.  Of course I have some fairly strong views and they do not necessarily accord with those of Councillors Juneja and Mansbridge.  This (for the most part at least) makes them neither right nor wrong – just opinions.

I have been fortunate enough to sit down with Councillor Juneja – having previously privately wondered (as I might with any Lead Councillor for Planning at this time) whether she was up to the job.  I found that, not only is she competent and capable of delivering a Local Plan, but she is also managing to balance some very tricky topics, and taking the time and trouble to talk to people.  I have no reason, therefore, to doubt her abilities as a Councillor, as a member of the Executive nor in her current role.

I have been critical (guildfordplan.com) of some of the professional judgements made by the Senior Planning Officer but I recognise that she and her staff have also been working incredibly hard and, as shown at the Joint Scrutiny Meeting on Thursday 15th May, they know their way around the documents they have been asked to procure, produce and/or manage.  My criticism is not intended to be personal, nor directed to any individual member of the officer team who were rightfully praised for their efforts on Thursday evening.  It is, however, the case that professionals do occasionally disagree with each other.  It may get pretty hot in the professional kitchen but this should not be interpreted as any attempt to spoil the food.

In her quotes in your front page article, Cllr Juneja noted that many representations were anti-immigration.  I would like to clear up any doubt for myself and for the Guildford Society.  We have not sought to take an anti-immigration stance; rather, we have sought to question the historic and trend statistics that point to potential future international immigration, and consequently housing need.  We wish to ensure the demographic expectations are appropriate and proportionate.  I am very conscious that this might appear to be a position against immigration per se, and I would like to personally assure Councillor Juneja that that would not be a true interpretation.  As noted above, we are trying to drive towards good evidence which, when it comes together, provides a demonstrably sustainable path for growth in the Local Plan, whilst maintaining what we love about the town and Borough of Guildford.

As soon as the Local Plan is released for consultation – and my early reading of it ahead of Thursday’s meeting suggests it is not yet ready – everyone will have their opportunity to tell the Council what they think of any aspect of the Plan.  Councillor Juneja has committed herself to the widest possible consultation (to reach the ‘hard to reach’ people) and has shown herself to be ready to listen.  I strongly hope that, however deeply feelings may run about one aspect or another; one site or another; the debate will be intelligent, well-informed and, above all, courteous – not least to Councillor Juneja, the Senior Planning Officer and her staff.

Let’s Get Together For Guildford

Dear Sir

I read with great interest and some regret the letters in the Surrey Ad (21st February) setting out criticism of Cllr Mansbridge and Guildford Borough Council – however merited the correspondents may feel their comments were.

The job of balancing the forward-looking process of preparing Local Plans with the backward-looking nostalgia that many residents rightly have for the status quo is tough at the best of times.  Never more than now.

Yes, the Local Plan is years late; yes, there has been a dysfunctional sequence in the process (it surely would have been better to have the debate about how many homes, how much growth and what infrastructure improvements were required BEFORE setting out the list of possible sites); yes, the Council is under siege.

It is worth pointing out that:

  • Guildford Vision Group has been advocating a Master Plan for the town which was to be generated through a cathartic process of ‘conversation’ with all stakeholders, facilitated by professional master planners (allowing the Council and Community to engage openly, objectively and fearlessly in a debate about issues and opportunities) – not a NIMBY approach but a pragmatic approach to ensure the town centre can accommodate much development as it reasonably can – based on a consensus of stakeholders;
  • The Guildford Society has set itself an objective target in responding to the Local Plan process to forensically examine the data and not to weigh into site-specific arguments – not a NIMBY approach but an attempt to ensure that the decisions that need to be taken are made on the basis of sound data and comprehensive analysis. (If the data is good and the analysis is clear and defensible, we should be able to help direct our Councillors and officers to arrive at a sustainable, successful Local Plan that lays the foundation for future generations to enjoy living in Guildford as we do);
  • A number of land owners were approached by the Council in the preparation of the Strategic Housing Land Availability Assessment (SHLAA) to see if their sites were available for development; this seems to have triggered development proposals to be brought forward in anticipation of an open door in the Council – which was almost certainly not the intention of the exercise;
  • There is still piecemeal development in the town centre, some of it promoted by the Council and some by private developers.  We urgently need to arrive at a comprehensive plan to allow us to optimise combined development opportunities and resolve long-standing traffic and transport issues;

There really needs to be a positive discussion about Guildford (town and borough) rather than indulge our natural impulses towards negativity and protectivism.  In my view we need a multi-faceted approach.

Guildford Borough Council needs to re-examine the robustness of some of its reports and data – key starting points are methodology and approach to the Green Belt and Countryside Report (GBCS) and the data behind the Strategic Housing Market Assessment (SHMA) – and it should do these from a perspective of both

(A)   establishing how to defend Guildford against premature and inappropriate development proposals that might otherwise seek to use the GBCS and SHMA as a skeleton key to unlock any greenfield site for development – doing so should enable Guildford to rely on some of the protections identified by Nick Boles MP and enshrined in the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) – but only if the reassessment is also done…

(B)   to identify where it might be appropriate for development to take place and under what circumstances – this is what the SHLAA set out to do but it left residents with the impression that all those sites were to be developed.

There are times when (perhaps unnaturally) we have to trust our officers and Councillors to do the right thing.  This is, despite my protestations above, NOT the right time to do so without sanction and controls.

The letters page last week alone demonstrates there is both passion and expertise amongst residents which, if used as a force for good could really help the officers and Councillors.

We really need, therefore, to challenge our Councillors to:

  • raise the shutters that too easily come down in the face of criticism;
  • engage positively with the different parts of the community – thinking along the lines that if we have to develop somewhere, WHY NOT have a lively but informed debate about where this should or should not take place; and
  • trust us all to help arrive at a solution rather than try to conjure up a plan in spite of everyone.

I would personally prefer this to be done almost in the manner of a locally-based public inquiry over a few days with a third party facilitator (there are several mediation firms with experience in planning matters) that would allow voices to be heard, cases to be made and should allow us to stick to a Local Plan timescale.

I could not guarantee that everyone would like the results but it would certainly allow the issues to be debated in an organised and pro-active way. It would allow Officers and Councillors to walk tall again in the knowledge they have opened the shutters to ideas, discussions and debate.

One thing is absolutely certain, however. If we allow the Local Plan to be born out of destructive argument and counter-argument we will all be the poorer as a community and we will probably see unwanted developments slip in through the back door. I know it seems counter-intuitive, but let’s harness the emotion and expertise and work together for Guildford’s future.

Julian D S Lyon
Onslow Village
Guildford

20130316_Sledgehammer to miss a Nut

Onslow CPZ – a sledge-hammer to miss the nut

Oh dear! I fear once again (p2. Surrey Ad 15th March ‘Upset at plans for extension to CPZ’) that we are seeing all of the results of a comprehensive lack of strategic planning, a prevalence of tactical initiatives to treat symptoms, an absence of imagination and a failure to understand the needs and frustrations of residents.  This time it is not about the town centre but the circumstances are all too familiar.

The area was largely developed since the 1930’s (connected to Guildford only by a bridge built before cars and trucks were even invented), and yet Onslow contributes well in excess of £2bn each year to the local economy and houses the major employment and economic drivers in the town (yes, even including the retail area!): the University, Research Park, Hospital and so much more. The only parking strategy that has been applied in the past few decades has been to restrict on-site parking provision for out-of-town businesses and institutions – whilst allowing them to expand enormously – on the assumption that, despite a woeful public transport provision, employees and students would somehow leave their cars at home.  Continue reading 20130316_Sledgehammer to miss a Nut

20120803 Parking Profits not helping ease Congestion

I note by simple calculation from your headline: ‘PROFITS ON PARKING TOP £6m’ (Front page, Surrey Ad 27th July) that the Council does not see fit to invest one to two months of that profit in a proper professional town plan (as called for by the Guildford Vision Group) to overcome the congestion misery that plagues those creating the profit by parking in town and the businesses and retailers who attract them in the first place. This just shows how much more important generating cash is than the long-term well being and prosperity of Guildford (see www.guildfordvisiongroup.com).

120505 Local Democracy

Letter to Surrey Advertiser

Sir

I read with interest the letters of Mr Slade and Alderman Bridger and the comments of our Council Leader (Surrey Ad 4th May) and, having spoken at the Committee meeting to which he referred, I can clarify a few points for your readers.

Peter Slade is absolutely right about the crucial role the Philharmonic (GPO) plays in the image and cultural outreach and vitality of Guildford – so much so that all of the Councillors barring perhaps Cllr Meredith were vocal in support of retaining the GPO in some form and gave unequivocal backing to a requirement for the Chief Executive and lead Councillor Jen Powell to revert back without delay with a clear fact-based recommendation as to the future of the GPO.

Continue reading 120505 Local Democracy

120429 Waitrose

Letter to Surrey Advertiser (unpublished)

Sir

I attended the Waitrose exhibition and I have considered long and hard what I saw and heard and, however much I would love to have Waitrose in Guildford, I simply cannot see why it should be on the Bellerby Theatre site.

As a property professional with almost thirty years of experience, I know that it would be a much better idea to have both John Lewis and Waitrose anchoring the Friary extension and regenerating the area that has been all but set aside for tens of years pending development.  The combination of these two sister stores in a large format could well be the difference between a viable development or not.  Furthermore, the development of a new residential quarter should be capable of generating attractive returns for the Council’s site.

Continue reading 120429 Waitrose

120116 Town Centre Masterplan

Letter to Surrey Advertiser

Sir

I am writing having read your article about the Guildford Society meeting about the Town Masterplan (Surrey Ad 13th Jan).

More than 100 attendees laid into the lack of vision and small-mindedness of the current consultation draft – I urge Guildfordians to express your views by 23rd January – and concerns that decisions are being made just days before the deadline that prejudge (or deliberately discount) the responses that may be received.

Three councillors from Ash, two from Clandon, a couple more rural councillors and a token member from a town ward make up an executive who seem to believe they do not need to hear the results of a public consultation before committing yet more of our money on flawed consultancy briefs.

Continue reading 120116 Town Centre Masterplan

111207 Bus Station

Letter to Surrey Advertiser

Sir

I have read with interest the correspondence in your pages regarding the proposed bus station relocation.  I have also received a copy of the draft Town Centre Plan.

Cushman & Wakefield’s Town Centre Development Study (March 2010) noted (6.5.2) that “The bus station is run down and in a very poor state of repair…The level of integration between the main railway station and the bus station is…limited…resulting in a relatively small proportion of bus services stopping at the railway station.”  This finding is borne out by other contributors to this letters page.

Continue reading 111207 Bus Station

111122 Guildford Philharmonic

Letter to Surrey Advertiser

Sir

I now feel as though G-Live (“Garrett-Live” as the great Diva styled it) has at last been well and truly opened.

Congratulations to Nicola Goold and Clare Lister who have worked tirelessly over the past many years to bring concerts to different venues around Guildford.  This was a stunning concert by anyone’s standards and, as Stephen Bell (conductor) said, the Philharmonic is an Orchestra of which Guildford can be justifiably proud.  It ranks up there with any other professional orchestra and the programme (which I thought was a little like a sampler CD for a high-end stereo system) showed off the colour, technical excellence and professionalism of the orchestra to great effect – making use of, and bringing the acoustic qualities of the hall to the audience with astounding crispness and brightness.

Continue reading 111122 Guildford Philharmonic

110703 G-Live

Letter to Surrey Advertiser

Sir

Councillor Mannings (Letters 1st July) set out reasons why we should celebrate G Live – I also hope it will be a great success.  He highlights how Guildford should be content that the subsidy is not at the level paid in Basingstoke.

The Anvil and Haymarket halls in Basingstoke are both run by the Anvil Trust (charity number 1034961) and the Trust received around £1.25 million in grants from Basingstoke & Deane Council in the year to 2010.  It operates the two halls and works in the community to produce more than 600 events per year and it sets its aims as “to present and support arts and entertainment in its two buildings The Anvil and The Haymarket; to create education and participation opportunities that include all members of the community; to present and create work that celebrates cultural diversity; for the benefit of those who live in work or visit the Borough of Basingstoke & Deane, the county of Hampshire and the wider region”.

Continue reading 110703 G-Live