Category Archives: Personal Perspectives

A place for me to express my thoughts on other than professional topics (for example, Local Government!)

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

20130624_Localism like terrorism?

How strange it is when a group of professionals give their time and expertise to (help Councillors) hold the Council’s officers to account and are likened by a senior Councillor – in the Council chamber – to IRA terrorists?

Professional people who give something back to their communities on a pro bono basis, and who even incur costs to do so, are precisely what Big Society is about. It does, however, require elected politicians to be brave enough to listen to these professionals alongside the advice of the Council’s officers and take the time to satisfy themselves that they understand the differing views and that they can make an objective decision.

Unfortunately, in Guildford, the officers still seem to hold sway and the Councillors are too fearful of knowledgeable challenge.

They have allowed the officers to bring forward a Statement of Community Involvement where amendments have not been out for consultation and, still further, have adopted it with an amendment that allows a Councillor and the Senior Planning Officer to change it without even having to go back to committee – how ironic is that?

Guildford Vision Group has pooled decades of development experience across the country and internationally to help bring about a once-in-a-generation replanning of Guildford including ambitious infrastructure proposals. This requires an independent professional masterplanning exercise but Guildford’s officers (and consequently it’s councillors) have set themselves four square against a Town-wide strategic plan.

Repeatedly calling for such a plan and highlighting the risks of not having one is apparently a campaign equivalent to terrorism. This cannot be right or rational, and is inherently bad for both democracy and town planning in 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

20130317 Bellerby JR Opinion

In response to posts on the Guildford Dragon News

I am a member of the GVG Steering Group.  I understand the agonies of observers for and against the Bellerby development, and I would point out (speaking for myself and not for or on behalf of GVG) that, had the processes of site allocation, site disposal, integrated evidence, and a realistic examination of alternatives been properly and comprehensively undertaken by the Council and applicant – and we are going back to before the application was even submitted – it is quite possible that all of us who would like to see Waitrose in the town could have had our way – but not necessarily on that site, and almost certainly not in that format. 

Whilst some may choose to speculate on my class, wealth or employment status, this is not about NIMBYism, this is about quality and about strategic planning

If we are to accept development ‘In My Back Yard’, we must demand that it is done properly, without wasting the scarce resources of our previously developed sites (before raiding the countryside to make up the housing numbers for example), and we must make sure that the rest of the town can not only continue to function but can grow its economy, as indeed it should – and as the Region and Country requires it to.

This will require good governance, good leadership and good application of the law and planning regulations.  Better engagement with stakeholders and communities would be a good start and I hope the forthcoming Local Plan consultations will embrace this and move us much further forward with an up-to-date, workable and comprehensive plan for the town and the Borough.

I hope there will be a sensible location and solution for both Waitrose and John Lewis, but I personally am not prepared to stand by and let our town be destroyed for a lack of patience and imagination, and from misguided pragmatism.

Julian Lyon (17th March 2013)

20121207 RIP Guildford Philharmonic

I wish to record my disappointment and regret at the (by now rather inevitable) passing of the Guildford Philharmonic after March of next year – as confirmed on 29th November by Guildford Borough Council’s Corporate Improvement Scrutiny Committee.

I recognise that I may not agree with decisions taken by the Council. I was angry, however, to learn of further misleading statements – this time by Councillor Jen Powell – who, I must say, had given me to believe she was better than that – and by the Interim Strategic Director.  Their remarks, summarised and countered below, were unnecessary and gratuitous, given that The Surrey Advertiser had already heralded the sad demise of this institution, founded by much more forward thinking Councillors than those responsible for dismantling it. Continue reading 20121207 RIP Guildford Philharmonic

20121106 A Bleak Day for Planning in Guildford

Guildford’s planners and planning committee last night signalled that it is open season in Guildford.

Far from giving Guildford the helping hand it needed to embark on a new strategic plan for the town, dealing with traffic chaos, the legacy of undeveloped sites in prime areas of the town and a chronic housing shortage, Guildford’s planning officers and committee have shown that developers only need to cherry pick the valuable town centre uses away from the town centre, make sure that queues are no longer than 400m and that traffic congestion does not suffer more than 20% increase in delays at peak hours and make sure there are a handful of affordable housing units (even if many more had previously been approved and the site could accommodate many more) – Oh yes, and do it quickly before all of the key evidence is compiled.

The Councillors’ prepared eulogies on a theme of “Waitrose at all costs” bore all of the hallmarks of predetermination of the decision – no matter the hundreds of objections on valid planning grounds. Guildford deserves better and we are determined to ensure long-term solutions are found even when our planners seem focussed on the Emperor’s new clothes.

20120923 So what if we lose our orchestra?

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?

20120914 PropertyWeek Opinion Piece

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