Bill Stokoe chair of GVG has written a forceful response concerning a recent item posted by Cllr Spooner (now Conservative Independent Group) on the Guildford Dragon.
In his letter to the Guildford Dragon, Bill highlights that Masterplan progress and speed plus town centre development heights are matters, along with others, that Paul Spooner could have addressed during his time as Leader. To make comments concerning the efforts of John Rigg (Founder and past chair of GVG) and Julian Lyon (Past Chair of Guildford Society) at this time is unworthy.
The full text of the Bill Stokoe letter follows:-
Cllr Spooner (now Conservative Independent Group) has a selective memory. Masterplan progress and speed plus town centre development heights are matters, along with others, he could have addressed during his time as Leader. To take a pop at John Rigg and Julian Lyon at this time is unworthy.
A little history may help. Allies & Morrison’s (A&M) first masterplan-related appearance in Guildford was back in 2011 when it was retained by The Guildford Society, at the urging of John Rigg, to critique the council’s ill-fated – and inadequate – Interim Town Centre Framework. The inadequacies revealed by the critique led to the formation of the Guildford Vision Group (GVG) under John’s determined leadership. GVG’s initial work was helped by continued interaction with A&M.
With GVG’s blessing, the then conservative administration (before Cllr Spooner’s time as Leader) hired A&M to do the work to which Cllr Spooner refers. But, crucially, A&M were restricted by the council’s brief from focusing at any length on infrastructure. The A&M masterplan never achieved planning status, for reasons that were never quite clear. Sadly, it was never formally adopted by the council led by Cllr Spooner.
The council’s approach to the town centre in Cllr Spooner’s time was piecemeal, almost on a site by site basis. A better planned centre would have relieved pressure on the green belt. Hence the Local Plan public examination in 2018-19 revealed the inadequacy, indeed absence, of planning for the town centre, spotlighted by GVG’s submission and presentation of its own TCMP concept.
The inspector made some incisive comments about the poor state of the town centre. He used the word ‘appalling’. He demanded the council produce a better policy for the town centre. That became policy S3. Written overnight, the policy was an improvement but still left significant gaps, and with the controversial green belt sites ‘locked-in’.
The inadequacy of the council’s planning regime was only too apparent when SOLUM’s plans for a massive, 10 storey development alongside the tracks at the station were approved on appeal. That’s when the height precedent was set for town centre development in a sensitive area adjoining a conservation area. That was under Cllr Spooner’s leadership.
I have been involved closely with GVG since its beginning. I was involved in a number of meetings and interaction with Cllr Spooner and others during his time as Leader, along with John and Julian.
It is fair to say that GVG’s progress was hampered in recent years by very poor relations with the council led by Cllr Spooner. Maybe there was an element of ‘not invented here’ in its reaction. Nonetheless, GVG public meetings consistently attracted a very large audience, on one occasion topping 400 (when we launched our TCMP – see our website). So we were regularly reassured by that high level of support of residents. A number of councillors also expressed support but for some reason felt unable to speak out publicly.
To my, and others, great sadness, the real frustration of all these years has been the inability of the council to work cooperatively, progressively and productively with a group of well-intentioned, well qualified residents towards a common goal of a better town centre, fit for the 21st century.
Residents and businesses should be very grateful for the hours freely given by people like John and Julian and devoted to seeing a better Guildford emerge. When it comes to the town centre, good luck, I say, to the current administration. It deserves our support.
Chair, Guildford Vision Group