Guildford Borough Council (GBC) in further disarray over Local Plan response deadline blame Chair of Guildford Greenbelt Group

GBC attempt to shift blame onto GGG Chair for draft Local Plan deadline changes




Susan Parker Chair of GGG

Susan Parker’s responses in red to Paul Spooner’s email 

From: Paul Spooner
To: GBC Councillors (email addresses redacted)
Sent: Tuesday, 23 September 2014, 22:20
Subject: RE: Failure in the consultation process [UNC]

Dear all,
The facts:
1)      The 12 week consultation was widely publicised as finishing at 5pm yesterday, on media, on Council communications etc. At 5pm the automated email responses were changed by IT to state that the Consultation had closed. This was as planned. The online consultation which I predominantly used has stated throughout the process that the consultation finished at 23.59, and I have quoted this repeatedly since this is the information that was visible whenever I looked at the plan.   Other documents presumably did use 5pm throughout. It is the responsibility of the council to ensure that all dates and times conform, not the responsibility of the public.  If there are alternative times published then the latest must apply.
2)      At 5.07pm Susan Parker contacted me as Lead for Governance to inform me that the ‘Get involved’ Local Plan page stated that the consultation would close at 11.59pm. I queried her source and she sent me a link. She was right. This was acknowledged as an error.  And you were personally thanked publicly for it in the pages of the Guildford Dragon, and on Twitter, rather than GBC being castigated for incompetence.  I can send a quotation if you wish. I was rather more gracious than you have been.
Clearly she had been sitting on this information awaiting the 5pm timeline for her own reasons instead of advising GBC or querying the different time on one page when compared with all other communications.  !!!  I appreciate that I have pointed out a number of errors in the GBC data, evidence base etc, but it really is not my responsibility to proof read all GBC documents! I drew GBC’s attention to the discrepancy as soon as I became aware of it – the timing of that discovery is published in the Guildford Dragon.  This frankly malicious spin is inappropriate.  
Officers are still trying to get to the bottom of the reason why 11.59pm was stated on the Get involved sub-site.  See above. 
3)      Very quickly it was established that emails were still being received (not bounced)  How were respondents supposed to know? They just got an email saying the consultation “had now closed”. You didn’t say so.
and GBC PR confirmed that we would extend the time to 11.59pm. This was also confirmed by Social Media. Yes. And you were thanked for it in public on both Twitter and in the pages of the Dragon, with rather more politeness than you have extended to me. And it was communicated pretty much immediately to the network of GGG supporters – who rapidly informed me that this commitment was not apparently being honoured.  You were then informed as soon as I became aware of it (this is all public via Twitter) – and the response was a deafening silence. People across the borough were writing to me to tell me how distressed they were that their responses were being returned, and that they wanted some action.  No single elected representative took any action on this matter whatsoever.
4)      Whilst email confirmations (receipts) sent to those sending representations to the Local Plan thanked senders they also stated (as set up by IT) that the Consultation had closed. Indeed. The implication of this to the recipients is that the response was not accepted.  There was no receipt sent, nor any information that the emails were retained.
5)      Susan Parker and others chose to publicise that representations were being rejected (bounced) but this is simply not true. It is true that they stated that the consultation had ended.  There was no indication to the recipients that their emails were accepted in any way whatsoever and until 18.27 this was not announced. It could have been said at any time after last night – for example in the press announcement that you issued at around 3pm -but you did not do so. Nor did you inform me or Twitter of this fact, as far as I am aware.  They were informed repeatedly that the consultation was closed.
There was a GBC press announcement put out at around 3pm stating that responses would be accepted – but those who tried to send them still received what looked – to them – like error messages. Furthermore the onus was placed on those whose messages were rejected to find out if GBC was accepting responses. The text of that announcement at 3pm is as follows:

Draft Local Plan strategy and sites consultation
We apologise for any confusion surrounding the exact timing of the Draft Local Plan consultation deadline. We’re asking anyone who submitted a response after 5pm yesterday (Monday 22 September), and isn’t sure it was received, to contact us directly and we will check. We will accept these submissions. You can contact us at or call 01483 444471.

Local people gave their views on the borough’s future through our extensive 12-week Draft Local Plan consultation from 1 July.

Our consultation included a range of events and activities across the borough. We aimed to reach as many local people as possible – we wanted to hear from residents of all ages and backgrounds, businesses and local organisations.

You can view the Draft Local Plan below and find out more on the Local Plan website.

I knew about this because I was asked to comment on it by the BBC – it wasn’t on the normal press announcement pages.  As you will note, it does NOT state that emails are being received and saved.  I then called the planning department to find out why the messages were still apparently being rejected. I spoke to Flo Churchill who told me that she had not heard about the press announcement, nor that the automated message was rejecting responses, and asked me to send her a copy of the press announcement, which I did.  I’m happy to forward this email to anyone who disputes or queries this.  Later that afternoon I forwarded Flo Churchill another message showing that the automated message was still being rejected for another attempted respondent.  Throughout this time Cllr Spooner did not take the trouble to contact me directly.
6)      At a meeting late this afternoon it was confirmed that email acknowledgements had been updated to remove the statement that the consultation had closed this had not changed at 17.53.  
and it was agreed that we would extend the consultation period until 11.59pm on Friday to remove any opportunity for accusation that anyone had been disenfranchised from the process to submit a response on the Local Plan.Thank you.  This was only announced at 18.27pm, and you did not choose to inform me directly – I was informed by journalists about this.
7)      Despite this, Mrs Parker continues to promote misinformation for her own reasons. A) how was I supposed to know that the situation had changed, since you didn’t tell me?   Isn’t it YOUR job to tell ME before you accuse me of misinformation?
B)  I am not “continuing to provide misinformation“. You accused me of “misinformation” in relation to a tweet I sent out BEFORE the announcement that the consultation was being reopened. Check your timing!  I was tweeting that GBC was not accepting responses – at the time that seemed to be true.    This has been retweeted – AFTER my correcting tweet –  by Murray Grubb.  This is inappropriate – at the time I commented first about rejection, all members of the public knew was that they were instructed to send emails to and all emails to that address received a recorded response stating that the consultation had closed.  I then clarified the matter.
C) Frankly I think you should thank me for sorting out the internal chaos at GBC. I’m not paid – you are.
I think the abuse is out of order and I think the least that is appropriate is a deletion of the tweets accusing me of misinformation, and frankly  I think a public apology not inappropriate. Try not bullying the public.
Cllr Paul Spooner
Lead member for Licensing & Governance
Councillor representing Ash South, Ash Green & Tongham
Guildford Borough Council