Opinion: Have Onslow Tory Candidates ‘Predetermined’ Blackwell Farm Proposal?
By Martin Giles
Arguments between political parties can leave many of us cold. Politicians can often seem more interested in point scoring (even if it is only them keeping score) than sensibly debating the issues and the choices.
One such argument, reignited at a recent hustings meeting, has been raging over the last few days, largely behind the scenes. Many emails have been exchanged and thousands of words written by the fingers of angry combatants punishing abused keyboards.
It is all over “predetermination”.
In short (because I appreciate you have other things to do), it goes like this: if a candidate or sitting councillor expresses a view that indicates he or she has already made up his or her mind on a planning proposal then, in the view of some, especially it seems among the Conservatives and perhaps the Lib Dems too, those elected councillors should not be able to take part in the decision to grant or not planning approval because they have already made up there mind, they have “predetermined” the decision.
Some seem to have extended the argument so that all those standing under the Guildford Greenbelt Group (GGG) banner, if elected, should be excluded from all planning decisions involving green belt development.
Surely this would be a step too far. The democratic process must allow all people to stand for election and express their views openly so that we electors can decide who will best represent us. If GGG candidates are elected and then prevented from taking part in planning decisions wouldn’t that compromise democracy and leave voters, perhaps those most affected by a decision, unrepresented?
Susan Parker, party leader, responded, when challenged on this issue, by saying that GGG candidates would consider green belt development in line with current government guidance i.e. that it should only be allowed in exceptional circumstances.
If we wish to protect the green belt, and the government as the Conservative party claim they do, then surely this is a sensible approach. We might imagine developments that are “exceptionally” required, perhaps construction during a national emergency, such as the prisoner of war camp on Merrow Downs during the Second World War.
But increased housing demand should not be considered sufficient reason, any development could be justified on those grounds. It is not exceptional, it is currently the norm.
Of course it gets trickier if candidates express views on specific proposals. If a candidate is standing in Onslow ward, for instance, you might think that the voters there are entitled to know his or her views on the Blackwell Farm plan, under which the University of Surrey wishes to build more than 3,000 homes on the green belt.
So if candidates do express a view, and are then elected, should they really be excluded from any subsequent decision?
No doubt the Tory candidates, Adrian Chandler, Phillip Hooper and Chris Varveris, will be treading very carefully making sure that no utterance could be seen as “predetermination”. But no… wait … a recent Conservative newsletter circulated in Onslow has the headline, “Conservatives Say No to Farm Development”.
What? Don’t they understand their own party’s position, was there no editing or approval process for the party literature? Surely it isn’t a clever ploy to exclude the ward councillors from the planning decision when it comes. Is it?
Of course I am keeping an open mind, free of predetermination, until I know all the facts. Perhaps someone would like to tell me?