The Liberal Democrats
were the first to announce a candidate nomination for the Guildford Borough Council by-election in Lovelace Ward, in the north-east of Guildford borough covering Ripley, Wisley and Ockham.
Normally a safe Tory seat this election could be close fought because of the current disquiet over the Draft Local Plan which includes a proposal for a whole new settlement to be built on the old airfield at Wisley near junction 10 of the M25. Read on to see what Colin has to say…
Questions asked by Martin Giles
Tell me something about your background.
I was born in Fulham, worked in Zambia for four years, moved back to UK and Ripley in 1976. I have lived in the same house on Ripley Green ever since. My qualifications are an HNC (Business Studies) and a Post-Graduate Diploma in Printing (London College of Printing).
My wife, Annie, and I have run businesses in Ripley from 1986, when I was made redundant, up to 2012. We recently ran a security printing conferences business operating in Europe and Asia but sold that in 2010 and we are now semi-retired. Our two children loved life here although they cannot afford to live here now.
We chose Ripley for its rural charm, local ambiance and lack of a railway station! We have been school governors, PTA members, appeared in local pantomimes and I have been a parish councillor for 25 years, 10 of which as chairman.
Why stand in Lovelace By-election?
To do something that our parish council can’t do, that is to fight this Tory borough council, face to face, over its plans to expand the Guildford housing stock disproportionally over the next 15 years. Whilst no-one understands what is behind the Tory Executive’s motives on this expansion, everyone seems powerless to stop them.
Somehow we have to co-operate, Wisley Airfield Action Group, the GGG [Guildford Greenbelt Group], the Liberal Democrats and anybody who opposes this Executive and wants to reform this Local Plan.
Lovelace has been virtually unrepresented for almost two years now and we feel disenfranchised and suspicious of why we have been left for so long in limbo. I therefore decided enough was enough and I am angry at the borough council Tory Executive and its behaviour. I am not afraid to go into the chamber and tell them exactly what we think of them.
Why are you standing for the Liberal Democrats? How long have you been a Lib Dem supporter?
Good question! Our parish council is non-political, as am I basically, although I vote Liberal Democrat in national elections and support their approach of putting residents first.
I do not believe ‘tribal’ politics belong in local council chambers and think we are often ill-served by their presence there. Above all, I desperately want to stand up and be counted in opposing the Tories’ plans.
As a Lib Dem councillor I would be part of a united team who have shown that they can stand up to this Conservative Executive and put residents first. Labour supported the Tories on the Local Plan and will get nowhere, nor will Ukip,, the Greens, etc., and if I chose the Independent route I would be hamstrung for support and isolated in the chamber, even if I won.
I am sure I have made the right choice, my new colleagues have made me very welcome and are very supportive.
If you were elected, what three changes would you make for Lovelace ward?
1. Revise the draft Guildford Plan so that the housing requirement meets the needs of our Lovelace villages and provides real affordable housing for young people, currently driven away by high prices.
More attention needs to be focused on good sites for Housing Association developments which will begin to attack this problem with cheaper housing solutions. We don’t want housing that only meets the arbitrary growth targets of central government and goes towards filling the pockets of developers with their Cayman Island companies paying no UK tax.
2. Ensure that any developments are proportional to the nearby communities and do not dwarf them – the proposal for a new town on the former Wisley Airfield must not be part of the Local Plan. Then we must check that there is an adequate infrastructure plan to ensure sustainable communities and not make current problems with congested roads in the Lovelace ward even worse.
3. Support brownfield sites being given priority and insist that our green belt heritage be safeguarded. Perhaps not every blade of green belt grass will be saved but there will have to be truly exceptional circumstances necessary for any change.
Given that Local Plans have to be approved by an government planning inspector, how much control does the borough council really have?
When I appeared before the planning inspector at Surrey’s County Hall in Kingston around 2011, I put the Ripley Parish case against the proposed Composting Site on Wisley Airfield. I was one of several witnesses including some serious scientific experts for Wisley RHS, WAAG, GBC, etc. At the end of my ten minutes I was warmly applauded and considered we had all done enough to stop the application in its tracks.
I was wrong, we were all wrong, the inspector did not worry about the threat of pathogens in our air or the clogging of rural lanes with 20 tonne lorries. So to answer the question, I have little faith in planning inspectors changing the status quo and if GBC [Guildford Borough Council] go for 652 (effectively 800+) new dwellings, then that’s what they are likely to get.
We must look after ourselves, not rely on outsiders. We must put forward a sound Local Plan with good reasons for lower housing numbers.
How many new homes does Guildford Borough need and how many can it tolerate over the next 15 years? Where should they go?
A big question, and I believe there are currently flaws in GBC’s figures, which are many and various. I cannot avoid the feeling that GBC Conservative leadership have deliberately inflated these numbers in support of their own pro-growth agenda.
Looking at the current figures for surrounding boroughs, we are way out of kilter and we need full public scrutiny of these figures without further procrastination. I hear that the joint SHMA [Strategic Housing Market Assessment] with Woking and Waverley, has been prepared, which may change the picture, and that should be published as soon as possible.
We must make allowance for our green belt heritage, our Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and our limited ability to offer sufficient potential sites for development. Personally, I believe we should be looking at a straightforward 15 year target, from 2015, with any back-dating clearly explained. We should have a thorough review of the housing target which takes account of the infrastructure, especially roads.
What are the main infrastructure challenges we face and what solutions should be considered?
Infrastructure challenges lie at the heart of what is wrong with the current Tory approach to housing development needs in Guildford. They have shelved that side of the equation when you look at the Wisley Airfield proposal, for instance.
Anyone with experience of the A3/M25 interchange at rush-hour will know that we need less cars there, not masses more! Pouring 4,000 cars out from the airfield site onto the Ockham Roundabout will create massive log-jams and take Ripley back to the pre-bypass dark age. Alternative routes will be sought by desperate drivers and the local lanes of Ockham and Wisley will be filled with cars seeking to escape.
Any traffic for Guildford and Woking will be continuously crawling through a jammed Ripley High Street. We must have North and South interchanges on the A3 at Ripley and Burnt Common.
That’s the road problems, I have not even mentioned the schools, shops, surgeries, parking and environment problems, of which there are many.
Why should Lovelace voters vote for you?
This is not a party political issue, it is about fighting to save our villages from the blight of massive over-development in the green belt heartland.
I have lived here for almost 40 years, know the area, know the people and they know me – having been 25 years on Ripley Parish Council, ten as chairman. I understand local problems and needs, share the Liberal Democrats aims of fairness and proportionality and I am pleased to have the endorsement of GGG .
I’m of an age where I can take this on, giving it my all. The GBC Tory Group have upset many by their outrageous behaviour recently and they deserve the almighty shock of losing Lovelace. I know, as part of the Lib Dem team, we can win this and must if we are to provide a challenge at this time of greatest threat to our villages, green belt, environment and lifestyle. I offer the best alternative to yet another Tory councillor.
The Guildford Dragon NEWS will be requesting interviews with all the candidates in the Lovelace by-election which has been called following the death in July of Cllr John Garrett.