Category Archives: SHBC

Surrey Heath: taxing the poor to feed the rich


Every six months Tory-controlled Surrey Heath Borough Council stage an expensive luxury free breakfast for business people. I don’t know exactly how much this costs. The reason for that is that SHBC don’t know how much it costs either. Last year I used the Freedom of Information Act to find out how much of our, taxpayers’, money is spent on feeding the well-fed. I discovered that the food alone cost £30 per head.

At the same time, I requested the names of all the delegates. Just over 100 people attended. About a quarter of them were Tory councillors, there were some council officers and a large number of Tory donors. I wrote about it here.

It is more difficult for me to find out who attends these meetings now because SHBC are refusing to reveal all the names because it might lead to them being distressed. I can totally understand that: business people must be ashamed to be seen scoffing £30 worth of taxpayers’ food while children in poor families within this borough are going hungry in the morning. If it had been revealed that I was so greedy and heartless I would be distressed too. At least these wealthy diners have a sense of shame.

The next Business Breakfast will be the first one since the two latest attacks on low income families. Surrey Heath BC imposed the harshest, most extreme, cuts to Council Tax benefit in April. Also, the Tory-LibDem Coalition imposed the Bedroom Tax which hits poor families and disabled people financially.

Among the Tory supporters at the next Business Breakfast will be ‘Zero Tolerance’ unofficial Tory Police and Crime Commissioner Kevin Hurley. Mr Hurley is a wealthy businessman, owning a private security company, so he could afford to pay for the cost of the food he consumes.

The large number of Tory councillors who attend these events could also afford to pay their way. Nearly all of the local Tory councillors are self-employed small business people. There is nothing wrong with being self-employed, of course, but to have no (or almost no) employees among their number shows how they have become so out of touch. Their priority is to keep their wealthy friends well nourished.

SHBC and Tory Windlesham Parish Council stage many publicly-funded events to reward Tory donors and supporters but this one has a special resonance. Michael Gove, Surrey Heath’s MP and Education Secretary, is cutting healthy school meals for children from poor families. One of his biggest donors is a major shareholder in Dominos Pizza. Tory Surrey County Council also send councillors on luxury overnight stays in Farnham Castle where they eat and drink very well at our expense.

Before a previous Business Breakfast I asked SHBC if I could collect the leftovers to take to a foodbank or homeless shelter. They refused.

This massively expensive Tory knees-up should be cancelled and the money added to the inadequate hardship fund for those families suffering most under SHBC’s extremist regime. The huge amount of officers’ time spent organising this event should be used in the interests of the electorate as a whole eg assessing local needs and enforcing planning decisions.

If it is too late to cancel October’s event, I call on SHBC to charge each attendee £30. If there is any worth in attending beyond stuffing one’s face, business people will be happy to pay. This money should then be added to the hardship fund.

One of the treasurers of the Church of England said on Radio 4, “No business is 100% good” to justify investing money from collection plates in Wonga. Businesses need to prove continuously that they are not parasites, exploiting workers and customers for everything they can take. If attendees of the Business Breakfast want to prove that they should be given the option.

If you decide to attend the SHBC Business Breakfast in October, remember when you are tucking into your breakfast that it has been taken from the mouths of children in the poorest families in our community. I hope that thought ruins your appetite.

Lightwater to Welcome Dance School Back Home


VICTORY!

Last Wednesday evening the Planning Applications Committee of Surrey Heath Borough Council finally approved the planning application by Terri Jayne School of Dance to change the use of the old Lightwater police station building into a dance studio.

The old Lightwater police station will become the new Terri Jayne School of Dance

The old Lightwater police station will become the new Terri Jayne School of Dance

It was a tremendous victory, not just for Terri Bowen who owns and runs the school, but for all of her dance students, former students, their parents and the whole community.

I wrote about the application here and it was the most shared post on Facebook I have ever written, by a long way. It has been viewed around a thousand times.

The dance school is much loved by so many people. I didn’t realise quite how popular Miss Terri is with families in this area, so I wasn’t expecting speaking in favour of the application to be such an emotional roller-coaster.

I was really pleased to be able to address the Committee and I did my best to persuade them to approve the application. My speech to the Planning Committee is here. Only two public speakers are allowed for and against each application. I have done this before, several times, but it was still daunting. Each speaker is only allowed three minutes and councillors can ask them questions afterwards. I think Terri and I both made excellent use of our three minutes and answered the questions well to sway the majority of the Committee to voting in favour. They voted 11-2 in favour with one abstention.

After the meeting there was an outpouring of relief and celebration. I felt the satisfaction of a job well done for the whole community. Terri and her family now have the hard work of converting the building and relocating dance classes but the stress of the planning process is over.

I was standing as a candidate in the Chobham Parish Council by-election the following day and had to get up early to spend the whole day there then attend the count which started at 10pm. This is my excuse for looking frazzled in the election photographs. Apologies to everyone who has complained about them.

Post Match Analysis

Now that a few days have passed since the euphoria of the Planning Committee, I have a few sober reflections on what happened and what lessons can be drawn.

The Planning Committee has 16 members who are all Surrey Heath borough councillors. Some other councillors are nominated as substitutes to cover for absent councillors. The numbers from each political party are in proportion to each party’s strength on the full council. SHBC has 40 councillors: 35 Conservative, 2 Labour, 2 Independent and 1 Lib Dem. This means that the 16 Planning Committee members are 14 Conservative and 2 Opposition (usually 1 Labour and 1 Independent). The members are chosen by the leaders of the Conservative and Opposition Groups.

Only 14 councillors were there on Wednesday to decide on this application. Two Conservative councillors didn’t turn up and another Conservative councillor, who was supposed to be a substitute, was late so couldn’t vote.

St Michaels Councillors Play Truant

One of the AWOL councillors was Cllr Bob Paton who represents St Michaels ward in Camberley. He had his own planning application later on the agenda for some work on his mansion in Chobham. The substitute who had something better to do for the first half-an-hour of the meeting was Cllr Colin Dougan, who also is supposed to represent St Michaels. It is surprising that both councillors for a marginal ward are neglecting their duties like this.

Lion’s Den

Many of the regular public speakers at the Committee are, like me, experienced community activists. Some are professional planning agents or big business owners. Others are ordinary members of the public like Terri Bowen and, in fact, the objectors who opposed us. It is daunting to address such an intimidating room, which was very full on Wednesday, so I have respect for everyone who does it, even if they are opposing my position. I believe that the members of the Committee should recognise how stressful it is for ordinary people. I would like to see them being less argumentative and confrontational to people who have not spoken at planning meetings much before.

Gandhum Style

On Wednesday, Cllr Surinder Gandhum asked Terri questions after her speech. He did this not to clarify what she had said, or to raise planning issues, but only to have an argument about parking spaces at a former location of the dance school. It was irrelevant, argumentative and bullying.

Unfortunately, I have been in Cllr Gandhum’s sights myself: last October I had to report him to the police for phoning me at home one evening, swearing violently at me and saying, “I have a gun.” I know of others who have received malicious communications from this Lightwater Tory councillor too.

I believe that the chairman should have intervened and stopped Gandhum from attempting to intimidate Terri. However, the current chairman, Cllr Hawkins, generally carries out the job very well and gives everyone a fair hearing. Also, Terri has twenty years’ experience of teaching classes of young girls how to dance and was probably the strongest personality in the room, so she dealt with Gandhum’s rudeness brilliantly and may even have won the vote on that performance.

Cllr Gandhum went on to abstain in the vote on the application, which reinforces my belief that he doesn’t really understand many of the planning applications which come before the Committee. He accused me of being untruthful about this application when I spoke in favour of it at Windlesham Parish Council. He was utterly wrong then, as the documents presented to the Planning Committee showed on Wednesday. He often has personal financial interests in planning applications in Lightwater too.

I will be writing to the leader of the Conservative Group on Surrey Heath Borough Council to ask her to remove Cllr Gandhum from the Planning Committee when it is next reconstituted in the next few months. His temperament is appalling, he is incapable of understanding key details about applications and he has too many personal financial interests in property in Lightwater. His removal from the Committee would be a fitting post script to the story of the Lightwater dance school planning application.

Have Your Say – Shape Your Community

Surinder’s unpleasant contribution aside, it was a fair hearing and I was privileged to be part of it. I would like to encourage more residents to get involved in commenting on planning and licensing applications, so if you need help or advice to object to or support an application, please get in touch.

“Any problem in the world can be solved by dancing.” – James Brown

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