Monthly Archives: December 2013

Guildford Council’s Rush to War on the Green Belt

Conservative Guildford Borough Council has managed to achieve an astonishing masterstroke. In one move they have threatened the Green Belt which is so dear to their electorate and they have also failed to address the urgent need for new affordable homes. Somehow they have also managed to waste a huge amount of money and alienate local residents who tried to have their voices heard and were ignored. In their consultation on the borough’s Local Plan, residents have felt shut out and taxpayers’ money has been wasted on a botched attempt to hear only the views the Conservatives want to hear. They set up a ‘propaganda shop’ in the centre of Guildford to which almost nobody came.

What a waste of money!

What a waste of money!

Since the 2010 election, the Conservative-LibDem Coalition government has set about attacking the Green Belt, the countryside and the environment generally. Their councillors on Guildford Borough Council have joined in enthusiastically. Our country needs new homes but housing starts are at an all-time low. The big developers have pressured ministers for relaxations in planning laws which the government has given in to. The Tory Party receives donations from these companies and is happy to let them hoard planning permissions. There are unused planning permissions for 400,000 new homes in England and Wales, including many in Guildford.

Tories and LibDems would build here

Tories and LibDems would build here

Developers would rather build on pristine countryside than brownfield sites. So, rather than stand up for their electorate, Conservatives are standing up for big developers and planning to change Green Belt boundaries in the Borough of Guildford to allow them to concrete over green fields.

On Surrey County Council, drink-drive Cllr John Furey is the Cabinet member for the environment but he is all in favour of tearing up the Green Belt. Like Surrey’s own Mr Toad, he stopped the council from pledging to do everything in its power to protect the Green Belt. As someone who is known for hastily leaving the scene of an accident, will Cllr Furey stick around to witness the devastation he hopes to cause to Surrey’s countryside?

In Guildford, the Conservative Leader of the council, drink-drive Cllr Mansbridge, refused to meet with Green Belt campaigners. Yet he said that Conservatives are the “guardians of the Green Belt”. Nothing could be further from the truth. Since 2010, the Tory-LibDem government has slashed away at Green Belt protection. They have relaxed Major Developed Sites (MDS) rules in the Green Belt and ‘permitted development rules’ for agricultural buildings so that barns can be turned into industrial units and there is nothing that local people or councils can do about it.

Meanwhile, the LibDem group on Guildford Borough Council put out a statement saying, not only would they build on the current Green Belt, they would consider building on Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty too. As usual, we cannot expect any opposition to the Tories from the LibDems, quite the contrary.

Labour set up the Green Belt and are the only main party defending it now. Ed Miliband, in his conference speech, set out how we would compel developers to use the planning permissions they have acquired to build the new houses we need. I will be touring the borough and the constituency to inspect sites where planning permission has been granted and asking why construction of new homes is not taking place. The 1,000 empty homes in the borough should be in the council’s sights, instead they are turning a blind eye.

Personally, as regular readers of this blog know, I have long campaigned to protect the Green Belt in Surrey. I am not an environmentalist despite being an airline pilot, I am an environmentalist because I am an airline pilot. I have visited every corner of the globe and witnessed with my own eyes the effects of allowing unrestricted development of the countryside.

I lived in the USA for over a year and the lack of Green Belt there allows towns and cities to sprawl out into each other. The centres of towns and cities are left derelict because it is cheaper and easier to build on fields outside their boundaries. Countryside is chewed up and wildlife snuffed out. This uncontrolled sprawl has been a disaster for the USA. England is still a green and pleasant land. Losing the Green Belt, even bit-by-bit, would permanently change our country for the worse for future generations.

City centres become derelict when the countryside is totally open for development

City centres become derelict when the countryside is totally open for development

I am a member of the Campaign to Protect Rural England and I believe passionately that the Green Belt should remain in perpetuity. Just take a look at the USA and decide if you want Surrey to look like that.

Our Green Belt should not be sacrificed simply to boost the profits of big development companies. Guildford Tory and LibDem councillors should remember they are only the temporary administrators of the borough’s countryside. The people of the borough have stood up and said with a loud clear voice that they want their Green Belt intact for generations to come. I stand up alongside them and add my voice. Guildford Borough Council – don’t sell out the Green Belt!

Downgraded Chancellor Offers No Hope For The Future

Today, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, delivered his Autumn Statement and did nothing to address the cost of living crisis for working people. He crowed about the very recent figures showing that the 3-year period of flatlining has finally ended. He forgot to mention that in 2010 he promised to remove the deficit by next year and keep the country’s credit rating. In reality, the deficit is stuck and our credit rating has been downgraded twice.

As the BBC’s Robert Peston pointed out nearly all of the recovery is due to people saving less and borrowing more. This is storing up horrendous problems for the future but Osborne doesn’t care about that. He is a short-term, calculating politician.

He showed this by offering financial incentives for fracking companies. Here in Surrey, this would trash our countryside and only produce more carbon emissions to trash our climate too. Once the shale gas has been extracted and burnt, it is gone, forever. What does Osborne propose we do for energy then?

The main thrust behind the Conservative and LibDem economic policy is austerity. 80% of the deficit reduction planned for the years ahead is due to cuts. Social security will be cut even further. The Coalition is targeting the most vulnerable in society.

Their plan would make the British state the smallest it has been since 1948. I believe this is not what the British people want. We want a properly funded NHS and social care system. We want a high quality state education system and we want a social security system to look after us in hard times. This is where Cameron and Osborne and their ideologically right wing supporters are most out of touch with the British people.

The Police are the Police and the Public are Kept in the Dark

Robert Peel (1788-1850) was the founder of the police force in this country. He set the principles which still govern policing today and aim to ensure it is ethical and works in the interests of the people. Here is one of his most famous quotations:

“The police are the public and the public are the police.”

A few days ago, Surrey Police suddenly announced that they had sacked their head of finance for “gross misconduct”. Paul Bundy’s profile was deleted from their website. The only explanation given to the public was allegations that he hadn’t declared personal interests and had mishandled information.

Surrey Police has an annual budget of £222m and significant assets, some of which, it was recently announced, will be sold off. If any other organisation had sacked such a senior manager for a first offence we would know much more about it. The fact that Surrey Police is a publicly-funded organisation and one which relies on maintaining public confidence makes it even more scandalous that this is being covered up.

Surrey’s taxpayers and residents have a right to know what is happening to the top management of their police force. If this happened in a private sector company, the non-executive directors would represent the shareholders to investigate whether the rot spreads further and if the organisation has been dangerously compromised. Surrey Police doesn’t have non-executive directors, or anyone any more to represent the interests of the public.

Last year, the Tory-LibDem Coalition abolished police authorities and replaced them with elected Police and Crime Commissioners. The Surrey Police Authority contained independent, non-political, non-police experts who could examine sensitive cases like the charges levelled against the head of finance. They could have ensured an inquiry which was independent and seen to be independent. They would not have concealed it from the public solely because it was embarrassing to Surrey Police.

In Surrey, like elsewhere, the Police Commissioner election was a farce. The turnout was tiny and most people don’t even know they have a PCC, never mind what his name is. I can reveal, in Surrey, his name is Kevin Hurley, a former police Chief Superintendent. Interestingly, he stood as “Zero Tolerance, Ex-Chief” on the ballot paper despite never being a Chief Officer in the UK. Since his election he has tied his political reputation to that of Surrey Police. If Surrey Police were embarrassed by revelations about why Bundy was sacked, the political fall-out would damage Hurley. Commissioner Hurley is refusing to comment on the sacking.

Deputy Commissioner Harris tried to divert attention from this story when I was discussing it on Twitter with the Chief Constable:

Trying to divert attention

Harris is another ex-police officer and a friend of Hurley. He is trying to use the fact that brave junior police officers have been injured on duty to divert attention from the goings-on at the top of the organisation. I believe this shows a cynicism and lack of respect for rank and file officers in the Commissioner’s office.

I do not accuse Chief Constable Lynne Owens of this, she always acknowledges the sacrifices of the police officers she leads appropriately. However, she did claim that Mr Bundy’s right of appeal was preventing her from being open with the public:

CC Owens' defence

Chief Constable Owens went on to imply that the public’s interest was represented by using a Chief Officer from another force to hear the case.

police investigate police

Unfortunately, there have been many cases of the police investigating the police and serious irregularities, even crimes, have been covered up. Only someone totally outwith the police and known to be totally impartial can represent the public interest here.

My Offer to Surrey Police

As someone who is clearly, and well-known to be, independent of the police force, I offer to read all of the confidential documents relating to this case and talk to everyone involved. If there is genuine legal opinion that it cannot be made public until an appeal is concluded or ruled out, I will promise not to reveal the details until it is legally appropriate. I will, however, tell the Surrey public whether they have been swindled, conned, lied to, had their personal details leaked, or in any other way failed by the organisation in which they place so much trust. If Surrey Police have handled this case properly, then they will have nothing to fear because I have a record of defending them against unjust criticism.

Why me? I am used to handling responsibility. As an airline captain, I’m responsible for the safety of hundreds of people and my actions are insured for hundreds of millions of pounds. I do not take things like this lightly. Also, I was voted to represent the Labour Party in Guildford at the 2015 general election so I already have an electoral mandate.

Surrey Police desperately need to reestablish the confidence of the people of Surrey after this damaging incident within their top management. If they accept my offer to represent the public in this, they will be living up principles of their founder, Robert Peel.

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