Agenda item

Questions from Councillors

To hear questions (if any) from councillors of which due notice has been given.


(a)       Councillor Paul Spoonerasked the Lead Councillor for Environment, Councillor James Steel, the question set out below.


“Central Government Changing Places Fund (first round) outcomes were announced on 24 March making up to £30m available to local authorities to boost the provision of Changing Places (accessible) toilets in existing buildings. The announcement on 24 March will deliver over 500 new Changing Places toilets.


Every local authority that submitted an eligible expression of interest has received at least £40,000 in funding. Guildford Borough Council did not receive funding as they did not submit a formal expression of interest.


I would like to ask the Lead Councillor, at a time that the Executive are closing public toilets and affecting some of our most vulnerable residents in a significant way, why the opportunity for funding was not progressed, particularly given the fund prospectus stated a commitment that all local authorities who submitted bids would receive at least £40,000. Does the Lead Councillor agree that this is a double blow for the elderly, disabled and for those who need toilets?”


The Lead Councillor’s response was as follows:


“We are very proud that within the current administration we were able to help facilitate, and part fund the provision of the first two public Changing Places toilets within the borough. The first opened in the Friary Centre on 22 January 2020 and the second within Guildford Baptist Church on 10 October 2020, for which the Council contributed funding of £10,000 and £3,500 respectively.


Of course, it would have been better for our finances had government grant funding been available sooner, but the opportunity to help some of the most vulnerable in our society came sooner than the grant. We recognised the value of supporting these improvements and did so without hesitation. Unfortunately, there were no mechanisms within the grant funding to support recently completed projects and the process only realistically allowed for applications for relatively advanced proposals that happened to be near ready in the short two-month period between the announcement of the funding and the closing of the fund.


To be clear, this fund is not directly relevant to the current public toilets in Guildford borough that are being proposed for closure as they are not of sufficient size.


We have had to make changes to the number of our public toilets we provide in order to make some savings; however, we have carried out a careful review and undertaken an extensive consultation which has materially altered the outcomes. Whilst a number of toilets will close there is still extensive Council and other provision, especially in the town centre and all our current operational toilets in our parks remain untouched”.


In response to a supplementary question enquiring as to what other operational toilets across the borough could have, or should have, been considered in relation to possible grant funding, the Lead Councillor stated that the short time frame of the consultation hampered our ability to look at other sites.  The Lead Councillor also confirmed that reference to “extensive Council and other provision” in his written response referred to users’ ability to access a range of toilet facilities in the town centre and at park locations.


(b)       Councillor Graham Eyreasked the Lead Councillor for Resources, Councillor Tim Anderson, the question set out below. (Councillor Anderson’s response to each element of the question is set out in red type below).


(i)    How much did the Council spend on agency and temporary staff in 2019-20, 2020-21 and 2021-22?


“The details are set out in the tables below:



                                                            2019-20           2020-21              2021-22 to date

                                                                       £                     £                       £





TOTAL Temporary Staff




Grand Total





                 NB ***2021 total to date is up until 29/3/22***


Services – to 29/03/22

Planning staff (Development Control and Building Control):          £427,000

Corporate Programmes staff (not yet chargeable to capital):          £315,000

Refuse staff:                                                                                     £375,000

Street Cleaning staff:                                                                        £189,000


(ii)   Is the Council planning to reduce this amount in the current 2022-23 financial year?


“Yes, we wish to reduce agency staff spend. However, there is an ongoing recruitment issue across this Council (and indeed in many councils) where posts have not been able to be recruited to despite a number of recruitment drives.  We have struggled to recruit various professional roles across a number of services and sometimes experience a lack of appropriately qualified or experienced candidates in the market for the rates that we are able to offer.  We are therefore looking at potential training schemes for hard to fill roles.  In order to deliver projects and maintain the ambitious Capital Programme, temporary/agency staff are utilised.


A breakdown of agency spend by project is set out in the table below.  It should also be noted that many of our capital projects receive substantial external funding – e.g. Weyside Urban Village £52m HIF Grant. Grant income can only be used on the specific projects for which we have received the funding.  It cannot be used for other purposes.”




(iii)  How much has the Future Guildford project influenced the need for agency and temporary staff over the past 2 years?


“Due to the recruitment issues outlined, agency/temporary staff are needed to fill resource gaps where recruitment has not been successful, to cover maternity leave or to fill roles associated with Projects of a specific length if we are to continue to provide an acceptable service to our residents.  Some temporary and agency were employed as part of Future Guildford to deliver the project in 2020-21 but they have since left the Council.  The staff establishment structure following Future Guildford has identified a number of posts which can be recruited to permanently which were previously temporary or agency roles – e.g. in Corporate Programmes to deliver the Capital Programme. This recruitment is underway”.


In response to a supplementary question as to whether he was embarrassed by the amount of money spent on temporary and agency staff, the Lead Councillor stated that whilst he was not embarrassed, he did share the concern

about the level of expenditure on consultants and agency staff.  It was noted that although professionals in respect of certain roles were in very high demand locally, the provision of temporary professional staff for major projects had been covered by external grant funding.


In response to a further question the Leader confirmed that exit interviews were conducted when staff leave the Council and informed councillors that in comparison with other councils, Guildford’s staff turnover was relatively low.


(c)       Councillor Jan Harwood asked the Lead Councillor for Climate Change, Councillor Cait Taylor, the question set out below. (Councillor Taylor’s response to each element of the question is set out in red type below).


(i)    Has the Council completed its procurement of a green energy supplier as initiated over a year ago?


“We were examining our opportunity to sign up for a green tariff, or basket of tariffs that would enable part of the energy supplies used by the Council to have a green origin to even out the higher cost of a green tariff.  The aim was to purchase this via the Council’s energy broker, LASER.  However, it was not straightforward in that there was a balance required between paying for the higher cost for greener energy and ensuring we kept within budget as part of the Savings Strategy. 


At one point the discussions with LASER were delayed from their end and since our climate change officer left the Council in September 2021, we have been unable to revisit this workstream.  However, we do want to pursue greener energy procurement and will be entering discussions with LASER again shortly.  For information, further information on LASER’s services can be viewed via the following links:


Zero Carbon (

Replace (


(ii)   How does the Council intend to source 100% renewable energy for its own operations?


“This is part of the wider ongoing work to secure the best options for reducing CO2 equivalent emissions from the Council’s operations and energy reduction.  To provide an exact answer to this specific question is not possible at this point in time”.


In response to a supplementary question which sought:


(i)      justification for not continuing with the workstream given that the remaining work was for the procurement team, rather than the climate change officer; and

(ii)     clarification as to how it was intended to meet the requirements of the Council’s Energy Strategy by achieving a mix of clean energy procurement with green energy renewable projects, in particular how it was proposed to close the gap between what has already been achieved and the projects remaining, for example, by way of more procurement or pursuing a strategy of building more renewable in the borough


the Leader confirmed that, in view of the absence of the Lead Councillor for Climate Change, a written response would be sent to Councillor Harwood after the meeting.


(d)       Councillor Nigel Manning asked the Lead Councillor for Environment, Councillor James Steel, the following question:


“This Administration has decided to close public toilets as part of a cost cutting exercise and to completely remove the public toilet grants to both Shere and Ash Parish Councils from 1st April 2022.  4 public toilets have been identified for closure, including the one at Ripley.  In the GBC press release dated 29th March 2022, it states that Ripley Parish have agreed to the taking on of the cleaning and maintenance of the Ripley public toilet from 4th April, although it does not say which year!!  What year is this to be?


In addition, I understand the Ripley public toilet is a freehold asset owned by GBC.  Who is going to pick up the cost of business rates, water rates and insurance on this property?


What other payments, if any, have GBC made or agreed to make, whether to Ripley Parish Council or others, in respect of the Ripley public toilets?  Over what period are these payments going to be made?”


The Lead Councillor’s response was as follows:


“As part of the consultation process, Ripley Parish Council expressed a strong wish to continue having a facility within the parish and were willing to take on the provision directly if the Borough Council decided that Ripley was a facility chosen for closure. They highlighted that due to the timings and their current budget and financial position they would need some transitional support to cover operating costs until they were in a position to finance this facility fully themselves. By providing some transitional support now, as a one off, this would give the opportunity for the provision to continue uninterrupted, rather than close now and potentially reopen in the future when Ripley Parish Council could afford to do so.


Having listened carefully to the consultation responses from Ripley, on balance we considered that a one-off payment now and continuing service was a valuable benefit to residents and visitors to Ripley whilst allowing the Borough Council to make long term structural savings in costs without delay. We have agreed a one-off payment of £15,000 to help transition the facility into the Parish Council’s control. As part of this we will need to transfer or lease the building to the Parish Council and this work has started. There was insufficient time to complete this legal work prior to the changes introduced with effect from 4 April 2022, but these will be completed in the normal manner in due course.

In the interim, the Parish Council will undertake the cleaning, opening and closing of the toilets from 4 April 2022, and this will allow the Borough Council to immediately adjust its staffing and vehicles to deliver the operational savings we have identified. We will continue to cover the small cost of utilities, repairs and insurance until the facility is passed to Ripley, at which point the Borough Council will not be involved in this facility in any shape or form and there will be no other future payments or ongoing costs falling to Guildford beyond the transfer and this one-off transitional support payment.


There is no business rates liability for the Ripley public toilets, this was as a result of changes to legislation in 2021 - Non-Domestic Rating (Public Lavatories) Act 2021 which Zero rated buildings that were wholly or mainly public toilets from April 2020.


In order to save the Borough Council significant costs of overtime and fuel associated with locking and unlocking toilets, Ripley Parish Council has provided a locking and unlocking service to our toilets in Ripley for a number of years in return for £2,000 per year; this arrangement will cease as of 3 April 2022. There are no other payments or agreements to Ripley Parish Council in regard to the Ripley toilets other than the planned transfer of responsibility and transitional support which we aim to complete as soon as possible”.


In response to the following supplementary questions:


(i)    why the Council had given Ripley Parish Council a grant of £15,000, which equated to almost two years’ worth of costs relating to the Ripley toilet, when Ash and Shere Parish Councils were expected to cover the cost of running their toilets by raising their precepts; 


(ii)   why this grant payment was not included in the Council’s press release dated 29 March 2022 regarding Ripley Parish Council taking over the maintenance and cleaning of Ripley toilet;


(iii)    what would happen if Ripley Parish Council decided not to take the lease or the freehold of the Ripley toilets, presumably the Borough Council would have to pick up the cost of utilities, insurance, and repairs;


(iv)   whether Ripley Parish Council would cover the Council’s legal costs in respect of any lease or disposal


the Lead Councillor stated that the Council was the freehold owner of the Ripley toilets and was grateful to Ripley Parish Council for agreeing to pick up the running costs to enable them to remain open and felt that £15,000 was an appropriate amount to assist them in that regard.  At the time the first iteration of the press release was issued, the agreement with Ripley had not been finalised.  A second press release followed which did make reference to that agreement.


(e)       Councillor Guida Esteves asked the Leader of the Council, Councillor Joss Bigmore, the following question:


“With reference to the Item 8 on the Council Agenda, Approach to the Review and Potential Update to the Local Plan: Strategy and Sites (2019), I am disappointed with the proposed delay to the formal review. The current plan focuses development outside the town centre, making it more car dependent, does not adequately reflect the climate emergency declared by the Council, is dependent on infrastructure that will not be delivered and may no longer reflect the reality of retail and commerce needs post the COVID pandemic.


Paragraph 3.6 of the report to Council (page 32 of the Council agenda) recommends that it is appropriate to undertake any formal review of the LPSS towards the end of the 5 year period, i.e. before 25 April 2024, unless circumstances change in any significant way in terms of government guidance. The adopted local plan was made under NPPF 2012 which has since been updated in 2018, 2019, and most recently July 2021.


a)    Given this, can the Leader please confirm what will constitute a significant change in government guidance that would trigger the review, given that three revisions of the NPPF appear not to qualify? and

b)    Can the Leader please also confirm what monitoring and mechanism is being put in place to ensure that the proposed approach is “revisited immediately”, as stated?”


The Leader’s response was as follows:


“The Council has already begun the process of reviewing the LPSS. In accordance with LPSS Policy ID2, a review of the transport evidence base is already underway to understand the implications of the Government’s cancellation of the A3 Guildford scheme.


We also intend to shortly procure a range of evidence base documents including retail, leisure and employment needs studies to understand the changing context post COVID.


It is necessary to have the outputs of this work prior to a Formal Review and decision regarding whether or not the LPSS (or parts of it) need to be updated. It is hoped that by the time the Formal Review is undertaken there will also be clarity regarding the Government’s proposed changes to the planning system including any amendments to the Standard Method for calculating housing need.”


In response to a supplementary question enquiring as to when would be the latest that the formal review could be started, and what would trigger the formal review the Leader stated that this would be addressed in the next item on the agenda.


(f)         Councillor Ramsey Nagaty to ask the Leader of the Council, Councillor Joss Bigmore, the question below. (Councillor Bigmore’s response to each element of the question is set out in red type below).


“May I ask the Leader of the Council:


(i)    to confirm what conflicts of interest matters were taken into account before finalising the appointment of Ms Cook? 


“There are no conflicts of interest.  Thorough checks and declarations were made about avoiding any potential conflicts of interest and Mary Cook, as a barrister and partner in a firm of solicitors, is aware of the requirements and complied fully with them”.


(ii)  Ms Cook’s advice only takes into account the impact of the Standard Methodology which would need to be used.  What reason does the Council give for not taking into account any other part of the calculation of the housing number?


“It is for Ms Cook to respond to the brief how she sees fit.  Members were provided with the opportunity to ask questions of Ms Cook in relation to her advice at a briefing session. Ms Cook’s advice states that local housing need should be assessed using the standard method unless exceptional circumstances justify an alternative approach. However, she goes on to raise concerns regarding whether Guildford would be successful in demonstrating an alternative approach on the basis of her knowledge and experience”.


(v)    Why is the motion on this Order Paper in respect of Agenda Item 8 so reliant on one opinion and does not take into account wider aspects such as Climate Change, maintaining food security, already high level of housing above the plan figure etc?”


“The Council motion called for independent advice to be sought regarding the review process.  It is for the author to decide what issues to take into account in answering the brief”. 


In response to a supplementary question enquiring as to:


(i)    why, given that Mary Cook acted primarily for developers, the Council did not approach the likes of Client Earth for the advice;

(ii)   why the Council could not claim that high levels of AONB or Greenbelt can represent exceptional circumstances to justify an adjustment to the standard method; and

(iii)  why the advice did not address the wider issues of climate change, biodiversity, food security, lack of infrastructure, and the failure of brownfield first


the Leader stated that Mary Cook had openly indicated that her firm acted for the landowner developer at Garlicks Arch in negotiating the section 106 agreement and was also acting for Native Land. However, since the proposal upon which advice was sought involved a Development Management local plan, he was satisfied that there were no conflicts of interest. The Leader also stated that the question of whether there were special circumstances was a matter for an examiner to determine, not the Council. In relation to climate change, brownfield first, and food security, the Leader agreed that there was nothing in national planning policy that was up to date with the needs of the people or the wants of Guildford Borough residents.


In response to a further question as to whether he had been able to identify any brownfield sites that had not been reviewed within the local plan process, the Leader referred to the Town Centre Masterplan that was designed to unlock brownfield sites but did not have the detail to hand about any sites that may or may not have been included in the formation of the Local Plan Strategy and Sites 2019, but the Leader confirmed that the administration was focused on unlocking sites that may had previously been locked.