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Dragon Interview: Liz Hogger – Effingham’s Borough Councillor

Cllr Liz Hogger

Cllr Liz Hogger was re-elected to serve as a Guildford Borough councillor representing Effingham Ward in May 2015. With a reputation as a hardworking councillor who serves on many committees in several roles, both at the council and locally in Effingham, Cllr Hogger found time to speak to Guildford Dragon reporter Chris Dick.

Can you tell us a little about your family and how you came to settle in Effingham?

My husband Chris and I moved to Effingham in 1979. We were looking for a rural community where we could still commute to work in London and in Leatherhead. Effingham was a good place for our two sons to grow up and remains a good place for our two grandsons to visit, with countryside to roam in and space to play

What motivated you to join the Liberal Democrat Party?

The Lib Dem party’s vision says it all for me: “The Liberal Democrats are the only party fighting to keep Britain open, tolerant and united. We want to give all our children a brighter future in a fairer Britain where people are decent to each other, with good schools and hospitals, a clean environment and an innovative economy.” At a local level, I think councillors need to listen to residents and keep everyone informed about what is going on. I joined the Lib Dems in 1991. At that time the complacency of local Conservative councillors was appalling. We only heard from them at election times, and I wanted to change that.

What meetings do you attend at Guildford Borough Council [GBC] and what positions do you hold?

Attending meetings at GBC is only a small part of my role as borough councillor: working with GBC officers and lead councillors on matters that affect Effingham takes up rather more of my time. I am a member of the Borough, Economic and Infrastructure Executive Advisory Board, and hopefully provide some constructive input there on borough-wide issues. However, planning is my major interest as a councillor and it’s hugely important to the residents of my green belt ward.

I have been a member of the Planning Committee since first elected in 1999, and try to make sure all residents are treated fairly by the planning system. I have stood up for Effingham on some significant planning applications, most recently in opposition to the devastating proposals from Berkeley Homes / the Howard of Effingham School for nearly 300 new houses (a 30% increase in the size of our village) and a massive new school, all on green belt land. We await the Secretary of State’s decision on that appeal, but I really appreciate the strong stance against this taken by GBC, both officers and lead councillors.

Affordable housing is a big issue in green belt villages like Effingham where house prices have soared out of reach for many young people. I am pleased that in my time as borough councillor we have had three affordable housing developments in Effingham, on GBC land built by Mount Green Housing Association, and on a new private estate. More recently six Traveller pitches have been provided by GBC for local families on the Home Farm estate, with the full support of the parish council and local residents.

What are your views on local government being effectively run by one party, the Conservatives? How effective can a small opposition be?

The electorate chose in 2015 to give the Conservatives a large majority on the council, and that’s democracy. I don’t like the Executive system, as it has the potential to exclude back-bench councillors from all parties unless the lead councillors on the Executive try hard to be inclusive.  A minority opposition party can nevertheless have an impact by putting forward good arguments for changing or amending Executive proposals, as the Lib Dems have done on many occasions. Lib Dem councillors certainly have an effective voice on the non-political committees such as Planning and Scrutiny.

Your compromise amendment regarding the Cllr David Reeve complaint hearing outcome seemed to be gratefully received as a way to bring the matter to a close. What were your own views about Cllr Reeve’s misdeeds?

Being an effective councillor depends on having good working relationships with council officers, who must be able to trust you not to release confidential information. So I think it is an important point of principle not to release any information that you have been told is in confidence, even if it is just one figure. However the penalty should surely be proportionate to the damage done, and by the time this case reached full council a compromise was long-overdue to avoid further waste of time and money.

With central government cautious in its dealings with China what are your views about the recent twinning of Guildford with Dongying? There has been much talk of Chinese property investments around the world. Should we be concerned?

Twinning and partnership arrangements can be beneficial by the exchange of ideas, shared projects and by increased understanding between different communities, as we have seen with Freiburg and Mukono. That might eventually be true of the Dongying relationship, but my main concern is that we have no real idea of whether that can happen. I wonder whether it is possible to have a free and open dialogue with ordinary people and organisations in a country like China where there are such big concerns over free speech and human rights. I think GBC should have explored these questions more carefully and transparently before rushing into a partnership agreement.

More locally, can you describe your various roles within the Effingham community and what you aim to achieve?

I have been a member of Effingham Parish Council since 1995, supporting the council’s efforts to provide Effingham residents with local services and facilities. Effingham Parish Council has important powers to act on behalf of local residents, for example in preparing our Neighbourhood Plan and putting forward the strong local case for refusal of the Berkeley Homes / Howard planning application as a Rule 6 party at the inquiry. I feel that my experience with planning at borough council level has contributed to both of those activities.

The parish council appointed me in 2013 as a managing trustee on Effingham Village Recreation Trust, the charity which runs the King George V Hall and Fields (the KGV) in Effingham. The charity has existed since 1951, and the way it is run has needed urgent updating, so the managing trustees have had a difficult task in the last few years. I am just one member of a committed team of volunteer trustees who are working to stabilise the charity’s finances and trying to ensure that all user groups make a fair contribution to the costs of maintaining the KGV facilities so we have the funds to invest in improvements in the facilities for the future.

As a managing trustee of the KGV what are your hopes for its future?

The formal object of the charity is to provide recreation and leisure-time facilities for the benefit of all Effingham residents, and the trustees want to make sure the hall and fields of the KGV are open to everyone. I hope the KGV can develop into a real community hub, with the hall open for community use during the day, more outdoor facilities for informal recreation such as walking and jogging, and better playgrounds. I hope we can improve the natural environment in the fields, including the woodland areas, making the KGV an even more attractive green space for everyone to enjoy.

You attended some of the Wisley and the Berkeley Homes/ Howard of Effingham Planning Inquiry hearings. What outcomes would you like to see from the Secretary of State decisions?

Of course I want to see both appeals dismissed. At the Berkeley Homes/ Howard Inquiry, I felt the evidence from Effingham Parish Council witnesses really strengthened the case for refusing the application, and the Parish Council’s barrister was very impressive, so I am fairly optimistic about that. The Wisley Airfield Inquiry was longer and more complicated, with a rather minimal case for refusal being put forward by the Borough Council. On the days I attended that inquiry, I was impressed by the efforts of the Rule 6 parties to put the case against the proposed new town, particularly about the highways and air-pollution issues.

You voted, somewhat reluctantly, for the draft Local Plan to be submitted for examination with the former Wisley Airfield still included as a strategic site for housing development.

Yes, as I said at the council meeting, I had to shoulder the responsibility to vote to protect the best interests of Effingham, so gritted my teeth and voted for the Local Plan to be submitted. Without an up-to-date Local Plan, we are particularly vulnerable to planning-by-appeal, as in the Berkeley Homes/ Howard application. We need our Neighbourhood Plan to carry full weight as soon as possible, to make sure Effingham has just the new homes it needs, rather than those the developers want to build. For both those reasons, Effingham needs a Local Plan to be put in place as soon as possible.

What impact will be felt in Effingham if the development does go ahead?

The main impact in Effingham would be increased traffic and more dangerous local roads, especially around Effingham Junction station. The highways proposals from the WPI [Wisley Property Investment] developers were totally unconvincing. Even if they sort out the A3/ M25 issues, we would still have too much traffic on unsuitable local roads such as Old Lane.

And if it doesn’t?

Even if the appeal is dismissed, I expect WPI to come back with a revised application. I’m afraid this will be a long saga.

The Lib Dem’s have traditionally been keen on environmental issues. Do you think the environmental impact of the proposals in the draft Local Plan has been considered thoroughly enough?

I’m sure GBC planning policy officers have done all they can within existing national planning rules. I would like to see a greater emphasis on air quality, but that needs a stronger commitment from government to tackle air pollution, and at the moment they are dragging their feet disgracefully on that.

The Effingham Neighbourhood Plan moves to a referendum in February. Looking back, how useful do you think the Residents Association’s various inputs were?

I am really pleased that the Neighbourhood Plan has been shaped by the whole community of Effingham, with hundreds of residents getting involved via public meetings, workshops and a thriving online forum. This is largely thanks to parish councillor Paula Moss, who has led the Neighbourhood Plan process from the beginning in early 2013.

As the responsible body, the parish council was determined the plan would represent the aspirations of the whole community, including individual residents as well as village organisations such as local churches, Effingham Housing Association, and Effingham Residents Association. So everyone’s views mattered, not just the “usual suspects” of parish council and residents association.

The success of this approach was shown by the very positive response to the parish-wide survey on the draft Neighbourhood Plan carried out in 2016. An impressive 54% of households returned the survey, and there was strong majority support for all the draft policies, including the controversial site allocations for residential development. I think our Neighbourhood Plan is a very good example of how to listen to all residents, including the normally silent majority.

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One Response to Dragon Interview: Liz Hogger – Effingham’s Borough Councillor

  1. R Darling Reply

    December 17, 2017 at 11:43 pm

    I wonder if the home Cllr Hogger bought in 1979 had been built on a green field?

    The generation of people who bought those new homes in the 60s and 70s fail to see the hypocrisy in their refusal to allow the next generation to do the same for our young families.

    Communities like Effingham are not able to evolve and progress because of an elderly generation who fear change. It is so sad to watch.

    Meanwhile, the young generation is a huge credit to our community (their school results keeping house prices up) yet people like Liz Hogger price the Howard out of using playing fields and refuse to support the only option they have of getting the new school facilities they absolutely deserve.

    Not once does she mention the pride she should feel in having such a successful school at the heart of her community. It speaks volumes. The students of Howard make me very proud for coping under the circumstances, our politicians do not.

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