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Councillors Object To Secrecy Over Crematorium Chimney Error

Published on: 14 Mar, 2021
Updated on: 14 Mar, 2021

By Hugh Coakley

Guildford’s new crematorium and the work by GBC officers on the reconstruction project was widely praised at the Overview and Scrutiny Committee (March 2) as “truly beautiful” and “a fantastic result for the entire borough”.

The new Guildford crematorium, opened in December 2019, was praised by councillors as “truly beautiful”.

But an error in the chimney height and the decision to keep the internal review of that confidential, citing commercial sensitivity, was also discussed. A taller chimney had to be fitted to the completed building in what one architect called a “crude engineering solution”.

The crematorium was opened in December 2019 and won two awards at the Guildford Society 2020 Design Awards ceremony. Award committee chair Peter Coleman said the design and build was high-quality, a “contemporary and timeless” example of good architecture.

GBC commissioned an external review into the chimney error but told The Dragon: “We will consider publication of the report in line with our legal obligations.”

An additional 0.9m had to be added to the Guildford crematorium chimney because of a calculation error.

Cllr George Potter (Lib Dem, Burpham) admired the “truly beautiful building” but said GBC should not be driven by “legal minimum” requirements, referring to the initial decision to exclude an air-quality assessment.

He said he was disappointed a redacted version of the internal report “Guildford Crematorium Stack Discharge Height Error Internal Investigation” was not released because it was a matter of public interest.

Apparently, councillors were told that because the report “discusses the activities of commercial contractors without giving them the opportunity to respond, it is not suitable for publication in any form”.

George Potter speaking at the Overview and Scrutiny committee.

Cllr Potter said he trusted “all the key information will appear in the external report for the public to see. If it doesn’t then I’m sure O&S [GBC’s Overview & Scrutiny Committee] will object loudly”.

Deborah Seabrook (R4GV, Merrow) said: “It is an impressive building, congratulations to those concerned.” But she added that use of “commercial sensitivity” about the chimney was “totally unsatisfactory” and she would seek for a full explanation to be provided.

The height mistake (see Council ducks questions on crematorium error) was raised in October 2017 by Farnham air-quality consultant David Harvey and architect Mark Westcott. Mr Harvey questioned whether there was a council “culture of denial and cover-up” in a statement to GBC (March 2).

Deborah Seabrook has asked for a full explanation on why the internal report was not made public.

He said: “The summary given of the report [at the O&S meeting] was that the error was a result of ‘human error’ in the interpretation of the architectural drawings. This is incorrect.”

He has asked the external reviewer to examine the tender process, won by cremator supplier Facultatieve Technologies, an international company whose UK base is in Leeds, and GBC reliance on the contractor to define the chimney height. “Perhaps worse than the error in the calculation is the fact that when I raised my concerns, I was told that three parties had checked it.”

Facultatieve Technologies said they did not have a copy of the internal report.

The Dragon has submitted a Freedom of Information request for the internal report into the chimney height error.

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