Fringe Box



Second Investigation into Wisley Bid Reveals More of Developer/ GBC Relationship

Published on: 6 Jun, 2021
Updated on: 7 Jun, 2021

The front cover of the Wisley Garden Village bid with only the Guildford Borough Council logo showing.

By Martin Giles

There are, “more unanswered questions than answers”. That is the reaction from campaigners to a report of a second investigation into Guildford Borough Council’s bid for government funding to make an application for a controversial “garden village” development on the former Wisley Airfield.

The report is to be debated at the borough council’s Overview & Scrutiny Committee meeting on Tuesday evening (June 8).

Cllr John Redpath

The investigation was prompted by an unpublished written statement from Cllr John Redpath (R4GV, Holy Trinity) who was dissatisfied with the findings of an earlier investigation in 2019 that had found “no wrongdoing”.

Investigator Mark Heath, a former monitoring officer at Southampton City Council and now of law firm Veale Wasbrough Vizards, said in the report: “There was much concern, mainly from those opposed to any development of the Wisley site, with regard to the role of the council and its role in relation to the bid document and relationship with other partners.”

What the new investigation report reveals is that an un-minuted meeting decided how the preparatory work for the bid would be carried out, including the decision that former owners of the Wisley site WPIL, a company registered in the Cayman Islands, and its agents would prepare the content of the application.

The back cover showed the logos of all those involved in the bid and states: “Produced by Guildford Borough Council with information provided by Wisley Property Investments Ltd and their consultant team.” The investigation report confirms that the consultant team were the main authors of the bid.

At the meeting were two unnamed GBC planning officers, Cllrs Paul Spooner (GBC leader and lead councillor for planning) and Matt Furniss (GBC deputy leader), Mike Murray (representing WPIL), and Charlie Collins and Ruth Bryan from WPIL’s agents, Savills).

Included in matters raised in Cllr Redpath’s statement were questions about the “Wisley letter” supporting the bid. The letter was ostensibly from the then leader of Surrey County Council, David Hodge, but actually written by the agents of Wisley Property Investments Limited (WPIL) and sent to him for signature by Cllr Matt Furniss, then the deputy leader of GBC and a county councillor.

An addendum to the report says: “The drafting of the letter by Savills was in no way unusual. Bodies working in partnership with or for councils and indeed other parties prepare draft letters or other documents for their partners/clients every day.

“It is also understood that the then deputy leader at the council took the draft letter to Surrey CC where they were also a councillor. We can see nothing wrong in that at all either.”

In February 2019, the then county council deputy leader Colin Kemp wrote to the chairman of Ockham Parish Council: “I am sorry for the distress that Cllr Hodge’s letter has caused you and your residents.

“The letter was requested by GBC purely to support their bid to the department for extra funding to process the application for the Wisley development to become a garden village. While the letter is expressed in strong terms it, therefore, should not be read as support for the planning application.”

The latest investigation, which has taken 18 months to complete, concludes that if information within its report, “… had been made public earlier, this may well have removed the (albeit misconceived) perception that there were substantive issues underpinning the production of the bid document arising from an inappropriate relationship between the council and the promoters of the Wisley Garden Village.

“…the issues raised do not require any further action to be taken by the council. However there were learning points for the council.

Tony Edwards

But Tony Edwards, spokesman for Wisley Action Group who campaign against the development of the former Wisley Airfield, was dismissive. He said: “The so-called second “investigation” stretches the definition of the word to the extreme, leaving more unanswered questions than answers and reaching what looks very much like a pre-determined conclusion.

“It appears from the report that democracy is in short supply and that council officers are a law unto themselves – effectively doing as they please but it strengthens the case for a major reduction in their numbers.”

Share This Post

Responses to Second Investigation into Wisley Bid Reveals More of Developer/ GBC Relationship

  1. Jules Cranwell Reply

    June 7, 2021 at 7:36 am

    Yet another whitewash by GBC. Why am I not surprised? It is a matter of public record that the previous administration had a far too cosy relationship with developers. Why has this never been properly investigated?

Leave a Comment

Please see our comments policy. All comments are moderated and may take time to appear.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *