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Second Leaked Tory Email Shows Some Were Very Concerned About Building Height

Published on: 3 May, 2023
Updated on: 13 Aug, 2023

The second leaked Conservative group email on building height

By Martin Giles

A second leaked email marked “CONFIDENTIAL” has been sent to The Guildford Dragon NEWS. It is part of an email debate in 2018, held within the then-ruling Conservative group at GBC, on building height in Guildford.

See also: Leaked Email Shows Tories Were Debating Building Height in 2018

GBC has confirmed that guidance given to councillors is that private emails should not be used for council business and that, although permitted to do so under the Freedom of Information Act 2000, it does not routinely request councillors to check their private email accounts when responding to FoI requests.

A copy of the email above has been sent to GBC for information in case they wished to investigate. A spokesperson responded: “Thanks for letting us know.”

The email shows that while the council was considering the planning inspector’s response to a draft version of the plan in April 2018. The inspector had pointed out the omission of a plan for the town centre and building height control was of concern to members within the Conservative group.

One member of the Tory group at the time said: “It did not occur to me that this might be inappropriate to discuss on private email and I don’t recall anyone discussing that point.

“At that time, Apr 2018, there was concern that the Local Plan should remain on track to be adopted before the 2019 election and I think the SPD was a compromise solution to satisfy those who were concerned about building height.”

Paul Spooner

The Dragon asked Paul Spooner, leader of the Conservative group at GBC and council leader in 2018 why, considering the relevance to council business, the debate wasn’t conducted using GBC email addresses and why other parties were excluded?

Cllr Spooner responded: “I confirm this was another email from the political group discussions on heights and views. It echoes the position that we continually state that we were looking to bring in an SPD asap back in 2018.”Whilst this was a group discussion other parties were involved within the council, primarily the leader of the Lib Dems, outside the political Conservative group meeting.

“This was a political discussion on group policy within the Conservative Group and we followed party procedures. There are many other [emails] if whoever is leaking confidential political group emails continues to do so.

Asked why his group did not propose or support a building heights policy for inclusion in the Local Plan Part 2 and why was the SPD, which his members apparently felt was required urgently, not more restrictive, Cllr Spooner said: “The Conservative group was active in looking at the options for regeneration of Guildford and we are not ashamed of that. There was a range of views, as would be expected from such a large number of councillors within the group.

Ramsey Nagaty

The leader of the Guildford Greenbelt Group (GGG) commented: “We proposed a height standard as without one land values could escalate and tall buildings be built even higher, especially if more affordable homes, as desired, were to be supplied. This is where the LibDem statements do not make sense as their stated interest in prioritising the number of “affordables” would guarantee even higher buildings.

“The SPDs were weak and not just on the Guildford town centre views. GGG raised many points concerning the SPDs and they are only guidance, not policy.

“The Conservatives should have realised an SPD is not sufficient to control building heights when they produced their hated Local Plan. This is just another example that the Local Plan 2019, rushed through in the purdah period before the last election, needs urgent root and branch review.”

County Cllr Fiona Davidson

Fiona Davidson, speaking on behalf of R4GV said:  “It’s difficult not to conclude that this correspondence – which clearly involved council policy and addressed only Conservative councillors – was conducted by private email so as to avoid FOI.  Why else do it? Residents deserve more openness and transparency – not less.

“What the email shows is that the Conservative administration was trying to publicly cover its embarrassment over the lack of protection that allowed the catastrophe of Solum. A Supplementary Planning Document (SPD) is guidance only, but it can be put in place at any time. I assume it was designed to act as a comfort blanket, but it was a very inadequate one, which a majority of councillors voted for, presumably because it was better than nothing.

“As Chair of R4GV at the time it was because we were aware of the inadequacies of the Views SPD that we pushed for a height policy during the Local Plan Part 2 discussions. R4GV was in favour of the height strategy implemented by councils like Brighton and Hove – and we proposed this, but this too was rejected.”

Sue Hackman

Sue Hackman, for Guildford Labour commented: “At the Guildford Dragon hustings, there was an outbreak of agreement among parties to create building height [limits] by zone. Instead of backward-gazing, Guildford Labour supports joint party working to agree what these heights should be.”

A Lib Dem spokesperson said: “We are in favour of a heights policy, and will look to implement one as soon as practicable, potentially as part of a SPD in advance of the Local Plan Review. We will not commit to a one-size-fits-all maximum height limit, but we would seek a nuanced heights policy, considering an appropriate maximum height on an area-by-area basis.

“The Lib Dems did not support a one-size-fits-all heights policy within Local Plan Part 2 because we believed this approach risked the maximum allowable height of buildings becoming a de facto standard, resulting in a homogenous townscape.

“The SPD on town centre views was intended to prevent tall buildings obstructing views of important and landmark buildings, including the Cathedral, the castle and Holy Trinity Church. However, it is now clear that this SPD allows tall buildings up to thirteen stories, as evidenced by the recent North Street application.

“We will work to engage with all communities on this issue and work with parish councils and residents associations throughout the borough in a two-way communication with our residents.”

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Responses to Second Leaked Tory Email Shows Some Were Very Concerned About Building Height

  1. Paul Spooner Reply

    May 3, 2023 at 1:23 pm

    How little R4GV understands the Local Plan process. Any heights policy would be in Part 2 of the Local Plan. The best we could do prior to that was an SPD.

    It has taken four years for the R4GV/Lib Dem coalition to being forward Part 2 of the Local Plan through to adoption a few weeks ago. That means four years to get a policy in place, something that despite concerns being raised, the R4GV Lead Member failed to do.

    There comes a point when residents will start to question how many years R4GV can continue to rely on the past for excuses and have to own up for the present.

    Paul Spooner is a Conservative candidate for Westborough in the forthcoming GBC election.

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