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‘Transparent’ Council Blocks FoI Request on Crematorium Chimney Error Report

Published on: 21 May, 2021
Updated on: 21 May, 2021

By Hugh Coakley

The borough council has rejected a Dragon Freedom of Information request to release their internal report into the Guildford crematorium chimney-height error.

David Harvey, an independent air-quality consultant who originally reported the error to GBC, called the refusal “a cop-out”. He has previously questioned whether there is a “culture of denial and cover-up” within the council, despite their frequent public pledges of transparency.

The new Guildford crematorium has been described as “truly beautiful”.

A GBC statement said: “Although there is a public interest in disclosure related to the importance of transparency and accountability, the council is of the opinion that viewing the report in isolation without gaining an insight into the bigger picture provided by the audit would present a misleading interpretation of the situation which would not be in the public interest.

“Disclosure of the report on its own at this stage could therefore prejudice the interests of the council. We are therefore withholding the report until such time as it is made publicly available as part of the audit publication.”

Guildford crematorium chimney increased by 90cms because of error in calculations.

An external audit into the error has been completed by the air-quality consultancy, SLR. Publication date for the audit has not been disclosed.

Mr Harvey, who confirmed he had no vested interest in the project, said he had contributed to the audit but had not seen their report despite being told he would be able to comment on it. “The internal report was conducted by the council’s own staff,” he said. “They are therefore saying their own internal report is misleading.”

The much-praised new building was opened in December 2019. The chimney was subsequently raised by 0.9m due to the error (see GBC Still Silent On Crematorium Chimney Error Report But No Bill For Taxpayers).

Councillors at the Overview and Scrutiny committee meeting in March 2021 had unsuccessfully called for a redacted version of the Guildford Crematorium Stack Discharge Height Error Internal Investigation to be published, but this had been refused on the grounds of “commercial sensitivity”.

Subsequent requests for publication were also rebuffed, with GBC’s executive member, James Steel (Lib Dem, Westborough) saying: “We will consider publication of the report in line with our legal obligations.”

Mr Harvey and architect Mark Westcott had reported the calculation error in October 2017. GBC acknowledged the mistake in 2020.

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Responses to ‘Transparent’ Council Blocks FoI Request on Crematorium Chimney Error Report

  1. Anthony Mallard Reply

    May 24, 2021 at 5:24 pm

    The long grass into which I predicted this report would be kicked has just grown longer and more impenetrable.

    Openness and transparency, still not happy bedfellows with Guildford Borough Council.

  2. George Potter Reply

    May 25, 2021 at 8:19 pm

    “We are therefore withholding the report until such time as it is made publicly available as part of the audit publication.”

    Perhaps someone could explain to me how this quote doesn’t completely invalidate both the article’s headline and the comment Mr Mallard?

    Quite clearly the report is going to be made publicly available; just not quite yet.

    George Potter is the Lib Dem borough councillor for Burpham

    • Jim Allen Reply

      May 26, 2021 at 2:54 pm

      Publicly available in the future? When will that be? Which month or which year even? If it’s going to be published in full why not now, rather than, as implied, as a modified, edited, redacted text, within another report?

  3. John Perkins Reply

    May 27, 2021 at 10:19 am

    Oh Lord make me transparent, but not yet.

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