The leader of Guildford Greenbelt Group said an offer of money from within a “community benefit fund” had been referred to police, but developers said any suggestion of other motives was “entirely incorrect”
Councillor Susan Parker fears “impact and damage” on Guildford Greenbelt Group
A financial contribution offered to a political party by a developer hoping to build a solar farm has been referred to Surrey Police by a party member who sits on the Guildford Borough Council planning committee.
The application to install 30,000 solar panels at Eashing Farm, near Godalming, was unanimously refused by council members on Wednesday (October 14).
But in a statement to the committee, Guildford Greenbelt Group (GGG) leader, Councillor Susan Parker, expressed concern that an offer in the form of a community benefit fund from Savills, the agent for Solar Power South Ltd, could be seen as an attempted bribe of a political party.
Get Surrey previously reported that Savills had pledged £500,000 in contributions to GGG, Shackleford Parish Council and Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) as part of its planning application, but none of the organisations had accepted the money.
During the committee meeting, Cllr Parker said GGG had been offered £125,000 as part of the community benefit scheme put forward by Savills.
She said: “We see this offer as an attempt to influence GGG’s opinion and so potentially, possibly, an offence under the Bribery Act 2010. I have therefore reported this matter to Surrey Police.”
‘Unwanted offer of donations’
Cllr Parker told the meeting that she wrote to Guildford Borough Council’s monitoring officer on October 9 saying the money had been offered and that the party had rejected it.
“We take this unwanted offer of donations very seriously,” she said.
“Wide publication of the potential offer and that publication made without our informed consent might possibly have impacted and damaged GGG.
“It may possibly embarrass GGG or suggest that GGG may be willing to accept funds, which would be an offence under the Bribery Act 2010, or lead GGG to withdraw from this planning committee.”
Cllr Parker said Savills had sent an email directly to GGG on October 6 regarding the community benefit fund, but she had not seen it before the planning committee meeting as it had gone into a spam folder.
Before Cllr Parker had finished her statement, the chairman of the planning committee, Cllr Marsha Moseley, stopped her and threatened to remove her from the meeting, adding that the community benefit fund was not to be considered as part of the planning application.
Peter Grubb, a director of Savills who addressed the planning committee, said: “I would first like to clarify the situation with the community benefit fund before talking about the planning merits.
“In relation to the community benefit fund, it is important for members to fully understand our proposal.
“Solar Power South Limited had put forward a community benefit fund in good faith pursuant to the government’s best practice guidance for renewable energy projects with the single objective of trying to maximise the benefits for the local area.
“Any suggestion that this proposal is put forward in anything other than those terms is entirely incorrect.”
Savills had previously failed with an application for 35,000 panels. The new application sought to build 30,000 panels, a sub-station, landscaping and fencing on the site for 25 years.
The land is on the green belt and an area of great landscape value, bordering an AONB.
However, councillors unanimously refused the application saying that it was an inappropriate development on the green belt.