No need for Bathampton Meadows investigation, says council leader

By Midsomer Norton & Radstock   |   Editor   |
Monday 14th March 2022 3:35 pm

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The leader of Bath and North East Somerset Council has rejected calls for a “full and transparent investigation” into the transfer of Bathampton Meadows to the National Trust.

Councillor Kevin Guy reiterated that he had no involvement in his father-in-law Ken Horler’s sale of 15 hectares of land at New Leaf Farm for a reported £900,000, and that his family did not benefit from the authority’s asset transfer of a 25-hectare public parcel at a peppercorn rate.

Seeking to end a “relentless campaign falsely maligning my integrity” he has responded to claims by “social media trolls” and a former colleague who has apologised and deleted a blog detailing “some accusations” she said now knows were “completely untrue”.

Councillor Guy previously said he and his husband Steve Horler had no involvement in the sale of the land at New Leaf Farm, nor any pecuniary interest, and their adjoining holiday cottage business New Leaf Farm Ltd is a separate entity. He said this week it is a matter of public record that the holiday cottages are owned by DeepAir, and that he has no interest in the firm.

Companies House records show New Leaf Farm Ltd is majority owned by Horler Guy Holdings Limited, which in turn is majority owned by Mr Horler Snr. Official records also show Mr Guy’s husband has a 1.7 per cent share in the company, and same stake in DeepAir.

Councillors must disclose the interests of themselves and their spouses so residents can have confidence they are putting the public interest first.

Mr Guy previously said he had a conversation with the council’s chief executive and head lawyer about exactly what he needed to declare ahead of the deal. At the time, his register of interests said he was a director of New Leaf Farm Ltd and that his husband was one of four directors of DeepAir Ltd.

It has since been updated at least twice and now lists his directorships of New Leaf Farm Ltd and Horler Guy Holdings Ltd and says his husband is a director of both firms and DeepAir Ltd.

The council leader remains confident that he made the necessary declarations, describing the register of interests as a “live document that is frequently updated”. Mr Guy said, contrary to suggestions, it was not necessary to make a specific declaration when the budget was set on February 16 because it was not relevant to the meeting.

Casting doubt on Mr Guy’s statement last month that his husband may be a director in DeepAir but it is “fully run” by his husband Steve Horler’s father, online commentators pointed to a press report from 2015 in which Mr Horler Jr said Mr Horler Snr had “just retired and he’s built up the business for me to take over as his son”. Another clipping said he had “handed over the family farm”.

Mr Guy said his father-in-law retired from farming in 2015 but not from running DeepAir, which sold the land at New Leaf Farm and over which he has majority control.

“I am not particularly close to Ken Horler and I was not involved in any way in DeepAir’s deal with the National Trust, so I have no evidence about the deal,” he added.

The National Trust confirmed that the negotiations for the pieces of land were completely separate.

Critics have also suggested Mr Guy is not totally separate from DeepAir because in 2018 he submitted a planning application for a property it owned in Pipehouse. He said he did so before he was elected as a councillor (in 2019) to help out his husband.

In a now deleted blog post, former cabinet member Joanna Wright – who quit the Lib Dems with a scathing attack on the party’s “compromised” moral compass to rejoin the Green – questioned why the council was getting “nothing” for its land when Mr Horler Snr was being paid a six-figure sum.

Mr Guy said the asset transfer of the council’s land had been recommended by officers, who said the social and economic benefits worth £2.3million over 30 years would “far exceed” the unrestricted value, which in 2020 was estimated at £915,000.

The council’s deal was signed off in a single-member decision by deputy leader Richard Samuel, the cabinet member for resources.

Responding to Councillor Wright’s calls for a “full and transparent investigation”, Mr Guy said: “That is not my decision to make but so far as I can see there is nothing to investigate.

“To repeat, I was not involved in the deal. “My own family” was not “awarded” a million pounds. My husband’s family sold one of the assets of their company (DeepAir Ltd, in which I have zero interest) to the National Trust (which I don’t control), apparently at a price below that offered by the Conservative-run council seven years ago [when it wanted to build a 1,400-space park and ride at Bathampton Meadows].

“I was not involved in either deal and got nothing from them.”

He previously said his husband was a shareholder in DeepAir but had never received a dividend.

The council leader said in a statement: “The deal with the National Trust about Bathampton Meadows is a fantastic outcome for the residents of Bath and North East Somerset. The beautiful and important water meadows will be protected forever from destructive development. The facilities that the public enjoy will be carefully improved and maintained by the National Trust, who have a great reputation for doing exactly that.

“The Liberal Democrat administration deserves credit for delivering such a positive and long-lasting outcome for residents. It was a clear manifesto commitment which we are very happy to honour and local people are celebrating our achievement.

“It’s a shame that a few individuals with their own malicious political agendas have been desperately searching for ways to damage this wonderful success for our community. They are doing it by attacking me personally. They are completely and demonstrably wrong.

“Being criticised is part of the job of being a politician and if I make a mistake, I am happy to hold my hand up and put it right. But the relentless dishonesty and viciousness of the attacks on me over this success demean public life and unsurprisingly turn people off politics.

“I won’t be distracted from trying to make a positive difference to people’s lives and delivering on the manifesto that voters chose in 2019.”


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