Cllr claims vital meetings to be held behind closed doors

The district council is trying to put vital talks over Sidmouth’s future behind closed doors, according to one of its own representatives.

Claire Wright, who sits on the Local Plan Panel (LPP), said her motion to have new meetings with town councils held in public was overruled.

At last week’s meeting East Devon District Council (EDDC) agreed to go back to local councils and debate any outstanding issues such as housing numbers and employment land.

The public consultation period is now over, which Sidmouth Town Council failed to respond to, and the meetings represent one of the last chances councillors will get to influence the plan.

But when it transpired the meetings were due to be held behind closed doors, Cllr Wright told the panel this was ‘inconceivable’, and would create suspicion.

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She made a proposal to hold the meetings with the press and public present, which was carried six votes to one.

But a few days later Cllr Wright said she was ‘astonished’ to receive a letter from EDDC chief executive Mark Williams, saying the meetings should remain private.

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She said: “I am baffled as to why EDDC has reacted so strongly to the decision to hold these meetings in the public domain.”

A spokesman for EDDC said: “Mark Williams did not overturn members’ decision; he merely explained why their recommendation was not constitutional.”

He said as the LPP is not a decision-making body, and merely makes recommendations to the Development Management Committee, Cllr Wright’s proposal was not a decision, and did not have to be accepted.

The spokesman explained meetings with officers, which this latest round with local councils will be, are held in private, and a report is then published to councillors, rather than in public.

But Cllr Wright strongly disagrees, saying there is ‘no justification’ to hold meetings about important issues to be held without the press and public present.

She said despite council claims to the contrary, there is nothing in the constitution which says these meetings have to be held in private, merely a law they don’t have to be held in public.

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