A Cabinet member has said advice from legal advisors and officers at Lichfield District Council had led to the decision to keep discussions and reports about Friarsgate away from public view.
The city centre redevelopment scheme finally bit the dust after more than a decade of planning when councillors voted not to pump £49million into the project.
There has been criticism over the local authority’s decision to hold discussions about the failing project behind closed doors, even including the final debate on June 26 which saw Friarsgate formally axed.
But minutes from the private discussion reveal that Cllr Christopher Spruce, Cabinet member for finance and democratic services, said the reports had to be kept behind closed doors.
“With regard to transparency, Cllr Spruce said information in the reports was commercially sensitive and it was a strong recommendation of the council’s legal advisors and officers that it should remain confidential,” the minutes revealed.
Cllr Spruce also told his colleagues that Friarsgate would have been “a lovely scheme” but that the council’s hand had been forced by “the bombshell” of a lack of funding from the private sector.
LichfieldLive has previously revealed how one Conservative councillor has accused the leadership of letting their hearts rule their heads when it came to the long-awaited development project.
But the minutes revealed that Cllr Spruce said too many people had been quick to query the project after the funding had fallen through.
“Cllr Spruce said following the funding bombshell there was suddenly no shortage of experts, but he could not remember any of the questions being asked in April or May,” the minutes said.
“He said it was a lovely scheme but a bad deal and once the figures became available it was obvious that there was no support for it in the council and it would have been madness to consider taking on the level of borrowing required.”
Cllr Mike Wilcox, leader of Lichfield District Council has previously claimed he had been “as open as possible” on Friarsgate, after LichfieldLive had taken the step of asking questions about the project publicly following his decision not to speak out about the impending demise of the scheme – a stance he reiterated following a by-election defeat for his party last week.
“The council, supported by the Cabinet, have directed to be as open as possible in sharing information regarding Friarsgate and have actively undertaken cross party briefings,” Cllr Wilcox said.