A behind closed doors debate of an investigation into a controversial land deal in Lichfield was shelved after it emerged no report was actually ready to be discussed.

Lichfield District Council House

The audit and member standards committee at Lichfield District Council had been due to hear an update surrounding how an agreement was reached to sell open space at Netherstowe and Leyfields for housing.

The external investigation was launched after it emerged the sale had been agreed without the knowledge of the local authority’s leader and cabinet.

An agenda for the meeting last night (25th March) had said the public and media would be barred from that section of the meeting.

The council had cited the Local Government Act 1972 as a reason for originally adding the item to a confidential section of the meeting, but monitoring officer Christie Tims revealed that there was actually nothing to be discussed, either in public or behind closed doors.

“This time last night I had an update from the external independent investigators that they aren’t able to provide us with the report yet, but they are confident that they can provide that to us early in April.

“I’m confident that we can make sure that anything that can be discussed – certainly the substantive part of the report – will be in public.

“If there are any elements that require a confidential discussion amongst members before we make that public then we will take those out separately and deal with those in a different way.

“There are some contractual issues still outstanding and there are potentially issues that may relate to personal information and GDPR that we might need to deal with.”

Christie Tims, Lichfield District Council

But Cllr Joanne Grange, independent member for Chadsmead, said the local authority should not assume elements of a report were private until it had been received.

“Having publicised that it would be a closed section of the meeting, we potentially have a number of people who would have been interested who would not necessarily now be watching.

“I fully understand the rationale of it being easier to bring it out of confidential than put it in, but where there is significant public interest in a particular item the presumption should be the other way round.

“We’ve had this discussion previously that we could do an awful lot of discussion about a particular topic in public and then take any minor points into a private session.

“I think it would have been better for us to decide before 6.53pm that this was not going to be a private session.”

Cllr Joanne Grange, Lichfield District Council

Cllr Alan White, Conservative member for Whittington and Streethay, said that while openness was important, there would always be a need for some reports to be heard behind closed doors.

“I do understand Cllr Grange’s desire to get as much as possible into the public domain – but at the same time there are sometimes requirements to discuss stuff in private because if we didn’t do that sometimes we wouldn’t get best value for money for the public and we wouldn’t get to the bottom of the issues that we need to get to the bottom of.

“There are times when confidential items are appropriate.

“A slightly more fulsome explanation would help the public to understand why we are taking something into a confidential session.”

Cllr Alan White, Lichfield District Council

“We need to be mindful of the public interest”

Cllr Grange said that councillors also needed to be aware of the sensitivity around the issue.

Cllr Joanne Grange

“While agreeing with Cllr White that there are occasions where things may need to be heard confidentially, we need to be mindful of the public interest.

“Because there is such an interest in these pieces of land, if we are going to take something into private it needs to be considered and explained in more detail than we might normally.

“We can refer back to a 1,000 signature petition and hundreds of objections – there is an awful lot of noise about it in north Lichfield and a significant level of public interest that we shouldn’t disregard.”

Cllr Joanne Grange, Lichfield District Council

Committee chairman, Cllr Colin Greatorex, confirmed the report would be heard in public when it does come before the group next month.

“In this case the reason it was put into confidential was because it was uncertain what the matter was going to be.

“As it’s transpired there’s nothing that needs to be discussed in condfidential because the report is that there is no report.

“We’ve concluded that we will put the next report in April into the pubic domain.”

Cllr Colin Greatorex, Lichfield District Council

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13 Comments

  1. I thought pantomine was only around Christmas. Frankly this saga is becoming just like a bizarre panto – you could not make it up!

  2. Is this an attempt at an early April fools joke?!

    Where’s the leadership and direction and control over this. Is Diane Tilley not driving this to resolution!

    How can cabinet not know a report hasn’t been issued and more importantly not even have a confirmed date for it’s completion . I’m sure it’s not been produced for foc.

    Clowns

  3. There is some dignity in admitting you are wrong or have made a mistake. We can all empathise with that as we have been there ourselves. The Lichfield District Council can obviously feel the guilt of their indiscretions, now the weight of protest is upon them. Procrastination and weasel words will not placate the protests now. With this following Friarsgate their whole credibility is in question. Not the first council to be found culpable for this. Will this one end in ignominy?

  4. “ “As it’s transpired there’s nothing that needs to be discussed in condfidential because the report is that there is no report.

    “We’ve concluded that we will put the next report in April into the pubic domain.”

    To clarify, these are the people in charge of our local money……..!!!

  5. We seem to be slipping back into the bad old days of the Wilcox-led LDC era. His legacy remains the building site where Friarsgate should now be. But it is clear there is another damaging Wilcox era legacy – there are still too many councillors and officials who are far too comfortable in their safe, cushy roles and who think they can act without being challenged. All this talk in recent years about a new approach from the Tories and a new crop of younger councillors is empty puff. Where are these younger councillors on issues like this – silent. No doubt they have to defer to the remaining Wilcox-era gang, who just do not seem to understand terms like transparency, accountability, engagement and responsibility. They are too busy maintaining their comfy existence and unwilling to rock the boat and it looks like that is the party line these days, despite Doug Pullen’s claims that he wants a new approach. I’m not surprised by any of this and with Wilcox now running for a county council seat it just goes to show that things never change.

  6. “We’ve concluded that we will put the next report in April into the pubic domain.” so is Cllr Colin Greatorex, now saying that Cllr Joanne Grange was correct in saying the report should not be heard behind closed doors, well done Cllr Joanne Grange, we do need more Cllrs like her who is not afraid to speak out.
    Instead of the decision to hold a meeting behind closed doors being the first choice, they should explain why, instead of hiding behind a bland quote

    Exclusion of Public and Press

    RESOLVED: That, as publicity would be prejudicial to the public interest by reason of the confidential nature of the business to be transacted the public and press be excluded from the meeting for the following item of business which would involve the likely disclosure of exempt information as defined in Paragraph 3 of Part 1 of Schedule 12A of the Local Government Act 1972 as amended.
    IN PRIVATE

  7. 100% Scott Armstrong. Nice little earner as a Cllr. at both local and county. They all want to play politics’ instead of doing what is best for people and the community.

  8. Am I the only one who will not be surprised if the Report just fails to arrive before the Local Elections?

  9. Regardless if what your political persuasions are, it’s healthy for councils to occasionally change from blue to red and vice versa. A stronghold county/city council only leads to complacency, apathy, and a sense of “we can do what we like….they’ll still vote for us”.

    Please remember this when you cast your vote.

  10. Seems to be taking an awfully long time to get this report.
    Hope all is clear to the public before election time.

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