The economic strategy for the district has been prepared by EDDC’s economy ‘think tank’ chaired by Cllr Graham Godbeer – which has met regularly since May behind closed doors.
No minutes have been taken at the meetings nor any agendas prepared, on the basis that this inhibits ‘free thinking’.
A query last night by Cllr Mike Allen on a reference to this strategy in last night’s scrutiny committee meeting papers, led to Cllr Graham Brown – a member of the think tank – to reveal that the document had been written and prepared and was poised for public consultation next week, timed with the beginning of the consultation for the Local Plan.
It is the same think tank responsible for a cohort of ‘employment’ policies for villages, including propsals to build warehouses and commercial units within and outside village built up area boundaries.
The economic development strategy has not been widely circulated. Most of the councillors last night – around 30 present – were not familiar with the plan, nor had they seen a copy.
I was stunned that such an important piece of work, which is linked to the Local Plan and will have significant implications for the future of the district, should have been kept under wraps and published without being considered by a public committee, such as Cabinet or Scrutiny.
I told the meeting that I thought it was extraordinary that the economic strategy should be launched for public consultation in this way and that it was unacceptable that this piece of work should have been prepared behind closed doors with no minutes or agendas produced, for transparency in the democratic process.
It was only earlier this year that I (as part of Communities Before Developers) won a major battle to release EDDC’s Local Development Framework Panel minutes to the public. Previously, they had refused to publish them under the Freedom of Information Act.
In March, three years worth of LDF Panel minutes were published on EDDC’s website.
The above revelation is a retrograde step and indefensible.
It was agreed at last night’s scrutiny meeting that the economic strategy would not be published for consultation next week but instead would be debated at the next scrutiny committee meeting.
I will be reading it very carefully indeed.