Councillors unhappy that relocation plans not being discussed publicly

19/12/2023

Cherwell’s current HQ with Councillor David Hingley inset

Progressive Oxfordshire say it is a matter of public and financial interest

A group of Councillors are unhappy that plans for Cherwell District Council to relocate to Banbury Town Centre are not being discussed publicly.

The project to sell Bodicote House and move into Castle Quay was discussed by Councillors at a full meeting of the Council last night, but the discussion was held behind closed doors, with the public and press excluded.

Ahead of the item on the move Council Chairman Les Sibley proposed excluding the public and press, but David Hingley – the leader of the Progressive Oxfordshire group – felt the item should be debated in public.

He said: “I’m not entirely sure why the next item needs to play with the exclusion of the press and the public.   It deals with the matter of public interest, a matter of … I’m not quite sure exactly what I can say at this point … but a matter of financial interest.

“So I, at this point, don’t support moving to exclude the press and the public.   I think it’s in the public interest that we continue in public session.”

Councillor Sibley responded: “My understanding is that this is the normal sort of procedure – it’s a confidential item.   It’s been proposed and seconded.   I propose that we go to the vote.”

Whilst Progressive Oxfordshire voted against a private discussion both Labour and Conservative Councillors supported it.

Following the meeting Councillor Hingley told Banbury FM: “For a number of reasons, the council’s proposed move to Castle Quay has merit, such as making it easier for residents to use public transport to access council premises.

“But residents deserve to know how the district’s finances are being spent. Relevant information must be publicly available. At Monday’s Council meeting, I argued that the debate relating to the move should be held in public. However the Conservative minority administration backed again by their Labour colleagues disagreed, excluding the press and the public from proceedings, thereby taking decisions behind closed doors.

“Bodicote village likewise should be fully engaged on what happens to the Bodicote House site afterwards. While there has to be an element of commercial confidentiality to the process, no real information has yet been shared with the local community, causing unnecessary anxiety and speculation. For the sake of public confidence, it’s now time CDC opened up about how the move is being progressed and provides full transparency on how public money is being used – including seeking genuine input from councillors before decisions are made, not after.“

Councillor Ian Middleton, also a member of Progerssive Oxfordshire, said : “Every stage of this move has been shrouded in secrecy by the Conservative administration. As leaders of the official opposition group, David and I were only made aware of the already very mature plans around 3 months ago whilst being told we had to keep it all confidential.

“There has been virtually zero consultation or oversight on these proposals either within the council membership or with the public. The only reason it came to full council now is because we needed to agree to spend tax-payers money to enable things to move forward.

“Whilst I agree there were some commercially sensitive aspects concerning the disposal of Bodicote House, the discussion at full council dealt only with the business case for the move and some internal financial matters to enable it to go ahead. There was nothing that I could see that needed to be excluded from public view.

“I felt in those circumstances the public should be entitled to see and hear the details and the discussion. Clearly Labour and the Conservatives don’t believe in transparent governance and would rather everything be done in secret. One has to ask what they felt they needed to hide.”

Banbury FM has contacted the Council asking for details of when details of the costs and business case for the project will be made publicly available and what Councillors agreed to in private session at last night’s meeting.

Earlier in the meeting the Bodicote, Adderbury and Bloxham ward councillor Rob Pattenden asked the Council’s Leader to ensure Bodicote Parish Council were involved in discussions over the future use of the site.   He also asked whether potential purchasers were being made aware of the well-established trees at Bodicote House, which were part of the character of the village.   He highlighted the many wild bird species, pond wildlife and badger set in the grounds and asked if they would be protected.

Leader Barry Wood responded that many of these issues would be picked up through the planning process.   He added that Bodicote Parish Council would be consulted.


Published: by Banbury FM Newsteam

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