Posted: Mon 12th Feb 2024

Another ban on discussing ‘elephant in the room’ Local Development Plan at Audit Committee for people living in or visiting the Wrexham area

Debates on the Local Development Plan appear to be off limits again in the Guildhall, with the topic not allowed to be discussed at the recent Audit meeting.

The position copies the situation back in September at the same committee where LDP questions were barred due to legal issues. As we reported last week organisers of a recent fundraiser claim they are launching two legal appeals – although the council have said ‘no comment’ to questions.

As we have reported this morning the Audit Committee meeting on Thursday heard yet again about the breakdown in relations between elected members and officers, accusing councillors of “undermining” their professional advice.

The meeting was also unusual with yet more secretive back and forth exchanges – and the topic of the Local Development Plan appearing to be entirely offlimits, despite getting several mentions including from auditors themselves.

The committee had a slightly opaque start with references to an ‘introduction’ by the council’s legal officer off camera which apparently members had been warned to be “mindful of any prejudicial comments”. No reason to the contents of the warning, or why one was needed is public.

There was an early unusual point of order by the Council Leader Mark Pritchard where he stated there were ‘some concerns’ with the minutes of the previous meeting, but then suggested to the Chair of the meeting Jerry O’Keeffe (Independent Lay Member), “It is important that you and I and the monitoring service officer have a conversation with personal, prejudicial and private interests.”

Vice-Chair Cllr Dana Davies asked for clarity stating that whatever the ‘concern’ was revolved around declarations of interest not the minutes, however Cllr Pritchard fired back, “You wouldn’t know that because you don’t know what I’m going to bring up on concerns that I’m going to raise with the Chair and the Monitoring Officer”.

There was no clarity what that was all about, and the minutes were signed off as accurate- but with two abstentions.

Shortly after committee members moved to declarations of interests, with the Chair declaring a “personal and non prejudicial interest”. Later, he was asked what that was and unusually answered “confidential”, with the Legal Officer adding, “I understand the Chair wants to make a confidential declaration direct to myself as monitoring officer in relation to one of the matters this morning, but that will be recorded for him.”

Council Leader Pritchard then spoke, “I’m disappointed that the minutes and the matters arising were discussed because I did make my position very clear that I wanted an adjournment with yourself and the monitoring officer to discuss the concerns, serious concerns, that I have with regards to private…” Cllr Pritchard did not make clear what the exact topic was, but further pressed for a pause in the meeting to discuss the mystery issue.

Vice Chair Cllr Davies observed, “What do we have here? Do we have another member questioning somebody’s declaration? Because I think that is beyond the remit of that member?”

The Legal Officer stepped in and advised the meeting, “Yes, as members are aware, elected members and lay members, it is their responsibility to make the declarations. I appreciate there has been a challenge to that. But the chair has indicated he’s made a declaration on that matter. It’s then for the chair to decide whether to adjourn or move on with the agenda now.”

The Chair said, “It sets out in the Constitution that non members of the committee certainly have an entitlement to raise an issue, or to ask a question. With my authority as chair of the committee I would like to say that we’ve dealt with the minutes and we’ve dealt with matters arising. I’d rather just move on with the meeting.”

Lay committee member Don Sturgeon later said, “I just like to refer to the monitoring officer, because I had a question about a current crowdfunding website relating to the LDP” but was told it was ‘not appropriate, as was discussed’.

Cllr Trevor Bates also queried, “Am I allowed to ask anything about the LDP?”

The Chair told his, “No, we’ll just keep that one out of the conversation”.

Cllr Bates replied, “I asked that because it forms a part of the report, and yet we’re discussing the rest of the report, but ignoring that little bit there – the elephant in the room really.

“Part of the problem is, I think, that we’ve got a majority of councillors that don’t agree with it, that might undermine the planning at the moment. I don’t think we can ignore it. But, if we’re not allowed to discuss it, then I will shut up”.

The Chair ruled, “I prefer not to go into that domain, please if that’s okay. Sorry, but we are where we are on that one.”

Vice Chair Cllr Dana Davies warned Cllr Bates, “I would advise you to speak to the officer as well as a member of the planning committee. If you’ve seen that decisions are in conflict because of your view of the LDP, then you need to be having those discussions with the planning officer.”

Cllr Bates noted, “I did not say it was my view”.

More from the meeting here.

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