THE Government has told York’s leaders to be “open and transparent” about their city vision or face a public backlash, as a secrecy row intensifies.
The Liberal Democrats and Labour have clashed over the latter’s refusal to make public a consultants’ report, which is said to have been used to justify controversial housing plans.
Labour wants to build 22,000 new homes in York by 2030 and has outlined its proposals in the draft Local Plan. But they say the report by the consultants, Arup, can remain secret for now because it is only a draft report. New laws introduced last year say any background papers on key decisions must be made public.Lib Dem councillorNigel Ayre said residents were being “treated with contempt” and said the council may have “a legal as well as a moral case to answer”.
He said: “It is a scandal that the publication of this taxpayer-funded report, which is cited as key evidence and should have been published before the cabinet decision was taken to support the draft Local Plan, is still being delayed.”
The Lib Dems are now considering taking the matter to the Local Government Ombudsman. They questioned making key decisions on the basis of a draft document and said a request to council officials and a Freedom of Information Act request had been rejected.
A Department for Communities and Local Government spokeswoman said: “We are encouraging councils to produce up-to-date Local Plans as soon as possible.
“Decisions about what goes into these plans should be open and transparent, including the evidence being used. If local people feel this isn’t the case, they should hold their council to account.”
Andy Docherty, the council’s assistant director of governance, said the authority recognised its legal duty to publish such papers, but said: “Any documents which are only in draft form are ‘excluded’ from this requirement.
“The Arup report is not classed as a background document because it is in draft form. All documents related to the Local Plan will be published as part of the consultation starting on June 5.”
The Labour-run council has launched a public consultation on the plans.
The Local Authorities (Executive Arrangements) (Meetings and Access to Information) regulations state “background papers must be available for public inspection” and it is illegal for councils to withhold them except in “special cases”.
Former council leader Steve Galloway said the exceptions did not apply as the Arup report was intended for publication, and said it was “not good enough” for it to be published after a decision had been made.