Broadland District Council’s private meetings move branded ‘suspicious’
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A Norfolk council has introduced new advisory panels to discuss issues from housing to health – in private.
Broadland District Council has come under fire after its members voted in favour of councillors covering topics on the environment, economy, housing, wellbeing and member development behind closed doors.
Now, on top of the regular public committee meetings, 36 councillors will advise portfolio holders in groups of nine and will not need to publish the minutes.
The leader of Broadland Conservatives, Andrew Proctor, will have the final say on who sits on what panel. He has defended the new system, insisting they will not stifle public debate, but rather create a place to develop policy.
He said: 'No one is trying to be secretive, it's just working our way through the issues we need to work through.'
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Part of the new regime – put forward by Mr Proctor and chief executive Phil Kirby – is a plan to scrap the current place shaping committee which discusses housing and is held in public, and replace it with a private advisory panel of the same name.
Broadland has a vision to build 7,000 houses by 2026, rising to 10,000 after that in its Growth Triangle scheme.
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David Hook, chairman of Campaign to Protect Rural England Norfolk's planning group, has been outspoken about the rate of housing growth across the county and described private meetings as 'a regressive step'.
He said: 'It's highly suspicious when meetings are held behind closed doors.
'It's not a good thing and in a democracy they should be out in the open and open to scrutiny by the press and public. It makes you wonder what they are cooking up and why does it have to be in private.'
The Conservatives gained 12 seats in the election earlier this month, meaning they now control 43 of 47 in the district.
Barbara Rix, deputy leader of Broadland's Liberal Democrats, said: 'I am deeply unhappy with these panels not being open to public scrutiny. People should be able to know what's going on at their district council.'
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