Key legal advice which will help shape the future of the Vale is being kept from councillors - at their own request.
Officers working for the council have recommended some planning decisions based on legal advice, without sharing that advice with elected councillors who are legally responsible for the final say.
But when this was pointed out to Aylesbury Vale District councillors at their meeting on Wednesday October 21, the majority of members voted against a change in the rules.
Councillor Llew Monger, who represents Winslow said at the meeting: “Is this a secret society or is this Aylesbury Vale District Council?
“There is no reason why this information should not be given to those that make these decisions, who are being asked to make decisions on planning applications that are vital to our communities.
“I begin to think that the legal advice does not exist, that is why it can’t be shown. I challenge those who have that information to publish and be damned.”
The motion which asked for legal advice given to officers to be shown to town, parish and district councillors, so that they could make more informed representations and decisions, was put forward by Labour councillor Robin Stuchbury.
But following a debate the motion was voted out.
The row relates to a planning department memo saying that in certain circumstances decision-makers would not be able to acknowledge housing numbers stated in neighbourhood plans.
The memo said that this is because of legal advice that had been received by officers, but that advice could not be shown to councillors.
Councillor Carole Paternoster, who holds the planning portfolio at the council, said: “Legal advice privilege is lost when confidentiality is lost, and in the same way that a planning briefing paper made it into the public domain, the risk to the council of that happening with the legal advice is a real one. For this reason I believe that the motion should not be supported”.
Councillor Monger added: “This legal advice was questioned at the last meeting too, by me.
“In her statement councillor Paternoster said that this is information that should not go beyond council.
“Well, it hasn’t even come to council, it hasn’t even come to the committee that has the responsibility for deciding on these hostile applications. And as far as I am aware, it hasn’t been seen by the planning chair or Mrs Paternoster.”
And councillor Robin Stuchbury said that the electorate would be shocked to hear that the people they voted for did not have the information they needed to make decisions.
He said: “How can we go back and explain that councillors are not trusted with the role they have been elected to do.”
But leader Neil Blake said that implying that the professional advice did not exist was simply not true.
He said: “We employ officers to give advice on a range of subjects.
“To suggest there is no such advice is quite frankly a slight on our officers and quite frankly the cabinet member.” >Email your views to firstname.lastname@example.org