Cherwell opposition councillors unhappy about public being left out of Castle Quay relocation discussions

Cherwell District Council opposition councillors are unhappy about the Castle Quay office relocation discussions being held behind closed doors.
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Councillors in charge of the council said that the matter contained ‘sensitive financial and commercial material’, so they could not discuss it in public at Monday’s (December 19) full council meeting.

But the Progressive Oxfordshire Group – a coalition of Green, Lib Dem, and Independent councillors, say – have since argued that the matter should not have been discussed privately.

Prior to the item regarding the council’s move from Bodicote House to Castle Quay being discussed, council chairman Les Sibley proposed that the talks should be held excluding members of the public and press.

The council's move to Castle Quay has been could happen in late 2024.The council's move to Castle Quay has been could happen in late 2024.
The council's move to Castle Quay has been could happen in late 2024.

This exemption motion was then voted on, with the Labour and Conservative councillors voting to exclude the discussion from public view.

However, Progressive Oxfordshire leader David Hingley said that his group could not see anything on the item that was commercially sensitive and, as it concerned significant sums of public money, it should be held in an open session.

He said: “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.

"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.

"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.”

Councillors from the Progressive Oxfordshire group say that all discussions regarding the move have been “kept in secrecy” by the council.

Cllr Ian Middleton said: “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.”

In response to Progressive Oxfordshire group’s views, a spokesperson for Cherwell District Council said: “As detailed in the agenda papers and as is usual in circumstances where sensitive financial and commercial material is in discussion, there was a motion on an exempt report to discuss this report in private. This was carried by the majority.

"The reason was stated on the report and the agenda papers. The reason being that the report contained “information relating to the financial or business affairs” of the Council and if released would compromise the financial position of the council, permitted under schedule 12A (para 3) of Local Government Act 1972.

"This Information is likely to be in the public domain once the council has concluded commercial negotiations that do not compromise the council's financial position.”