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'Big Brother' tactics at council

PUBLISHED: 10:30 12 July 2008 | UPDATED: 20:51 05 July 2010

A council has been accused of employing "Big Brother" tactics after two decisions made by its own planning committee were declared unlawful.

Officers at Waveney District Council came under fire from the leader of its opposition Lib Dem group Andrew Shepherd, who claimed the independence of councillors had been undermined.

A council has been accused of employing “Big Brother” tactics after two decisions made by its own planning committee were declared unlawful.

Officers at Waveney District Council came under fire from the leader of its opposition Lib Dem group Andrew Shepherd, who claimed the independence of councillors had been undermined.

A special meeting of the full council on Thursday night then took another twist when its chairman George Hawes went against normal procedure to deliver a stinging speech against the ruling.

It came about after the council's legal chief claimed that two members of the development control committee may have broken rules by reading from pre-prepared statements, which could suggest they had made their minds up about applications before the meeting.

The full council voted in favour of revoking the original decisions and sending them back to development control, but Mr Shepherd said: “I am very concerned that we are in a situation of 1984 and being told how to do things and what to do. The independence of local authorities is very much being undermined by Big Brother telling us what to do.”

Applications to build 14 affordable homes at Rushmere Road, Carlton Colville, and Rowan Way, Lowestoft, will now be heard again on Tuesday and the two councillors in the spotlight have been recommended by officers not to attend.

Mr Shepherd added: “It is unbelievable you are asking members to stand down. This is a way of gerrymandering the decision-making process.”

The two councillors concerned are development control committee chairman Frank Mortimer, who spoke against the Rowan Way application, and Patricia Hawes, who opposed the Rushmere Road plans.

Her husband and fellow councillor George Hawes, who is council chairman, handed over the running of Thursday's meeting to his

deputy before claiming there had been no wrong-doing and criticising the way officers had handled the matter.

He said: “I believe that tonight's meeting has been called contrary to proper procedures of openness… and that the councillors' legal rights and human rights have been ignored, and that their integrity has been besmirched beyond reason.”

Mrs Hawes did not attend the meeting, but Mr Mortimer spoke to insist there had been no wrong-doing.

Arthur Charvonia, the council's assistant chief executive and monitoring officer, said he could not prove the councillors had broken the rules, but said there was a “percep-tion” they had, which could leave the authority open to a legal challenge.

In response to Mr Shepherd's accusations of gerrymandering, Mr Charvonia said the issue was no different to existing rules where a member is removed from a debate after declaring a prejudicial interest.

The council also decided that relevant councillors and officers should receive extra training.

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