CIVIC chiefs have accepted a court judgement which said they acted unlawfully over the Silver Hill scheme.

Winchester City Council will not appeal Mrs Justice Lang’s ruling that it breached European law by keeping the £165 million development from public tender when a bus station and affordable flats were dropped.

But co-developer Henderson, which proposed the controversial changes, could still appeal.

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The new council cabinet debated behind closed doors for almost two hours on Tuesday, citing the confidentiality of legal advice.

A successful council appeal would have cost taxpayers more than £100,000, while another court defeat would have doubled the bill.

The judicial review, launched last year after a challenge by city councillor Kim Gottlieb, said civic chiefs broke procurement law twice over Silver Hill - once in 2004 and again last year when the Henderson changes were granted.

Hampshire Chronicle:

An earlier public session (pictured) heard how the 2004 decision to enter an agreement with previous developer Thornfield followed common practice at the time.

Tim Hellier, legal advisor and head of planning and environment at Berwin Leighton Paisner, said the unlawfulness of the 2004 decision was only clarified by case law years later.

“[The council] has been extremely cautious, absolutely aware that this particular dimension of law is hugely uncertain,” he said.

“That uncertainty continues up to the point that we’re in at the moment.

“Every single step of the way, the council has gone to the leading chambers in this rather obscure area of law ... and the advice that’s been given has been implemented. At every single stage the council has acted absolutely appropriately in obtaining the best possible legal advice.”

Hampshire Chronicle:

Tim Hellier (centre right), offering legal advice to Winchester City Council on Tuesday

He added that another judge may have come to a different conclusion to Mrs Justice Lang.

Henderson has until tomorrow to lodge an appeal but has not responded to questions from the Hampshire Chronicle asking whether it will.

Labour councillor Chris Pines, who resigned as chairman of the overview and scrutiny committee over Silver Hill last month, called for separate council advisors to serve the ruling administration and the body which is meant to hold them to account.

“The main [committee] is not sufficiently independent from the main management structures for it to have a discrete, separate voice,” he said.

“There is always the possibility of conflict or lack of transparency when the function of scrutiny does not concur with the administration.”

New leader Cllr Frank Pearson said these changes were already underway.

Cabinet also heard updates on an independent review.

Cllr Pearson said he will consult political group leaders and the chairs of key committees before appointing a head and submitting a draft brief.

As the Chronicle reported this morning, two candidates have been recommended by the Local Government Association and have not worked in Hampshire.

Confidential legal advice given to cabinet will be published when Wednesday's’s appeal deadline passes or when any appeal proceedings are complete, said Stephen Whetnall, the council’s chief operating officer.