WINCHESTER City Council has been slammed for the 'wholly inappropriate' way in which it deals with major issues.

During a Town Forum meeting on Thursday, June 16, former councillor and Labour group leader Patrick Davies used public participation time to hit out at civic chiefs for conducting business in clandestine groups.

Following up on comments he made at a previous cabinet meeting in May, Mr Davies said: "When the Town Forum was crudely set up there were three parties represented. It has now essentially become a one party state and I don't think that's healthy. I think the role, the function and the duties it can't do need to be seriously reviewed. I have long been concerned about the way the council operates, specifically now with the Town Forum, through informal groups."

Referencing an independent investigation into how the council dealt with the £165 million Silver Hill scheme, he said: "Bearing in mind the very severe criticism some years back by Claer Lloyd-Jones who described in her report a 'perfect storm' in relation to the way the Silver Hill issue had been handled, she specifically referred to the danger of informal groups. That is what concerns me most about the Town Forum, you've set up half a dozen of these groups which meet in private and the only report back is from the chairs coming here."

Mr Davies further labelled the groups as a "wholly inappropriate" way of dealing with major issues in the town.

"That's what the report all those years back said about the way things were handled," he added. "Initially the council accepted that and said it wouldn't happen again - but it is and it has and that is very dangerous."

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Mr Davies further addressed the forum regarding the Station Approach scheme, which he had previously lambasted council leaders for keeping 'behind closed doors'.

He said: "I see on the list of forthcoming business Station Approach is going to cabinet on July 19. The decision of the last cabinet was that it was keen to review things, and the minutes say 'the appointments to the central Winchester open forum and the Station Approach open forum will be deferred until a future cabinet meeting to follow a review of the governance for major projects'. How is that going to be done? It wasn't explained then, it is clearly not going to be explained tonight. I'm very worried now that the first thing the public are going to know is when the papers for that meeting in July appear. We're in danger of going through all the problems we've faced with other major sites in the town all over again. It needs to be seriously reviewed; we can't go on the way we have been. You've drifted into very inappropriate ways of handling these major issues."

Responding to his comments, Councillor Mike Craske, the newly elected chair of the forum, said: "These are thoughts I actually have a lot of sympathy with and share myself - certainly around the role of the Town Forum. There are definitely some things I think we can do differently in terms of those informal groups. We are obviously restricted in some way by the constitution on how the forum can operate but there is a lot more we can offer in terms of engagement."

Cllr Craske said he would like to further discuss Mr Davies' concerns with Councillor Martin Tod, who was absent from the meeting after testing positive for Covid.

"Just to demonstrate how I'd like to get some changes in our approach, what I agreed with Councillor Jackie Porter is that in our forward plan to September we would have the local plan as an item on that agenda," he added.

"As part of that item we will have a resident event, so we will include and take voices from those who are local. For me, that's an example of how I'd like to see a different approach of the role of the Town Forum."

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