Council accused of "unlawfully witholding information" about A339 link road
District council strongly denies claims it deliberately tried to make key papers confidential
WEST Berkshire Council has been accused of acting “unlawfully” by “withholding important information from the public” about the London Road Industrial Estate (LRIE) redevelopment.
On Tuesday, councillors were set to vote on whether the council should use its compulsory purchase powers to buy land for the new access road on to the A339 from Faraday Road.
If the order had been approved, it would have involved demolishing unit 7 and part of unit 6 in Fleming Road.
The council also wanted to use its powers to obtain land in Victoria Park, adjacent to the A339, from Newbury Town Council.
The A339 link road is part of a wider scheme to regenerate the LRIE.
In 2014, West Berkshire Council announced St Modwen as its chosen developer for the scheme, which is set to bring 300 homes, more employment space and an 80-bed hotel.
However, it was forced to withdraw the item from Tuesday’s agenda when the solicitors for Faraday Developments Limited (FDL), which owns the land the council wants to acquire, argued that it had not given five clear days’ notice for people to inspect the paperwork.
At a meeting behind closed doors back on Thursday, February 12, councillors and officers agreed the information about the CPO should be kept as a confidential item – meaning the press and public would not be able to listen to discussions or decisions.
However, FDL’s solicitors wrote to the authority saying that it had “absolutely no justification” for withholding the information.
The council responded by saying that “the item was originally erroneously issued as a confidential report but this was corrected on the website on Tuesday morning (May 12)”.
Duncan Crook, the director of FDL, who is behind plans for a supermarket, 150,000sq ft of office space, a 100-room hotel, residential units, a crèche, care home and community and health care facilities, dubbed as the Faraday Plaza, told the Newbury Weekly News yesterday (Wednesday): “By law the decision to exclude the public and withhold the report from public scrutiny must have been taken by the proper officer.
“There is absolutely no justification for claiming that the report was exempt.
“The council in my view has been unlawful by trying to withhold information from the public that it had no right to. It’s appalling.”
But West Berkshire Council leader Gordon Lundie (Con, Lambourn Valley) vehemently denied the claims.
He insisted that it was “nothing more than a minor administrative error” and described Mr Crook’s claims as “bizarre”.
He told the NWN: “This has been debated in the public domain for around a decade so no one can say they weren’t aware a road was going to be built.
“I find it bizarre that someone so closely involved and who has sat in meetings can try and say we have been secretive.
“It is all smoke and guns – if Mr Crook thinks we have acted unlawfully and that there is this big conspiracy theory, that’s up to him. It was just an administrative mistake.”
For the full story, see this week's Newbury Weekly News.