Parties clash over Uttlesford ‘secret’ meeting call

Uttlesford District Council headquarters on London Road, Saffron Walden.

Uttlesford District Council headquarters on London Road, Saffron Walden. - Credit: Archant

Political parties in Uttlesford have clashed over a call for council meetings to be held in private.

After a heated planning committee meeting at the beginning of the month, when a travellers site in Henham was discussed and refused, Councillor Roger Freeman sent an email to the chairman of the committee, Councillor Vic Ranger, as well as other councillors, which included the suggestion of meetings to be held in secret.

The Residents for Uttlesford (RFU) councillor alleges he was intimidated by a member of the public during the recess of the meeting, held on July 1.

Cllr Freeman wrote: “Councillors who perform duties such as these require much better protection from the public. One solution would be for meetings to be conducted in secret.

“If disaffected individuals continue to have ready access to those involved in making the decisions, and are able to intimidate them, then our current style of democracy has no future.

“And I for one do not wish to be a part of it.”

A spokesman for the Conservative Party called the suggestion a “complete over reaction”.

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“Planning applications can cause emotions to run high and this was certainly the case at the last planning committee meeting when an application for a gypsy and traveller site in Henham was debated,” the spokesman said. “The council chamber was filled with residents wanting their voices to be heard. During the proceedings Cllr Freemen played to the audience and instead of sticking to planning facts he used inflammatory language to describe the application. He included amongst others the comment ‘the proposed site was like a concentration camp’.

“During a break there was a heated verbal tirade. This has caused Cllr Freeman to request that contentious planning applications are held in secret, something that the Conservative administration believes to be neither appropriate nor legal.”

However, Councillor John Lodge, leader of the RFU party on UDC, said: “That assertion is untrue and simply an obscene, opportunistic and hypocritical distortion of the facts by Tory troublemakers who would prefer to use spin to obfuscate their ideological difficulty with the concept of ‘Open Government’.

“Completely to the contrary, RFU is in fact pushing the administration to open up six further UDC dark meetings to the light of public scrutiny and I hope that they will respond positively.”

He added: “The incident to which the Conservatives are referring was a most threatening attack on Cllr Freeman from a member of the public which is now being investigated seriously by Essex police.

“I am stunned that the Conservative Association is seeking to make political capital from the distress of a hardworking and experienced RFU councillor, but it demonstrates graphically their tawdry moral approach to politics.”

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