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Outcry after council agrees to hold meetings in private

PUBLISHED: 10:28 26 July 2019 | UPDATED: 10:37 26 July 2019

A female officer of Breckland Council has been apologised to after an incident with a councillor Picture: Ian Burt

A female officer of Breckland Council has been apologised to after an incident with a councillor Picture: Ian Burt

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The former chair of a council group has hit-out at plans to hold meetings in private.

Robert Whittaker says making council meetings private is a step backwards. Picture: Robert WhittakerRobert Whittaker says making council meetings private is a step backwards. Picture: Robert Whittaker

The Greater Thetford Partnership (GTP) Board, a joint group with members from Thetford Town Council, Breckland Council, Norfolk County Council, Croxton Parish Council and Kilverstone and Brettenham Parish Council, has made the decision to hold future meetings away from the public, a move it says will allow issues to be dealt with more 'swiftly'.

The GTP's purpose is to drive improved access to health services, ensure a good supply and mix of quality housing, and make changes to the road infrastructure of the area.

But former chair of the Community Sub-Group for the project, Robert Whittaker, said it is a step backwards for public engagement.

He said: "I am dismayed by these changes, this is a significant step backwards in terms of transparency and public engagement.

Breckland district councillor Terry Jermy is on the board for the GTP and is a councillor for Breckland and Thetford. Picture: Breckland CouncilBreckland district councillor Terry Jermy is on the board for the GTP and is a councillor for Breckland and Thetford. Picture: Breckland Council

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"When the GTP Board was originally set-up, the meetings were initially held in private. The resulting outcry forced a change of heart from the powers that be, but they seem to be going backwards again now."

The change comes as the GTP announced it would be hiring a manager to work between the councils so progress does not stagnate.

Breckland Council said that the public will still be involved and holding meetings in private would speed up the process of delivering change.

Breckland district councillor Sam Chapman-Allen is chair of the Greater Thetford Partnership. Picture: Breckland CouncilBreckland district councillor Sam Chapman-Allen is chair of the Greater Thetford Partnership. Picture: Breckland Council

A Breckland Council spokesperson said: "While the group [GTP] recognised that many issues important to the community had been raised with the GTP Board by the previous subgroups, it was felt that these issues could best and most swiftly be addressed in the future by going through existing local government channels.

"However, the board has committed to holding two public engagement sessions each year, which will help to ensure the vision set by the board continues to align with, and address the themes of, the key issues raised by members of the public."

But Mr Whittaker said this is not enough. He added: "I don't see the public forums being offered by the Board as in any way a replacement.

"The sixth-monthly frequency is insufficient for pressing matters, I can not see the Board actually following up on issues raised in a timely fashion."

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