Town Hall meetings right to be held in private, says clerk

QUESTIONS were raised over the legitimacy of barring the press and public from discussions on the restoration project of Huntingdon’s Town Hall ahead of a second closed meeting on the subject.

Councillor Tom Sanderson asked why the press was excluded from a meeting of the Town Hall project management board on June 2 ahead of a second closed board meeting held on Thursday.

But he asked to know why several members of the public had remained at the first meeting despite the edict. They were later co-opted on to the board as representatives.

Town clerk Karen Cameron defended the decision to hold the meeting in private as necessary to understanding the ‘complex issue’.

An extra �50,000 has been spent on the town hall project in recent months following the departure of a voluntary project manager and his replacement with a paid professional. Fears are the project will soon breach its �600,000 budget.

Alluding to articles in The Hunts Post, Ms Cameron said: “There was some public reporting which, though not inaccurate, was out of context, and not supportive in light of members being new and trying to get to grips with complex issues very quickly.

“In order to be confident that members were making the right decisions, it was felt entirely appropriate to exclude the press and public. Although we are not obliged to admit the press and public to committee meetings.”

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Referring to the members of the public that were allowed to stay, she added: “Members recognised and took the decision it was appropriate for those members of the public to stay. It is standard practice of ours following co-option to point out them they restricted by the code of conduct.”

Councillor Nigel Pauley also felt some councillors would have been tempted into ‘showboating’ for the press if they had remained.

Representatives from Huntingdon Town Partnership, Huntingdonshire District Council’s conservation team, Huntingdon and Godmanchester Civic Society and Huntingdonshire Local History Society, the Churches in Huntingdon and Cromwell Museum have been co-opted on to the Town Hall project management board.