“Despite the headlines, we’re not a secretive council”

AVDC prides itself on being open and transparent so the comments made at recent council meetings and repeated in this paper are grossly misleading.

By Councillor Neil Blake, leader of Aylesbury Vale District Council
Thursday, 12th November 2015, 1:46 pm
Neil Blake
Neil Blake

The interpretation of how legal advice is sought, used and shared is so fundamental to the way the council operates, the record must be set straight.

Planning is a council service which generates a great deal of community interest as residents rightly feel strongly about the place where they live.

How AVDC fulfils its planning duties, therefore, matters hugely.

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Getting it right often means striking a balance between the differing views of developers, residents, other consultees and planning law, which is why legal advice is sometimes sought.

The fact that there are different interests at play is very relevant to how that legal advice is shared. AVDC is subject to Freedom of Information requests to disclose all manner of documents, which is also an important consideration.

In this instance the legal advice that has sparked comments relates to neighbourhood plans and how they sit alongside applications from developers. Furthermore, the principles of legal confidentiality apply across the board.

Legal advice contains frank comment and legal opinion.

It will include the strengths, weaknesses and areas of challenge from different perspectives.

With whom, and how, the advice is shared is, therefore, all important. With planning applications, officers reflect the legal advice in their recommendations to members.

Members ultimately have the responsibility of weighing up the information before them and making a decision. Members must, and absolutely do, trust officers to feed through the appropriate legal advice.

The suggestion that members have been denied the benefit of legal advice simply because they have not been copied the original document is completely inaccurate.

If we don’t have trust, and insist that officers circulate the legal advice - even on a strictly confidential basis, confidentiality is lost. It then becomes open to a Freedom of Information request by anyone regardless of their position on a matter.

I hope readers understand that this is an untenable position and appreciate that accusations of secrecy and underhand play by officers are simply unfounded.