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In a response to a question from Bognor Regis Civic Society Deputy Chairman Hugh Coster at Arun District Council's recent meeting, Leader Gillian Brown admitted that Councillor Andrew Evans gave incorrect information to the Council's Bognor Regis Regeneration Sub-Committee.

Mr. Coster stated that a number of people in the public gallery had heard Cllr. Evans claim that Dorchester had two cinemas which operated successfully together in the town, and that this was incorrect.  In fact, Dorchester had only one cinema with another opening soon, and it was not possible to know whether they would both be ablle to operate successfully or not. This was important because Cllr. Evans was seeking to discredit Bognor Regis Picturedrome supporters' claim that the cinema will not survive if Arun allows a multiplex to open in the town.

In her response, Mrs. Brown admitted that Mr. Coster was correct, and claimed that it would be clear "quite soon" whether the two could operate successfully together.  However, she refused to accept that the Chairman of the Sub-Committee, Cllr. Trevor Bence, was wrong in preventing Cllr. Evans from "entering into any dialogue" with anybody outside the Council about the matter, even though it was not confidential business.

Mr. Coster asked the Council to state whether it supported the practice of a committee chairman gagging members from communicating with the public on non-confidential business, but Mrs. Brown denied it was the Council's practice.  She said that she didn't think it was "appropriate for e-mails to be flying around" about the matter and that any further discussion should wait for future meetings of the committee.

"This is incredibly draconian," said Mr. Coster after the meeting, "as this has now set a precedent  for any committee chairman to prevent the public from discussing any matter with Councillors at any time and for any period of his choosing.  There is absolutely no authority for this in the Council's Constitution or Code of Conduct, and it marks a new level in Arun District Council secrecy, which is already bad enough.  Furthermore, it opens the door to the possibility of anybody within the Council giving incorrect information to a committee and adversely affecting decisions without challenge from the public. This adds yet another reason why Bognor Regis must separate itself from the dead hand of Arun."

29 October 2012

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