A top-selling regional daily has claimed victory after plans to ban reporters from discussions about a major multi-million pound project were scrapped.
West Midlands title the Express & Star raised objections to proposals by Walsall Council to hold the meeting behind closed doors, warning it would set a “dangerous” precedent.
The paper made its concerns known and ran two short stories arguing against the move on its front page in the run up to the meeting – and, in an 11th-hour U-turn, the authority voted to defer the talks and release a revised copy of the report to the public.
The controversy surrounds an £18million redevelopment project in the town which is expected to bring in hundreds of new jobs.
Express & Star deputy editor Diane Davies welcomed the decision.
“We do feel this is a victory for the Express & Star. It would be the thin end of the wedge if the council was allowed to hold a debate on such an major development and investment in secret without comment,” she said.
“The Express & Star had to push for the rights of the public and taxpayers to know what the public sector and local authorities are doing with their money.
“The council did the right thing, finally, in reconsidering and agreeing to hold the next meeting in public. We will continue to push for transparency in such matters.”
Opposition councillors had also spoken out against the proposals, stating the power to exclude the press from council meetings should not be used to “throw a blanket of secrecy” over matters of public interest.
Labour group leader Councillor Tim Oliver, who at the meeting put forward the motion for
discussions not to be considered in private, told HTFP it was a “victory for open and accountable local government.”
“The role of the press in making people aware of what is happening in local government is very important,” he said.
“The press allows people to know what is going on with their money, and to exclude the press or the public from meetings is contrary to the very principle of democracy.”
The Express & Star’s stance has also been praised by residents.
Former Walsall Mayor Norman Matthews, who is chairman of Alumwell Community Action Group which represents residents in the area affected by the development, said they had not even been aware the meeting was scheduled until the paper highlighted the situation.
“We just want to know what is going on. It is a huge issue for the community,” he said.