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Daily slams ‘nonsense’ ban on journalists at council group meetings

A regional daily has slammed a “nonsense” decision to ban journalists from meetings on the grounds that it will allow councillors to “speak openly and frankly”.

The Eastern Daily Press has criticised Norfolk County Council’s move to bar press and public from Transport for Norwich steering group meetings.

The decision comes after controversy over the running of the body, previously known as the Transport for Norwich advisory committee, gave numerous schemes the green light before it emerged that councillors sitting on it actually had no power to make decisions.

The new group will discuss major road schemes and advise the cabinet members, like the previous committee, only behind closed doors.

County Hall, Norfolk

County Hall, Norfolk

Criticising the move in an editorial, the EDP said: “It beggars belief that the council thinks the solution to a huge blunder on their part – where a committee operated mistakenly for the best part of two years in its handling of £32m of taxpayers’ money – is to say to the public ‘this is now nothing to do with you’.

“For the council to imply that having a meeting in public contributed to the confusion around that is disingenuous nonsense.

“The fact is that council officers messed up and it should have been spotted sooner – whether by officers, council lawyers or councillors. It was nothing to do with the meetings being open to the public.

“Also ridiculous is the suggestion that somehow, keeping out the public and press, will ‘support’ councillors to ‘speak openly and frankly with their views on proposed schemes to enable the best possible solutions to be developed’.

“Utter hogwash. Anyone who has attended council meetings will know that councillors of all political persuasions are rarely backwards in coming forwards when it comes to representing their views and those of their residents.

“Frankly, if a councillor is worried about saying something for fear of how it will be received or because another councillor may disagree with them, maybe they should not be a councillor.”

EDP public affaits reporter Dan Grimmer added: “I find it deeply worrying that Norfolk County Council thinks discussions about how millions of pounds of public money is spent should be held behind closed doors.

“The public – and the press – should be able to hear what our elected councillors are saying about major road projects which affect so many people in Norwich.

“Openness and transparency should be at the heart of everything local councils do.”

The decision has also been criticised by local Labour, Liberal Democrat and Green representatives on the Tory-controlled authority.

Defending the move, council cabinet member Graham Plant told the EDP: “The Transport for Norwich advisory committee has created some confusion and disagreement in recent months.

“We want to take part in meaningful discussions with our city and district partners on how we can improve safety and connectivity in Greater Norwich – but this hasn’t happened often enough.

“There have already been delays to key schemes due to meetings that either didn’t take place or were cut short. It is important we continue to demonstrate our ability to deliver improvements to our transport network.

“We will continue to consult on our schemes in the same way as before and this feedback will be published as part of any decisions we make.”