BOROUGH council leader Councillor Clive Sanders accused opposition councillors of seeking revenge during a key debate over whether a public law expert should be brought in to analyse the decisions behind the Manydown land saga.
A united opposition won the vote for a second legal opinion at full council last Thursday, despite fierce criticism from members of the Conservative administration who were against spending more taxpayers’ money on the issue.
The vote means that an independent lawyer will now be brought in to scrutinise the £100,000 report by audit firm Ernst and Young into the decisions that prevented Manydown – an 834-hectare plot of land west of Basingstoke – from being built on.
The Ernst and Young report was commissioned in the wake of a high court ruling last year where judge Mr Justice Lindblom branded the council’s decision not to consider Manydown as a potential site for housing as “unlawful” and “irrational”.
The firm investigated allegations that some high-ranking Conservative councillors used their position in the ruling administration to block the land from being included in the borough’s housing development blueprint.
While the firm’s report outlined the key decisions that led to Manydown being excluded from the now defunct Local Development Framework, which stated where houses will be built until 2029, a legal expert was needed to comment on the decisions.
Since the Ernst and Young report was first published in November, previous legal commentary by barrister William Webster has been heavily criticised by opposition councillors, who said he has failed to answer the key questions.
Some members expect that new legal commentary could criticise the actions of a number of Conservative councillors. However, in a strongly-worded speech, Cllr Sanders, pictured, accused opposition councillors of being “self-indulgent at residents’ expense”. He said: “Over recent months, discussion of this report has generated such a rancid atmosphere in this chamber and elsewhere that our sense of purpose has been lost.
“We have to draw a line and move on or we will see the standard of our local government being dragged down. That is not serving our residents – it is being self-indulgent at our residents’ expense.”
Cllr Sanders also blasted the opposition’s repeated calls for a further investigation. “There is something rather nasty and repellent about the blame culture,” he said. “Name, blame, shame – there is such a whiff of sanctimonious self-righteousness about it. “The ‘we’re okay, you’re not okay’ mentality, demanding the dripping, bloody pound of flesh – that has much to do with self-justification and revenge and very little to do with improving what we do.”
And he claimed commissioning a new lawyer was a “wanton misuse of public funds”. “I cannot support a proposal to spend yet more public money with no budget allocated, no cap in place, no process identified, no definition of responsibility but, above all, no identified objective or outcome.”
He added: “What is proposed is another shambles to heap on top of the shambles that already surrounds this report.”
Labour South Ham councillor Sean Keating said commissioning a new lawyer to examine the Ernst and Young report would help to close the book on the Manydown fiasco.
“We are not looking for scalps for the sake of it,” he said. “There’s nothing sanctimonious about trying to put right the wrongs that have led the council to where it is today.”
When the motion for a new lawyer was put to the vote, 33 members voted for the motion, with 18 against, and six abstentions – all of them Conservatives.