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Independent Manydown report criticised by councillors
AN INDEPENDENT report into the controversial Manydown saga has been rejected by councillors amid fears that it had been “tainted”.
Members of Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council’s audit governance and accounts committee ordered that accountancy firm Ernst & Young redo parts of their report examining the council’s purchase of the 839-hectare estate west of Basingstoke, and the decisions that stopped it being built on.
The £100,000 report was commissioned by full council earlier this year in the wake of a High Court ruling that said the council’s handling of Manydown had been “unlawful” and “irrational”.
However, on Monday it emerged that the confidential Ernst & Young report included legal commentary from a barrister who was commissioned by borough council legal officers, the actions of some of whom were being investigated in the report.
“The officers do not own this process,” said Councillor Paul Harvey. “The members and Ernst & Young do. There is a conflicted legal department and they need to take a step back.”
Cllr Onnalee Cubitt called for the legal advice to be removed from the report, and a new barrister to be appointed, independent of the borough council.
“The report in principle is a very good piece of work,” said Cllr Cubitt. “But then someone has gone and overlaid that good independent report with quotes from a lawyer that has been instructed by the legal team that other lawyers believe could have some very strong conflicts of interest. What we have now is a report that has been completely hijacked by this council.”
The committee agreed to send the report back to Ernst & Young, with instructions to seek out new independent legal advice.