Reporter kicked out of council’s talks about sale of building

MEETING: The future of Witney’s Corn Exchange was being discussed

MEETING: The future of Witney’s Corn Exchange was being discussed

First published in News
Last updated
The Oxford Times: Photograph of the Author by , Education Reporter, also covering West Oxford. Call me on (01865) 425437

WITNEY Town Council has been criticised for kicking the Oxford Mail out of a meeting for the fourth time.

It is the latest in a series of meetings that Witney Town Council has held behind closed doors.

But this time, a member of the public was allowed to stay for part of the meeting while the Oxford Mail was shut out.

The council met to discuss its plans to sell Langdale Hall to help pay for a multi-million pound renovation of the Corn Exchange.

Members said our reporter could not stay to report their discussions and tell readers about them.

They cited concerns that the paper had ‘misrepresented things’ in the past, yet offered no clarification. The newspaper had previously received no complaints about its coverage of the Langdale Hall or Corn Exchange issues.

Yesterday, 24 hours after the council refused to allow the Mail to make representations as to why there was no basis for throwing us out, the council stood by its position.

But town councillor Duncan Enright, who did not vote to exclude the press and public, said: “Council business should always be in public. I can think of extremely few elements of information which need to be held back.

“There are some things, such as commercial terms, which probably do need to be kept confidential, but 99 per cent of what we do should be open to those we represent.

“We should be open and transparent.

“Most of the times the town council has had misunderstandings is when it is not open about information. If you go to somewhere like West Oxfordshire District Council where there is a much bigger budget, they are substantially more open about things.”

Before the exclusion, town clerk Sharon Groth said the council’s public halls committee was discussing an undisclosed bid that would be submitted to the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) for money to redevelop the Corn Exchange.

She said: “It [the bid] hasn’t been considered by the board and they are monitoring local press as there has been a great deal of misrepresentation. The advice we have taken is to consider it under closed session.”

Councillors did, however, allow Terry Powell, a member of the public, to be present for some of the meeting.

The Corn Exchange, in Market Square, was closed suddenly in November 2011 after a safety inspection uncovered serious problems.

Last November, the same committee discussed a valuation of the Langdale Hall site, but that part of its meeting was also closed to the press and public.

And in July last year, when councillors initially called for the sale of Langdale Hall, the discussion was again held in secret.

A week later, another meeting to discuss a separate investment in Witney’s sports facilities was closed to the press and public to “manage expectations”.

Speaking yesterday, Mrs Groth said: “The committee doesn’t like to exclude but actually at times there is a need to discuss commercially-sensitive information that shouldn’t be out there at the moment.

“Mr Powell was allowed to stay as an advisory member and the committee agreed that decision.

“We do issue press statements. It is a massive project and we have had meetings open to the press and public. We have been warned some of the information coming out hasn’t helped our case and at this time there is nothing to report because we don’t know if we have got that funding. If we don’t get it, we will look at Plan B.”

Town council member and mayor Peter Dorward did not return the Oxford Mail’s calls.

Comments (9)

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9:56am Wed 12 Mar 14

Andrew:Oxford says...

Even commercial terms should be made public. How else will other firms and local authorities know they are getting a good deal?

Perhaps next time a member who is not keen on state secrecy will set their mobile to dicataphone mode...
Even commercial terms should be made public. How else will other firms and local authorities know they are getting a good deal? Perhaps next time a member who is not keen on state secrecy will set their mobile to dicataphone mode... Andrew:Oxford
  • Score: 9

1:46pm Wed 12 Mar 14

BigAlBiker says...

Transparency at local level at its best.

The public should be allowed to listen to any meeting by the council, they may not be allowed to speak at the meeting but they should be in the room.
Transparency at local level at its best. The public should be allowed to listen to any meeting by the council, they may not be allowed to speak at the meeting but they should be in the room. BigAlBiker
  • Score: 6

2:35pm Wed 12 Mar 14

King Joke says...

Andrew:Oxford wrote:
Even commercial terms should be made public. How else will other firms and local authorities know they are getting a good deal?

Perhaps next time a member who is not keen on state secrecy will set their mobile to dicataphone mode...
I disagree Andrew, I'd be very concerned if in a meeting a councillor was to use his dictaphone.




I'd expect him to use his finger.
[quote][p][bold]Andrew:Oxford[/bold] wrote: Even commercial terms should be made public. How else will other firms and local authorities know they are getting a good deal? Perhaps next time a member who is not keen on state secrecy will set their mobile to dicataphone mode...[/p][/quote]I disagree Andrew, I'd be very concerned if in a meeting a councillor was to use his dictaphone. I'd expect him to use his finger. King Joke
  • Score: 2

3:11pm Wed 12 Mar 14

Andrew:Oxford says...

King Joke wrote:
Andrew:Oxford wrote:
Even commercial terms should be made public. How else will other firms and local authorities know they are getting a good deal?

Perhaps next time a member who is not keen on state secrecy will set their mobile to dicataphone mode...
I disagree Andrew, I'd be very concerned if in a meeting a councillor was to use his dictaphone.




I'd expect him to use his finger.
*Grins* - although it did take me a moment or two...
[quote][p][bold]King Joke[/bold] wrote: [quote][p][bold]Andrew:Oxford[/bold] wrote: Even commercial terms should be made public. How else will other firms and local authorities know they are getting a good deal? Perhaps next time a member who is not keen on state secrecy will set their mobile to dicataphone mode...[/p][/quote]I disagree Andrew, I'd be very concerned if in a meeting a councillor was to use his dictaphone. I'd expect him to use his finger.[/p][/quote]*Grins* - although it did take me a moment or two... Andrew:Oxford
  • Score: 6

5:05pm Wed 12 Mar 14

windrushview says...

Seems that Witney town councillors make up the rules as they go along ,one rule one day ,another rule when it suits.
The word TRANSPARENCY has been used many times in Town Council meetings I have attended . Where is transparency now ?
Good on ya Oxford Mail ,keep reporting such stories.
And people of Witney its not long till voting time ,to change this disgusting state of affairs and the Councillors (all except Duncan Enright,who is open and transparent )you know what to do .
Seems that Witney town councillors make up the rules as they go along ,one rule one day ,another rule when it suits. The word TRANSPARENCY has been used many times in Town Council meetings I have attended . Where is transparency now ? Good on ya Oxford Mail ,keep reporting such stories. And people of Witney its not long till voting time ,to change this disgusting state of affairs and the Councillors (all except Duncan Enright,who is open and transparent )you know what to do . windrushview
  • Score: 4

6:24pm Wed 12 Mar 14

Quentin Walker says...

There are times when puffed-up public servants believe their own PR. Is this one of those times?
There are times when puffed-up public servants believe their own PR. Is this one of those times? Quentin Walker
  • Score: 3

9:12pm Wed 12 Mar 14

King Joke says...

Joking aside, and I couldn't help that one, this is a disgusting episode, and can't help in making the public trust politicians.
Joking aside, and I couldn't help that one, this is a disgusting episode, and can't help in making the public trust politicians. King Joke
  • Score: -2

10:38pm Wed 12 Mar 14

windrushview says...

Went to Witney Town council meeting tonight..Great to hear someone question the the Council members who were there ( many of the newer elected were absent including many from the Public Halls Committee)..along with a couple of longer serving Town Council members.
A member of the public asked a question about the fact we ,Joe Public..the TAX payer isnt updated with the latest info re Witney Corn Exchange .Councillor Jeanette ? gave a couple of replies but sorry Witney Town council ,and especially the Public halls Committee you are too secretive ..the replies given were far from reassuring ..well all except Duncans when he replied to other questions ..he calls a spade a spade.Also Witney Town Council ,you say Oxford Inspires is advising you ..can you PLEASE tell us just how much of our htax payers money is being paid to them for the privelege. They have been involved for months the bill must be satronomical.
Went to Witney Town council meeting tonight..Great to hear someone question the the Council members who were there ( many of the newer elected were absent including many from the Public Halls Committee)..along with a couple of longer serving Town Council members. A member of the public asked a question about the fact we ,Joe Public..the TAX payer isnt updated with the latest info re Witney Corn Exchange .Councillor Jeanette ? gave a couple of replies but sorry Witney Town council ,and especially the Public halls Committee you are too secretive ..the replies given were far from reassuring ..well all except Duncans when he replied to other questions ..he calls a spade a spade.Also Witney Town Council ,you say Oxford Inspires is advising you ..can you PLEASE tell us just how much of our htax payers money is being paid to them for the privelege. They have been involved for months the bill must be satronomical. windrushview
  • Score: 0

10:40pm Wed 12 Mar 14

windrushview says...

re above ..sorry about typos
re above ..sorry about typos windrushview
  • Score: 0

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