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Councillor gagged in Tesco debate

PUBLISHED: 09:00 10 October 2008 | UPDATED: 07:42 01 August 2010

A ROW blew up this week over the gagging of a Halesworth councillor over the controversial plan for a Tesco store in the town.

But a campaign is growing to prove Waveney District Council wrong in the advice they have given to veteran councillor Paddy Flegg and give her the right to speak.

A ROW blew up this week over the gagging of a Halesworth councillor over the controversial plan for a Tesco store in the town.

But a campaign is growing to prove Waveney District Council wrong in the advice they have given to veteran councillor Paddy Flegg and give her the right to speak.

Mrs Flegg, district councillor for Halesworth, is a staunch opponent of Tesco, which wants to open a supermarket in the town between Angel Link and Saxon's Way, known as the Dairy Farm site - and she said this week she was elected to support all the people of Halesworth.

Her opposition to Tesco was known when she was elected. But now Waveney's monitoring officer has told her she cannot take part in the debate on a future planning application, because she has made up her mind already.

She said: “They said I have pre-determined the application and cannot speak…I have been told by several people that they are wrong.

“But I'm here to support all the people of Halesworth, and it's a very difficult situation to be in. I've been advised not to come and I've got to agree with it. If I do and Tesco lose then they could turn round and say that one of the councillors had already made their mind up, and therefore go to the Standards Board, and there would be hell to pay.

“I don't like their ethics and we can't stand another supermarket in Halesworth. I can speak (at the meeting) as a member of the public and you can say an awful lot in 15 minutes. I will have my say that way.”

Professor Sir Patrick Bateson, emeritus professor of ethology at the University of Cambridge and Halesworth resident, said: “I have looked into this and it is not the position of the Standards Board. The idea of predetermination relates to tribunals and people like that who have to be impartial. It also relates to having an interest in a particular application. I think the advice she was given is incorrect.”

At Monday night's town council meeting, chairman Janet Wright said they would write to Waveney to question the decision. “We are disappointed that councillor Flegg won't be in a position to speak for Halesworth.”

But Waveney is standing by its decision. A spokesman said: “It is crucial that the planning process is independent and impartial and that all planning applications are considered fairly and conducted legally. It is the monitoring officer's duty to ensure that decisions are not pre-determined and consequently called in to question.

“As Councillor Flegg is both a member for Halesworth and on the Waveney District Council planning committee, the monitoring officer has provided her with legal advice in relation to the Councillor Code of Conduct. In particular, he has advised Cllr Flegg in relation to any future planning application for a Tesco store in Halesworth and her potential role in the decision making process.

“The monitoring officer has informed Cllr Flegg that, while it is her decision whether to sit on the planning committee or not, councillors must not participate where they have, or may be seen to have, 'pre-determined their decision' - in other words, to have made up their mind in advance.

“The legality of any decision could immediately be called in to question where there has been any such predetermination.”

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