Shropshire Star

Senior Shropshire Council official offered to 'choreograph' positive relief road messages from MP

Shropshire Council's most senior officer offered to 'choreograph positive messages' about the North West Relief Road for the county's MP in the run-up to the vote on the scheme.

Mr Barrow (right) said his message reflected his responsibility to the council.

The details of the discussion, between the authority's Director of Place, Mark Barrow, and a staff member working for Shrewsbury & Atcham's Conservative MP Daniel Kawczynski, were revealed in a Freedom of Information request from a Shrewsbury resident.

Mr Barrow has spearheaded the council's efforts to build the North West Relief Road (NWRR), which was granted planning permission this week.

Responding to the details being made public, Mr Barrow said the the discussion was "what would be expected" and "makes sense" given his "responsibility to prepare positive media messages for the council".

The e-mail, from September, related to a 'briefing note' on the NWRR which had been shared with the MP.

In it Mr Barrow stresses that some details of the report are not to be shared publicly, saying: "Can I stress that we do keep the detail and financial information restricted and out of the public domain."

The director explains that he wants to avoid any details "in the local media that could affect the planning process", and says he is particularly concerned about "allegations of pre-determination".

He said: "The reason for that is that we are aiming for a decision report to planning committee this side of Christmas and after then we will firm up the final business case for sign-off by full council. My hope is then we can crack on with construction next year."

"What I want to avoid is anything in the local media that could affect the planning process. I'm especially sensitive to any allegations of predetermination by our councillors as that almost certainly would open the door to an appeal for judicial review by one of the anti-lobbyist groups."

Mr Barrow also thanks Mr Kawczynski's office for help in approaching the Government to cover the rising costs of the scheme – and offers arrange positive messages about the project ahead of the committee meeting.

He said: "In the run-up to planning committee I will be in touch to help choreograph some positive media messages from Daniel."

Asked about the message, Mr Barrow admitted that some words could have been "better chosen" but the e-mail was an example of him carrying out his responsibilities for the council – and making sure MPs are kept up to date with the process.

He said: "The email reflects the type of discussions I would have with any Shropshire MP whose constituency is affected by a major scheme such as the NWRR, particularly where they are supportive of the council’s proposals.

"In my role as applicant for the scheme on behalf of the council this is what would be expected, and while some words in hindsight might have been better chosen, this is the council keeping an MP informed about the timeline, progress and case for an application with information that is already in the public domain.

"My responsibility is to prepare positive media messages for the council but it makes sense if they can be co-ordinated with anything the MP’s office wishes to say."