Council action over Shrewsbury land sale for housing to be reviewed
An investigation will be launched into Shrewsbury Town Council’s actions in selling a piece of community green space for housing.
Councillors have unanimously agreed to seek an independent review into the sale of part of the Greenfields Recreation Ground to CSE Developments in 2017, after a public interest report (PIR) highlighted “serious governance failings” on the part of the council in the transaction.
The motion was put forward by Councillors Alan Mosley, Alex Phillips and David Vasmer, leaders of the Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat groups, who also said they should have joint responsibility for managing the process.
The PIR, issued to the authority by its external auditor PKF Littlejohn Ltd, followed a judicial review which concluded in December that Shropshire Council planning officers failed to investigate whether the site in question was part of the recreation ground when it granted planning permission for 15 homes to be built on it.
While Shropshire Council was the defendant in the case, the review, brought by Greenfields Community Group representative Dr Peter Day, found that the town council had also failed to establish the legal status of the site prior to selling it. But the judge in the case concluded that any public rights over the land could not be enforced on the developer.
The motion tabled at the town council meeting by the three party leaders said: “We note that ‘serious governance failings within Shrewsbury Town Council have been identified’.
“We therefore have a responsibility to make sure that lessons are identified and actions are taken as a consequence. We propose a review which considers fully the issues identified in the PIR.
“The public needs to have confidence that this process has been undertaken transparently and without prejudice. Hence, our view that it needs to be undertaken independently of anyone who has been involved to date.
‘Person of note’
“We envisage the reviewer will present the report in the autumn 2020 and that it will be published and discussed at a publicly accessible meeting of the town council.
“Therefore, we propose that an independent review should be commissioned, to be undertaken by a ‘person of note’ fully independent of the council, who will consider evidence and submissions from all interested parties.”
The investigation will seek to establish whether the town council took, “all reasonable steps to ensure that the sale of the Greenfields land was carried out in accordance with relevant legal requirements regarding its ownership, designation and usage”.
It will also look at whether there are any outstanding matters the council should address, what lessons need to be learned and what amendments should be made to policies and procedures to ensure best practice in the future.
Councillor Mosley, leader of the town council, said an independent investigation was a “transparent, open, rigorous and honest” step.
Councillor Peter Nutting said it was important the scope of the review was made clear so members of the public did not “misinterpret” what was being investigated.
He said: “It’s not criticising the decision, it’s saying that we didn’t follow the correct processes. I think it needs to be teased out exactly what was said and what was done at the time.
“We didn’t get the process quite right but it is not actually saying we made the wrong decision, so I think that needs to be clarified as part of this report.”
Councillor Phillips said: “All evidence should be considered in making sure we get to the right conclusion and learn the right lessons from this.
“That will benefit Greenfields residents and will benefit the whole of Shrewsbury in learning from this episode.”
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