OVER £65,000 was paid out in “counsel fees” by East Riding Council during the public hearing into plans for Bridlington’s future regeneration, the Free Press can reveal.
However, the council believes that another hearing to discuss aspects of its Area Action Plan (AAP) “would be helpful, if not necessary” - after a row erupted in which the council accused inspector Sian Worden of not observing “the principles of a fair process”.
Ms Worden, the independent inspector who chaired December’s hearing, wrote to the council before Christmas expressing “serious concerns” about the AAP - in particular plans to include the harbour top in a flagship new shopping district, the Burlington Parade.
In a response to Ms Worden, the council’s solicitor Alison Hartley called for another hearing and said that the council is “considerably concerned” about the fairness of the inspection.
In their letter, the council expressed their “considerable surprise” that the inspector had written to them before the end of January, as they had already agreed to respond to evidence submitted late to the hearing by the Bridlington Harbour Commissioners before the end of the month. The council say they are worried that the inspector’s observations are based on this late evidence, and questioned the fairness of the process.
A freedom of information request from the Free Press to East Riding council revealed that for the four day long hearing which began on December 5, the council paid £65,481.60 in counsel fees to an appointed QC and legal and planning experts, as well as £975 for a programme officer.
It cost the council £2,704.58 to host proceedings at Bridlington Spa.
Despite these costs, the council have called for another hearing to discuss their need to redevelop land at the top of the harbour as part of the planned Burlington Parade shopping district, which would stretch from the harbour to a new Tesco store on the site of the Hilderthorpe coach park.
Responding to the council on behalf of Ms Worden, programme officer Jane Strachan told the council that the inspector has had “significant concerns” regarding the harbour top for some time, and had voiced them at an exploratory meeting held at Bridlington Town Hall last June - months before the public hearing. The inspector goes on to say that it is “completely clear that her preliminary conclusions do not rely on the late evidence”.
Responding to accusations that the hearing process had not been conducted fairly, the inspector “is most concerned at (the council’s) assertions that she has not behaved in a fair manner and does not consider that they are justified”.
Just before Christmas, Ms Worden wrote to the council telling them the “soundness of the plan is seriously at risk”, and listed thirteen points she feels needed further discussion.