From Masterplan To Disaster-Plan in a Matter of Weeks

PUBLISHED: 09:17 21 May 2008 | UPDATED: 10:23 04 May 2010

By CATHERINE ATKINSON THE leader of East Cambridgeshire s ruling Conservative party has resigned and could face a standards board investigation after legal flaws in the city s Masterplan came to light and have led to the document being suspended. Brian As

By CATHERINE ATKINSON

THE leader of East Cambridgeshire's ruling Conservative party has resigned and could face a standards board investigation after legal flaws in the city's Masterplan came to light and have led to the document being suspended.

Brian Ashton, who became leader when the Tories swooped to power in May 2007, announced his decision to stand down at a full district council meeting on Tuesday night and was visibly shaken as he read from a prepared 900-word statement. He talked candidly about his error of judgement in sending an email to one of the consultants working on the Masterplan, in which he refers to land he owns in Lisle Lane in Ely.

The possible legal discrepancies came to light when another councillor made a Freedom of Information request for all the Masterplan documents, and discovered the email.

Hundreds of hours of manpower and thousands of pounds of tax payer's money will have been wasted if the plan cannot be resurrected as it is likely that the document will have to go back to committee stage and the whole six-week public consultation process will have to be restarted.

Speaking to the Ely Standard before Tuesday night's meeting, Mr Ashton said: "I fully appreciate the questions that these irregularities will create in the public mind. The formal reason why I have stood down as leader is because I am convinced that regulations oversee all of process and procedure. These allegations are a major distraction to the real importance of the Masterplan."

"I fully acknowledge the errors and apologise for them unreservedly. For my part and because this has happened on my watch, I have stood down as leader of the council, but I am fearful that the focus on procedural perfection could lead to paralysis."

John Hill, chief executive of East Cambridgeshire District Council said: "Once the district council's monitoring officer was aware of these concerns the district auditor was alerted and they will now pursue an independent investigatation to determine the facts of the matter."

Mr Hill said he was confident that the content of the Masterplan would still be useable and added: "From the information available to us, we believe there is no allegation of dishonesty or secrecy relating to this process rather inadvertent action, but these are matters which the auditor will investigate."

Turn to Page 3, 4 and 5 for full story.

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