SWEEPING changes could be made to the way Woking Borough Council officials deal with major developments, following an often-heated meeting of the council’s Overview & Scrutiny committee on Monday night.

The recommendations for change have stemmed from the handling of the proposed redevelopment of the Woking FC stadium and the building of associated housing.

However, a recommendation to defer any planning application on the Kingfield site until an independent report about the Local Plan has been delivered, was struck out on legal advice.

This means the application for the new stadium and more than 1,000 flats, and a second application for associated development in Egley Road, is likely to be considered by the planning committee on Tuesday 23 June.

The O&S committee voted last night in a meeting conducted via the Zoom conferencing app to pass the remaining 15 recommendations to the full council, probably on 30 July, while voting down proposals by Ray Morgan, the council chief executive, that they be noted and subject to an audit before further action was taken.

The recommendations were made by a cross-party task group of councillors and cover the need for:

•  transparency and a clear audit trail in council business dealings

•   clarity over officers’ multiple roles in the council and its companies

•   more care over information provided during meetings and recommendations from officers

•   due diligence, including making rigorous risk assessments

•   transparency when the council is a landowner and planning authority

•   valuations being made of property being bought by the council.

There is also a recommendation that a further independent and fully resourced investigation be made into the processes behind the football club and associated developments.

Several councillors said that the task group had asked for more resources to seek professional advice but that this had been refused.

Deborah Hughes, the committee chairman, told the committe that Mr Morgan’s proposal was trying to “sideline and further delay the task group report”.

The chief executive said he was suggesting that the task group report be noted, then subjected to an audit to look in more detail at what went wrong and how new rules could be implemented.

Cllr Hughes said she was pleased Mr Morgan acknowledged the areas of concern highlighted in the task group recommendations.

“The task group report indicates grave weaknesses in the processes around major business contracts and decisions. I can’t believe the chief executive of this council is suggesting that an improvement in the processes can be anything other than a good thing,” she said.

“Is he really suggesting there should be no improvements in the openness and transparency of council business, with the continuation of non-minuted meetings and council papers held for months and even years in the Part 2 designation and therefore confidential?”

Mr Morgan interrupted, saying: “To make those statements when you have heard what I have said is playing to the audience when I have not said any of those things to you. I have said quite the opposite.

“I think that is grossly unreasonable in a public meeting.”

The three Liberal Democrats and the one Independent on the committee voted for the task group recommendations and against Mr Morgan’s proposal. They were joined by Melanie Whitehand, the Conservative vice-chairman of the committee. Her three party colleagues did not support the task group recommendations and backed Mr Morgan’s. The ninth committee member, Labour councillor M Ilyas Raja, lost his Zoom connection and was unable to vote.