WOKING Borough Council has agreed to major changes in the way it deals with big developments after a review of the handling of the rejected new Woking FC stadium and associated housing plans.

The proposals were brought to a full council meeting on Thursday last week by the overview and scrutiny (O&S) committee, which had set up a task group to look at the processes in the negotiations.

The task group’s report was approved by the committee in June. The applications for the new 9,000-seat stadium and more than 1,000 adjacent flats were later overwhelmingly rejected by the planning committee.

The O&S task group report was not about the merits of the development, but the processes followed by council officers and councillors and their actions in the long series of negotiations.

It found that there was a lack of transparency and a clear audit train in council dealings; a lack of clarity over officers’ multiple roles in the council and its companies; a lack of care over information provided during meetings, including recommendations from officers; a lack of due diligence in making rigorous risk assessments and a lack of transparency when the council is a landowner and planning authority.

Last week,  the council considered nine proposals for improving council dealings, including the appointing of an independent person or body by the Local Government Association to to investigate and review the processes and actions of the council in the stadium and flats developments and to make recommendations to the council.

Councillors were generally in agreement with the report, but there was a sticking point over a recommendation that “all councillors should be more careful in accepting information without reasonable evidence, and unsubstantiated statements should be more rigorously tested prior to agreement of council (officer) recommendations”.

Cllr Kevin Davis commented: ”I find it almost offensive that this suggests I haven’t been careful.”

He added he had been very careful over the process and had been particularly concerned about the proposed £250million loan to the developers and the danger that the council wouldn’t get its money back.

His views were echoed by Cllr Debbie Harlow, who said she went to every briefing and she felt personally aggrieved by the words of the recommendation. She also questioned how being “more careful” was quantifiable.

Cllr Deborah Hughes, the O&S chairman, said the recommendation referred to all councillors, including those who had written the report, who should ask more questions to improve their understanding of business taking place.

“Effective scrutiny should not be taken as criticism,” she added. She proposed removing “more” from “more careful” and this was accepted by Cllr Davis and all the recommendations were accepted.

The adoption of the framework in all projects and programmes, is the chief recommendation accepted by the council.