Saturday, 23 October 2021

Row over meeting to discuss trade waste being held in secret

THE chairman of a Henley Town Council working group has come under fire for holding a meeting to discuss trade waste in private.

Stefan Gawrysiak, a member of the ruling Henley Residents’ Group, had the press and public excluded from last week’s meeting of the waste working group.

The meeting at the town hall followed criticism of the council over a huge pile of business waste that built up at a council depot off Reading Road, as reported by the Henley Standard.

The working group consisted of Cllr Gawrysiak and Councillors Ken Arlett (HRG), Julian Brookes, David Nimmo Smith, Will Hamilton (Con) and Lorraine Hillier (Ind Con).

There were also three members of the public present — Julian Glasspole, who is a waste industry expert, Frank Browne, chairman of Henley Conservatives, and Conservative town councillor Sara Abey.

However, these three and a Henley Standard reporter were excluded from the meeting on the insistence of Cllr Gawrysiak. He said commercially sensitive issues were to be discussed but he rejected calls to hold a separate confidential session at the end of the meeting, which is normal procedure in council meetings.

Cllr Gawrysiak said: “This is a closed meeting of the working group.”

Councillor Brookes said: “If there are confidential items the town clerk should direct us and move into a second section of the meeting.”

Councillor Hamilton said: “There are people here today that want to hear what’s going on. We’re not discussing anything life or death, as it were.

“I believe we should be allowed to have this meeting in public.”

Cllr Gawrysiak initially refused to let the Henley Standard reporter speak, saying there was no public participation session at the meeting.

The group voted to exclude the press but was informed by our reporter that the Public Bodies (Admissions to Meetings) Act 1960 covered both the press and the public and another vote was taken to exclude the public too.

After the meeting, Cllr Hamilton said: “I was disappointed with the way the meeting was conducted.

“We should use experts in the town to help us with the clear problems. Julian Glasspole is an industry leader. We all want to work together, we all want a clean town — let’s use the experts.”

Mr Glasspole, from Shiplake, said: “One would have thought that someone with my credentials and experience would have been welcomed in a small, local meeting about waste.

“Not at all — I was asked to leave. No, I was kicked out of the meeting along with a senior reporter from the Henley Standard.”

The waste saga began in March when Grundon Waste Management unexpectedly stopped picking up the blue bags in the evenings and switched to morning collections.

The council was concerned about visitors and people on a night out seeing the mess so it employed another contractor, GT Can Do, of Henley, on a temporary basis to pick up the bags in the evening and store them at the depot overnight for collection the next day.

A cross-party task force of councillors then negotiated with Grundon to resume evening collections.

In the meantime, bags at the depot were left untouched and built up so the pile was several feet high, prompting complaints from nearby businesses.

The waste mound has since been cleared.

Cllr Gawrysiak said the vote to exclude the press and public was done on the advice of the town clerk who had advised there were confidential matters on the agenda.

“We then had an incredibly constructive meeting and I’m pleased to announce that Grundon are going to be starting the permanent scheme from August 14.

“If the Conservatives wish to disregard the advice of the town clerk then that is their problem and not mine. This is the first time I’ve known a working group to be politicised in the six years I’ve been on the council.”

The group’s next meeting on August 21 will be in public.

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