Counterpoint by Scott Freeman Why do we need this cloak of secrecy?


In marking the final demise of Matlock’s Lido, the Mercury’s editor in her Viewpoint column last week called for taxpayers to be told soon what the council has in mind for the site. I couldn’t agree more.

The council may well be locked in negotiations with a number of bidders who want to develop the site. That has to be good news for the town. But what I can’t get my head round is why this has to be conducted behind a cloak of secrecy.

‘Commercially sensitive’ is the stock response to such inquiries. But why?

I understand much, if not all, of this land is in the ownership of the council. That makes it in public ownership. In other words we own it, by virtue of being council taxpayers. So why can’t we be kept informed of what’s going on? What is so ‘commercially sensitive’ that we can’t be trusted with this information?

Suppose – and I’m not for a minute suggesting that this is the case – Tesco, Morrisons, Waitrose and Marks and Spencer all had their eyes on this site.

What would be wrong in this being aired in public?

If Morrisons were prepared to pay more than M&S then they are likely to win the deal.

Unless, of course, the owners (remember that is you) decide that they would rather do a slightly less lucrative deal in order to secure a different type of retailer. While negotiations go on behind closed doors, and even the press is locked out of the process, there is a danger that we could eventually be offered a fait accompli.

Remember, this is only a hypothetical scenario, but for the sake of argument let’s say Tesco were to bid highest. The council may have achieved ‘best value’ in cash terms, but what would the knock-on effect be for the town as a whole?

I understand that the Government must conduct some discussions in private – issues around National Security for instance – but I can’t see what business the district council has excluding us from decisions which could shape the future of Matlock.

What do you think?