FEARS a meeting about the future development of a landmark city hotel could be held in secret have been refuted by Portsmouth City Council.
Housing activists have accused the authority of attempting to bar the press and public from the latest hearing about the Queen’s Hotel, in Southsea.
It comes after the council included a clause in the meeting's agenda which would officers to exclude the public from the meeting if a legal wrangle or commercially sensitive item cropped up.
The £7m redevelopment has already been marred by controversy. Owners of the hotel don’t want to include any affordable housing when they build two new blocks and convert their top floors to apartments.
They caused uproar in January by pulling out of a council planning meeting – which was due to decide if the development could go ahead without affordable housing – instead calling on Bristol-based government inspectors to assess the case.
The latest meeting by Portsmouth City Council on Wednesday is due to discuss what the authority would have decided, had planning inspectors not stripped them of the power to determine the application.
The authority stressed next week’s hearing would not be held behind closed doors and that this was only a precaution if exempt material came up.
However, campaigners stressed none of the discussion should be off-limits to the public.
Cal Corkery, an activist and housing campaigner in Portsmouth, said the city should benefit from luxury developments like the Queen’s Hotel, and was outraged companies were using legal ‘loopholes’ to dodge affordable housing needs.
He demanded firmer action from the Lib Dem administration and said: ‘There is a housing crisis in Portsmouth, with dozens sleeping rough and thousands living in unsafe or insecure accommodation. We need councillors who are prepared to stand up for local people by getting affordable housing built, not ones who simply roll over when a wealthy developer comes along and pleads poverty.’
Lib Dem housing boss Councillor Darren Sanders said the council was eager to do all it could to build more affordable homes but that government rules made this difficult. He said: ‘It’s not a case of us getting our finger out and doing it – the government needs to pull its finger out and give local councils, like Portsmouth, the power and money to build homes people need.