A “CULTURE of concealment” has been used to describe South Gloucestershire Council, as Labour and Liberal Democrats hit out at Conservatives over failing to disclose planners had suggested problems with a proposed garden village could be “fudged”.

The revelation was made by Thornbury residents’ group TRAPP’D in last night’s South Gloucestershire Council meeting, who produced a controversial email acquired in a freedom of information request.

The communication between highways planning officers stated that, while a planner had “big concerns” about the 3,000-home Buckover Garden Village, the plans could be “fudged” if the other factors being considered make this attractive for the council.

Labour Group leader Cllr Rooney said: “Labour councillors are shocked and angry to discover what officials had been saying, and that we had to find out from members of the public," describing the situation as a "culture of concealment".

“This has further dented our confidence in the way the council is operating under the Tories," she added. "It is reminiscent of a major row we had over Filton Airfield in 2011 when internal information only came to light because of a FOI request.

“The Conservatives desperately scrambled to supply some sort of explanation only after they had been exposed publicly, by sharing information that they had been sitting on for a month.

“This secrecy reveals yet again that there is a culture of concealment at the council. I thank the Thornbury campaigners for the revelation without which we would still be in the dark.

“I have today written to the chief executive requesting a discussion on the internal sharing of information with opposition councillors.

“It is unacceptable that we should have to find out critical information about our own council from members of the public.”

Provision for the Buckover proposals come as part of the final draft of the West of England Joint Spatial Plan (JSP), which was later discussed in the meeting, as speakers from Thornbury, Coalpit Heath, Falfied and Charfield argued against the recommendations to accept.

Thornbury Lib Dem town and South Gloucestershire Cllr Maggie Tyrrell said she was “alarmed” that the ruling party voted in the “flawed plan” without any apparent concern.

“They are simply ignoring major problems that will cause difficulties right across South Gloucestershire,” she said. “For Thornbury the biggest problem is still Buckover but they even brushed aside the damning conclusions of a senior highways officer that had been concealed from the majority of councillors until the meeting.

“This raises questions about what else has been “fudged” and undermines the integrity of the whole document.”

Lib Dem deputy leader Cllr Claire Young added: “We fully acknowledge the need for more affordable homes in South Gloucestershire, but this plan concentrates a huge amount of development in just a few areas – threatening to make some communities unrecognisable within a few years.

“The new developments have simply not been properly thought through.”

Cllr Matthew Riddle, leader of South Gloucestershire Council, responded by saying the two parties were "cynically using an 18-month-old email from one council officer to justify opposing a plan to make home ownership and affordable rent a reality for thousands of local people".

He said: "By allocating new sites for development covering a tiny percentage of South Gloucestershire, we are better able to protect everywhere else from speculative development. Every vote against the plan this week was a vote to allow developers to build wherever they want.

"Opposition councillors have been searching continuously for reasons to oppose and they don’t put forward any constructive proposals of their own.

"The language in that email from 18-months-ago was inappropriate – what we have seen since then however is significantly more technical work on understanding transport solutions, including £1.2million to fund feasibility work on new park and rides, rail stations, MetroBus extensions and cycle/walking routes.

"Conservatives won’t take any lessons from Liberal Democrat and Labour councillors on openness and transparency given the appalling record of their failed decisions-by-committee system.”