A councillor has warned of a ‘veil of secrecy’ at Epping Forest’s council-owned development company.

Independent Loughton councillor, Stephen Murray, says Qualis – a group of companies set up and wholly owned by Epping Forest District Council – lacks ‘real public scrutiny’.

However, Cllr Chris Whitbread, the leader of the council, has said promised the process will be ‘transparent’ with quarterly finance and performance reports presented to the council.

Cllr Murray said: “From the outset of this process and the creation of Qualis I have been very concerned about the lack of real public scrutiny. This concern has been further heightened by the acknowledgement from the council that no Qualis board meetings will be held in public and all will take place behind closed doors.

Epping Forest Guardian:

Cllr Stephen Murray has raised concerns over public scrutiny at Qualis

“It must be remembered that if the council was discussing the development of any of these sensitive sites all discussions and ideas, except the usual commercial and financially sensitive matters, would be taking place within a public forum and be subjected to proper public and press scrutiny.

“I am staggered by this veil of secrecy and lack of transparency, it must be remembered that the bulk of the sites Qualis are considering discussing and developing were sites in the public ownership of this council.”

Qualis is set to deliver several multi-million pound schemes across the district.

Epping Forest Guardian:

An artist's impression of a Qualis led development at Epping and St Johns

The council has fast-tracked the delivery of the projects to help offset the financial impacts of the coronavirus pandemic.

“The council owns and ultimately controls Qualis but it also wants Qualis to operate as independently as possible in the private sector, making use of its skills and people to develop homes for rent and sale on the private housing market as well as developing new facilities for the district”, Cllr Whitbread explained.

Epping Forest Guardian:

Epping Forest District Council leader Cllr Chris Whitbread

“Qualis is therefore being treated very much as we would any other contractor. The difference between Qualis and any other private company, is that the profit from these private developments flows back to the council for investment and provision of public services for the benefit of all our residents.

“The proposals and designs for future development sites are presented through the normal planning processes which includes full public consultation.

“The process is transparent and balanced to ensure Qualis remains accountable while benefitting from all the agility a private company brings to the development and management process.”

Epping Forest Guardian:

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