LABOUR councillors are angry most of a key meeting over £1billion plans to rebuild Basildon town centre was held in private.

Basildon Council held a full council meeting at the Basildon Centre, St Martin’s Square, to approve handing the Basildon Masterplan contact to building consortium Barratt Wilson Bowden.

Opposition Labour councillors, who voted against approving the consortium, were angry the public and press were excluded from most of the debate.

They claim the decision over who should rebuild the shopping centre and 1,900 new homes was the biggest issue facing the people of Basildon for generations.

Richard Rackham, Labour councillor for Lee Chapel North, tried to stop the meeting from being held behind closed doors.

He said residents should have been given every possible opportunity to hear about concerns raised by councillors over Barratt Wilson Bowden.

However, Tory council leaders insisted the meeting had to be closed to the public, as discussion of the developers’ plans could contain commercially sensitive information.

Lynda Gordon, leader of the Labour group, said: “We are clearly disappointed the chairman allowed the debate to go ahead.

“We are now seeking legal advice and going to Doug Smith, the council’s monitoring officer, as we feel it is wrong that members of the public had no way of knowing what was said in a debate over who gets a £1billion contract.

“This will affect everyone who lives in Basildon and it’s important these sorts of issues are debated publicly and democratically.”

After protests by Labour members, council chairman Mo Larkin allowed a vote to decide whether to exclude the press and public.

However, a majority of Tory councillors opted to stand by the original decision and hold the debate in secret.

Tony Ball, Conservative leader of the council, insisted afterwards his administration had done nothing wrong.

He said: “The clear advice from our legal officers was, because the debate could stray into what could be commercially sensitive information, we had to hold it in private.

“I want to point out what we discussed did not necessarily have to go in front of all council members and could have just been done through the cabinet.

“However, because it is such an important development, we chose to hold it with a full council.”