ILKLEY district councillors have spoken of their surprise and disappointment after being excluded from a town council meeting called to address a complaint over the handling of a contract to refurbish the Riverside Gardens public toilets.

An extraordinary meeting of Ilkley Town Council to discuss how a contract worth £112,708 with the Wiltshire-based company Healthmatic was awarded took place behind closed doors on Wednesday, November 17, after town councillors voted to exclude the press and public.

The meeting had been arranged following a complaint about how the contract was awarded from a member of the public, Roger Yaxley. Mr Yaxley attended the meeting, along with district councillors Kyle Green (Con, Ilkley) and Anne Hawkesworth (Ind, Ilkley).

Mr Yaxley was given the opportunity to speak at the start of the meeting and said the town council should be commended in investing in public toilets when many are closing across the country.

He added: “Nevertheless, we must get value for money and think this through properly. At the moment this looks like a very expensive £112,000-plus project, and it is only fair to the town to put the tendering process out to local firms first.”

Cllr Green said: “I was deeply disappointed that having received a complaint from the public, Ilkley Town Council, led by Lib Dem mayor and Green deputy mayor, agreed to exclude the public from the meeting.

“While it is vital that the riverside toilets are upgraded, and indeed I have made the town council aware of funding streams to help make them accessible changing place toilets and did so again before I and others were excluded from the meeting, the mess the Green and Lib Dem-run town council have got into during the project is hugely frustrating. It is severely delaying the delivery of a vital project.

“I have also previously raised concerns as to how Shipley Town Council managed to reopen a toilet block in Saltaire for just £15,000, while Ilkley Town Council have so far signed a contract for £112,708 to improve the toilets. While I accept all projects are different, I am not sure this kind of difference shows that Ilkley Town Council has prioritised getting the best value when tendering this project.

“I sincerely hope that the town council has followed the correct process, but if they haven’t then the mayor needs to consider his position as leader of the town council. I made this clear when I spoke at the meeting prior to the public being excluded.”

Cllr Anne Hawkesworth (Ind, Ilkley) added: “I was surprised at district councillors being turfed out. We are clearly concerned about probity within our ward.

“We are supposed to be all working for the benefit of Ilkley and not just promoting party dogmas.

“The voting was confused around the decision. It was somewhat bizarre when the proposer of the motion to exclude appeared to think they could then abstain on decision.”

The town council meeting was adjourned to enable more information to be gathered. The town council has arranged another meeting, which will take place next Thursday (December 2) at 6pm in Ilkley Town Hall.

Ruth Batterley, Ilkley Town Council clerk, said the town council had sought legal advice on best practice on the handling of complaints and added: “At the meeting, the complainant and other members of the public were invited to make comments at the outset, and the complainant and one of the district councillors chose to do so. Councillors then discussed whether to exclude members of the public and the press in light of the above advice. Councillors recognised the desirability of transparency, but on balance, on a divided vote, agreed that a number of aspects relating to the complaint, including complainant confidentiality, the potential need to discuss the role of council staff (who have different protections to town councillors) and the need for detailed fact-finding discussions justified exclusion of the public as outlined in the guidance. The second meeting will include a further opportunity for members of the press and public to attend, and town councillors will again consider whether to resolve to exclude public and press from the further discussions.”