Arbroath residents are challenging a culture of secrecy at Angus Council after being told to leave a harbour committee meeting earlier this month.
The small group was invited by a committee member to listen to a presentation on the controversial proposal to invest around £13 million to install cycle and pedestrian paths on the town centre dual carriageway.
Council transport boss Walter Scott asked the group to leave the meeting of the Arbroath Harbour Joint Consultative Committee (AHJCC) on December 13 in Dewar House after telling them they were not entitled to be there.
The transport boss has now written to the committee stating if members of the public wish to attend future meetings they must apply to the convener in writing.
George Park, a former Angus Council building standards official, said: “We were sitting in the room and four of us were called away into an anteroom to be told that it was a private meeting. We were slightly aggrieved, but left without causing a fuss.
“I went hoping to learn something and I did – that the council plan to be secretive around this proposal.”
The active travel scheme has ignited strong passions in the Angus town.
Those in favour suggest the development will “reunite” both sides of the town currently divided by the dual carriageway and dramatically improve access for walkers and pedestrians.
Its detractors argue there is no demand for such a scheme and it will lead to traffic gridlock.
Angus Council was one of five national winners in a fiercely contested battle for almost £7m of Sustrans Scotland and Transport Scotland funding. The council is expected to contribute “significantly less” than £5.4 million of its own money into the scheme.
Alex Smith, a member of the harbour committee and a representative of fare paying passenger boats, invited the group to attend the presentation.
He said: “The council have admitted they should not have explicitly precluded people from attending and now they want to bring in conditions for people coming in and that is not acceptable.
“If members of the public are interested in what is going on in the harbour then they should be entitled to attend.”
Council chief executive Margo Williamson said in November working practices would change after officials and councillors were criticised for “behind closed door” decisions in a report into the process that led to the implementation of parking charges in the county.
An Angus Council spokesman said the harbour committee was “not a council committee and as such is not normally open to the public.”
He said: “(The) meeting took place in a temporary venue that was unsuitable to allow additional attendees. This, and the fact no advance notice had been given, meant a decision was taken not to allow the attendance of three members of the public.
“The item on the Sustrans Places for Everyone project was an oral presentation reviewing a report to Angus Council’s 5 December meeting.
“There will be a number of future opportunities for the public to contribute to the development of this project and this was related to the AHJCC and to those members of the public on Friday before they left.
“Clarification on the advance requirements for any future attendance by members will be shared with all other members of the AHJCC.”