South Hams District Council’s executive committee was challenged by councillors who wanted an agenda item discussed in the open, rather than behind closed doors.

Cllr John Birch, Liberal Democrat, who represents Totnes, said the press and public should be allowed to listen to a debate about an agenda item entitled ’council-owned asset investment and development’, scheduled to be discussed by the committee in closed session on Thursday.

He said the it was "in the public interest" because parts of the South Hams would be "affected" by the report. This would impact the neighbourhood plans currently being created by various parishes and towns, he explained.

He said: "The council should make these intentions known" and create a dialogue with the neighbourhood plan groups. "If this is discussed in closed session, it will send out a message that you are seeking to hide something." He said this would be going against the message the council was striving for.

Cllr Jacqi Hodgson, Green Party, who represents Dartington and Staverton, said she had made inquiries into the legality of discussing the report in secret and agreed with Cllr Birch.

She said excluding the press and public was "misleading" and "wrong" and the council needed to show "transparency".

However, Cllr Keith Wingate, Conservative, who represents Kingsbridge, said he was content with discussing the report in closed session but said that if this happened then the council would need to move forwards to public consultation "almost immediately".

A number of councillors said they thought the content of the report had been leaked, perhaps to members of the Totnes Town Council.

South Hams District Council leader Cllr John Tucker, Conservative, said councillors should not be leaking information.

A district council legal officer said the council was able to have "private thinking space" before going to public consultation.

After a vote, members of the public and press were excluded from discussions and the meeting continued in private.