An auditor has found that a town councillor “provided clear indications” that an architect could start on thousands of pounds worth of work before approval was granted by the council.

The report from Andover Town Council’s auditors, Lightatouch, said that the chairman of the planning committee, Cllr Christopher Ecclestone, “provided clear indications to Portus and Whitton that they would be able to start the work before any approval and final decision was agreed both at the planning committee and at full council.”

It also said that “prior to him sending further invites to alternate companies,” Cllr Ecclestone informed Portus and Whitton that they would be able to start work if their quote, valued at £9,920, passed in the planning committee. As a result, “requirements set out in Financial Regulations and Standing Orders have not been followed to ensure that the Council’s procedures have correctly been applied,” according to the auditor.

Town councillors clashed over the critical report at a meeting on Wednesday September 16, with Cllr Ecclestone describing it as “very poor” and “defective in a whole lot of aspects.”

He said: “This thing is riddled with inaccuracies. They haven’t asked the appropriate people, they haven’t read the document I was asked to prepare on the other parties that were contacted, so it seems to me that they’ve done a very poor job.”

Cllr David Coole concurred, saying that in his opinion, the report “is incomplete, factually incorrect, and as a consequence, has reached the wrong conclusion.”

He said that had the auditor consulted with Cllr Ecclestone and the town clerk, as well as consulting the aforementioned document, “it would have been immediately clear there was no confusion over what was being considered.”

Cllr Luigi Gregori said that while he didn’t think there was “any criminal activity,” there were “a number of questions to answer.” “There was a breach of the code of conduct, and a breach of our financial regulations,” he said.

Cllr David Hughes said that he had raised “concerns about financial regulations and standing orders and transparency, and this report picks up on every part of that and says that they weren’t done in the right manner.”

Cllr Coole subsequently proposed that the matter was deferred until the next full council meeting to be held in camera. This motion was carried. Cllr Ecclestone also asked if the report could be amended by the auditors, taking into account his concerns, to which he was told by Mayor Richard Rowles to add it to the agenda of the next policy and resources committee meeting.