A HIGHLY critical report, slamming the way Christchurch council dealt with the Highcliffe beach hut project will be brought before councillors next week.

The council's scrutiny committee will discuss the findings of a group set-up to investigate the controversial project to install overnight beach huts on the cliffs at Highcliffe.

However, the task and finish group, chaired by Cllr Lesley Dedman, has still not been allowed to see the contentious contract - due to a 'non-reveal' clause.

And one of the ward councillors - Cllr Vicki Hallam - has been criticised for 'misleading' officers over the level of public support for the scheme.

The project was canned last year after a high profile campaign to halt the council's scheme with TV production company Plum Pictures.

And on Tuesday, members will be asked to approve a range of recommendations changing the way they make decisions like this in the future.

They include not signing contracts with "onerous and restrictive confidentiality clauses", unless approved by the leader and deputy leader.

They are also seeking assurances that ward councillors will not give assurances on a project unless they have "specific knowledge and consultation has been carried out."

Reputational risk should also be considered and with resident concerns should be an initial consideration which could prevent the council proceeding with a project, the recommendation suggests.

In the final report, issues over confidentiality, lack of consultation, planning and resident concerns are raised.

"The insistence of confidentiality...was a defining factor in the rejection of the project by the public.

"The project was unusual and high profile", says the report.

It also said there was "no consultation on this TV project" which led to residents suspicions that the council had acted with "secrecy and a lack of transparency."

This is despite the council leadership insisting consultation had been carried out, although the report says this is 'not supported'.

Concluding, the report states: "Officers making statements that consultation had been carried out did so in good faith having been misled by a councillor mistakenly claiming residents support for the Highcliffe beach huts."

It adds: "The conjunction of an unusual and high profile project on a highly regarded stretch of coast and cliff demanded careful political handling to 'sell' to residents and the power to change or retreat if necessary, yet this was impossible due to the contact clause of confidentiality."