Politicians in Watford have been told they may know how much taxpayers’ cash a private developer received in a council payoff, but residents may not.

Watford mayor Dorothy Thornhill has said a confidentially agreement with the company Henry Boot means the amount it was paid to terminate a contract to redevelop Charter Place must remain secret.

The developer was kicked off the project to revamp the aging shopping centre after the owners of The Harlequin, Capital Shopping Centres, expressed their interest in the scheme.

This week a political row broke out over the Henry Boot payoff after council officers struck off an official question about much it cost the town’s taxpayer, which was tabled by Watford Labour leader, Nigel Bell, for yesterday’s borough meeting.

The Watford Observer understands from a town hall source that the payoff runs to hundreds of thousands of pounds, but is less than £500,000.

At yesterday’s meeting Rabi Martins, a Liberal Democrat councillor for Central Watford, asked the mayor why Councillor Bell’s question had been denied. 

Mayor Thornhill said: "It (the payoff) is the equivalent of a severance deal and they are subject to a commercial confidentiality.

"Any of you councillors can know the total as representatives of the taxpayer, but what we can’t do is broadcast it to the public. That is the nature of a confidentially agreement."

Mayor Thornhill, a Liberal Democrat, claimed the new deal which had been struck with Capital would earn back for the taxpayer what had been given to Henry Boot in the first year.

"Taxpayers can rest assured money has not been lost, it is actually a really good deal," she said.

Mayor Thornhill also attacked Councillor Bell for going public with the fact his question had been struck off the list for the meeting describing his actions as "irresponsible and untrustworthy".

Councillor Bell said he tabled the question as he felt taxpayers had a right to know how much of their cash had been paid to end the Henry Boot contract.

He said: "As the leader of the Labour opposition, I thought it was right to ask the question. I was taken aback that it was not allowed. It is important and the taxpayers have a right to know."

After the meeting Manny Lewis, managing director of Watford Borough Council, released a statement saying he could not understand Councillor Bell’s comments over the Charter Place payoff.

He said: "As an experienced councillor, Councillor Bell will know that councils legally aren't able to disclose confidential commercially sensitive information in public.

"Councillor Bell was offered, in writing, a private briefing from me on the details so he knows that, as leader of the opposition, he would have been provided with this information.”