NORTH Yorkshire County Council yesterday defended its stance over claims it unfairly "excluded" a councillor from a key planning meeting concerning sand and gravel extraction near Ripon.

The county council came under fire in London's High Court for allegedly barring Councillor Paul Richardson from a meeting last June of its planning committee on grounds that he had a potential "prejudicial interest" in the issues being debated.

Mr Richardson, councillor for Masham and Fountains, lives close to the gravel extraction site in Green Lane, Littlethorpe, and says he represents the views of many residents who oppose the plans by Brown and Potter.

But the county council's barrister, Timothy Straker QC, urged Mr Justice Richards to accept that its decision in the case was justified by its code of conduct.

He also stressed that Mr Richardson was never excluded from the meeting.

He told the judge: "He was advised that under the code of conduct he should not participate in the meeting, and he accepted that advice.

"He was not physically or otherwise excluded," he said.

The code of conduct was clear in requiring a person with a "prejudicial interest" in a matter to "withdraw from a meeting when that matter is being discussed," he said.

Mr Richardson and local pa-rish councillor, Wendy Orme, are challenging the council's decision to approve an extension of sand and gravel extraction at Ripon City Quarry, near Ripon Racecourse. The hearing continues today.