Norfolk parish council unable to meet or make decisions after seven councillors resign en masse

17:51 24 August 2012

Stephen Heard. Photo: Bill Smith

Stephen Heard. Photo: Bill Smith

Archant © 2011

Seven members of a parish council resigned en masse today - with four linking their decision to the actions of a newly elected member.

Salhouse Parish Council is legally not allowed to meet or make decisions as it no longer has enough councillors.

Stephen Heard, chairman of Stop Norwich Urbanisation (Snub), picked up 238 votes to defeat Lynn Fielder, who received 199 votes, in a by-election for a vacant seat on Thursday night. The turnout was 34.6pc.

But Mr Heard is now serving alongside just two other councillors after chairman Robert Cooper, vice-chairman Kerry Robbins, Peter Jefford, Paul Peck, Stephen Piper, Jenny Rose and Susan Simpson resigned.

Snub stated it forced a by-election, which costs around £2,000, to gauge the feelings on “important issues”, including the joint core strategy (JCS). The campaign group successfully challenged part of the document, which maps out how 37,000 properties could be built in the Norwich area, in the High Court.

Mr Cooper, Mr Piper, Mrs Rose and Mrs Simpson, in a joint-statement, said their “difficult” decision was prompted by Snub’s actions to secure support from Salhouse Parish Council for its legal challenge against the JCS, among other reasons.

They continued: “As Salhouse parish councillors, we are not prepared to allow parishioners to be held to ‘financial ransom’ with the potential threat of repeated by-elections.

“We are also not prepared for the parish council to be intimidated by the Snub campaign group, whose sole purpose appears to be to waste as much of the council’s time and parishioners’ precept by its ‘vendetta’ against Salhouse Parish Council.”

Yesterday’s poll was the first for several years. Previous vacancies have been filled by co-option, a national policy which allows parishes to interview nominees and make selections without the need for election.

Mr Heard was previously refused under this process in spring 2011, with his Snub links deemed to be a conflict of interest.

He refuted any suggestions Snub had intimidated Salhouse parish councillors or that his election campaign was solely on the JCS.

He added the by-election was called as people were getting frustrated by a lack of co-operation from the parish council when it came to representing parishioners views.

The four former councillors who issued a statement believed the authority was meeting the needs of residents, particularly when it came to dealing with the JCS.

Mr Heard said today: “When I first heard the resignation rumours yesterday I was aghast. I thought ‘why would they do that?’, there’s eight of them and one of me. I may have made it uncomfortable and we would have had some interesting debates but I was in the minority.”

Before today’s resignations, 10 of the 11 positions were occupied. Salhouse Parish Council needs four members to be quorate and eligible to meet.

Broadland District Council is now seeking to approve an order enabling it to keep the council functioning, which could see the area’s two district councillors helping out.

The order will me made under the Local Government Act and is expected to be approved at Broadland’s next full council meeting on September 18.

Another by-election, unrelated to today’s resignations, is already scheduled for Salhouse, with the deadline for nominees next Friday.

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