It is at the lowest rung of local democracy, dealing with issues like street lighting, allotments and play areas.

But it seems that the cut and thrust at Wymondham Town Council can get a little too lively for some councillors.

The authority has introduced a 'red card' system for members who need to leave meetings because the proceedings are triggering high levels of anxiety.

The Liberal Democrat-run council brought in the measures in response to a recent incident where long-standing councillor Tony Holden stepped down with a 45-second resignation speech in which he accused fellow members of "achieving nothing".

Joe Barrett - a 25-year-old Green councillor - said the speech triggered a "psychiatric emergency" which meant he had to leave the meeting for 20 minutes.

He has now proposed the new system which was unanimously approved by fellow members at a meeting this week.

However, the new measures have been criticised, including by Mr Holden, who described his former colleagues as "fragile" and said that democracy would suffer as a result of the changes.

Eastern Daily Press: Wymondham town centreWymondham town centre (Image: Newsquest)WHAT ARE THE NEW RULES?

The new system will see councillors hold up cards to indicate they need to leave the room for mental health reasons.

Mr Barrett initially suggested red cards should be used, but other councillors decided they should instead raise their name cards, because of the "negative connotations" of red cards.

Once they have raised their cards, councillors will be able to go to a specially-designated room next door, where they will be provided with water and advice on 'grounding techniques', such as breathing exercises.

Eastern Daily Press: The meeting of Wymondham Town CouncilThe meeting of Wymondham Town Council (Image: Wymondham Town Council)READ MORE: Town centre to benefit from nearly £1m funding boost

Suzanne Nuri-Nixon, the council chairwoman, said: "The system will allow people to indicate to me that they need to leave the room in a more formal way.

"People shouldn't have to ask to leave a meeting - this isn't a classroom. This is just a way of showing a bit of respect and will make us more inclusive."

She said a meeting may be suspended if it is deemed appropriate to check on a councillor's welfare, but that would not normally be the case and proceedings will usually continue in the member's absence.

Eastern Daily Press: Chairwoman Suzanne Nuri-NixonChairwoman Suzanne Nuri-Nixon (Image: Suzanne Nuri-Nixon)WHY HAS IT BEEN INTRODUCED?

Mr Barrett said Mr Holden's resignation speech in February triggered a "psychiatric emergency" which meant he had to leave the meeting for 20 minutes and take prescription medicine.

The speech only lasted 45 seconds before it was cut short by one of its targets, Ms Nuri-Nixon, after Mr Holden told the council: "You have achieved nothing."

Mr Barrett, who is autistic and has ADHD and PTSD, was not one of the targets of Mr Holden's accusations but said his words had caused him to have a "serious dissociative episode".

Eastern Daily Press: Wymondham Town CouncilWymondham Town Council (Image: Google Maps)Mr Barrett, who was elected in May last year, said the unexpected criticisms had been "catastrophic" for him and the situation had been worsened by the lack of a "perceived means of escape". 

"He didn't do anything directly to me, but his behaviour broke our agreement as a council by making this attack," Mr Barrett said.

"That conflict was the cause of a serious dissociative flashback."

He went on: "It is difficult for me to leave a meeting as I feel that I need to give a reason or an excuse, which can sometimes be difficult to explain.

"This will make the town council a more inclusive environment and offers a means of escape if it is needed."


Eastern Daily Press: Former councillor Tony Holden when he was mayor of the townFormer councillor Tony Holden when he was mayor of the town (Image: Sonya Duncan)Mr Holden - who previously apologised to Mr Barrett for any inadvertent distress - has criticised the new measures and feels he is being unfairly blamed for the original incident, which has been blown out of proportion.

"If you can't stand the heat, you need to get out of the kitchen," he said.

"I don't know if they're a bit wet or just trying to find a meaning in what they're doing. They're using a sledgehammer to crack a walnut.

"The council isn't fit for purpose. They're fragile and have lost their way. This is so unnecessary.

"I'm being used as a scapegoat. People can walk out of a meeting any time that they want to, but if you're not in a meeting then you're not representing your community - democracy has just gone out of the window."