Conservatives accused of ‘petty politics’ in attempting to oust chair of coastal flood working group

North Norfolk floods aerials. Salthouse. Picture: MIKE PAGE

North Norfolk floods aerials. Salthouse. Picture: MIKE PAGE - Credit: Archant

Conservatives have been accused of using the balance of power at Norfolk County Council to politicise their response to flooding by attempting to oust the chair of the coastal flood working group, Liberal Democrat leader Marie Strong.

Marie Strong. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Marie Strong. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY - Credit: Copyright: Archant 2015

Dr Strong had brought a proposal to the environment, development and transport committee this morning to join together two working groups set up in response to the floods of 2013, but instead found herself voted out of the project entirely.

Conservative members voted down a proposal to elect Dr Strong back to the new working group, and elected two of their own, Claire Bowes and Tony White, effectively eliminating any Green or Lib Dem representation from the group.

'It really took me by surprise,' Dr Strong, for Wells, said after the meeting. 'Working groups have always been cross party, and that one up until now has had a member from each of the political groups. I was chair of the coastal flood group because of my experience, the two groups came together twice and both times voted me as chair. 'I had hoped it would be formally considered to be cross party, but I didn't get that far. The idea is just to have a small group working together to establish knowledge and experience.

'What I was proposing was one from each political group, and a mix of city and coastal representatives. I have got 19 miles of coastline at risk of flooding and Wells has the most properties at risk of flooding between Great Yarmouth and King's Lynn.'

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Labour's Colleen Walker, for Magdalen ward, told the Conservatives she was 'shocked and disgusted' at their vote. 'Flooding is not a political issue, and nobody knows more about this issue than Councillor Strong,' she told them.

After the meeting Lib Dem Tim East, for Costessey, wrote to Conservative leader Cliff Jordan.

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'Quite clearly this was a party political decision which was not taken in the best interests of Norfolk with all its implications for the County,' he said. 'In this isolated case, it was driven by narrow party-politics, and it's ramification is that it was a petty party-political vote taken for no justifiable or even understandable reason.'

Mr Jordan said he had not been aware of what the members had intended to do, and it 'should not have happened'. 'What you have to remember is under the Alliance, we were on nothing,' he said. 'We were off most of the groups and they were putting themselves onto everything. George's Alliance excluded the Conservatives from everything, so when it is spun back around there is bound to be some retribution.'

Following the meeting, Mr White indicated he did not want to participate in the working group, and chairman Martin Wilby has proposed Dr Strong take the vacancy on the new flood and coastal management member working group, alongside UKIP and Independent Richard Bird, Labour's Mick Castle, and Conservatives Brian Long and Claire Bowes.

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