St Neots councillors walk out of meeting after elections row

PUBLISHED: 06:58 06 March 2017 | UPDATED: 07:00 06 March 2017

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Plans to reorganise parish and district council elections in Huntingdonshire sparked a heated exchange which saw four councillors walk out of a meeting.

The walk-out followed a vote at a Huntingdonshire District Council (HDC) meeting on February 22 where it was proposed to cut the current four-year terms of town and parish councillors and bring the authorities in line with the district elections, which are due to be held in May, 2018.

HDC deputy leader, Councillor Graham Bull, told the meeting the move would result in a clearer electoral process.

“This I believe will allow all of the parish and town councils to have a clear electoral process; everybody will be able to understand they are voting for parish and district council at the same time,” Cllr Bull told the meeting.

Following a consultation with the 84 parish and town councils in the district, St Ives Town Council, Warboys Parish Council, along with St Neots Town Council, had previously voted to continue with their current electoral cycles, and hold elections in 2019/20.

There were impassioned scenes across the council chamber and led to the walk-out of independent councillor and mayor of St Neots Councillor Derek Giles.

St Neots deputy mayor, Councillor Barry Chapman, told fellow councillors: “This shows total disrespect for all of the residents of our town. To curtail their [councillors] terms of office to bring an election forward, I find this an appalling abuse of the democratic process.”

When Cllr Chapman failed to secure an amendment to allow a town council election in 2019, and then again in 2022 to line up with the district, he and St Neots councillors Simone Taylor and Sandie Giles walked out of the meeting.

Speaking to The Hunts Post this week, Cllr Giles said: “St Neots Town Council were elected for a period of four years and have planned a program of improvements to our town. The district have ridden roughshod over the St Neots electorate in abusing their role as elections administrator. This comes after HDC’s lengthy delay in allowing the St Neots Neighbourhood Plan Referendum, errors made by HDC understating the size of the St Neots electorate and overriding petitions from St Neots residents and town council views about our local wards.

Cllr Giles also disputed the move would make any significant savings for the district council.

“Contrary to the spin of the district council, there is no saving for the residents of St Neots and, in fact, there is an increased cost because the 2018 election cost will have to be spread over three years rather than four,” he added.

The walk-out and the amendment was described as “utterly unacceptable” by Conservative Councillor Jason Ablewhite, who has said the St Neots councillors should “hang their hands in shame”.

According to the district council the estimated cost of a stand-alone election for St Neots would cost £19,000, £12,000 for St Ives and £5,000 for Warboys.

Cllr Bull, said after the meeting: “Holding all local elections on the same day would reduce confusion for voters, as all local elections use the same method of voting, and it would increase the potential for a higher turnout at elections. “If some parishes continued on their current cycle, their election would be run on its own and therefore may cost the parish more money; in some instances up to an additional £6k. The decision to align the town and parish council elections with the district council would mean that costs could continue to be shared.”

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