After 50 years Newman is no longer new man

THE only councillor to have served on Huntingdonshire District Council continuously since its formation in 1974 hangs up his chain of office this week.

Farmer Mike Newman, 77, of Wilobe Farm, Pidley, has actually served continuously as a district councillor for longer than that, and has notched up a total of half a century of public service.

He has been contesting district elections successfully since regaining his seat on St Ives Rural District Council – one of the constituents of what became first Huntingdon District Council in April 1974 and changed its name to Huntingdonshire in the early 1980s — in May 1970, though he had represented the parish of Pidley-cum-Fenton on the RDC for six years previously — starting 50 years ago in 1961 — before losing his seat in 1967.

Father of the council Mike was first elected to the new HDC – formed under Ted Heath and Peter Walker’s Local Government Act 1972 from a variety of smaller urban and rural authorities in Hunts – in 1973, working in shadow mode until assuming control of the district in 1974.

He has also been a member of Pidley-cum-Fenton Parish Council for 50 years – for all but two as chairman – and is not yet ready to stop that.

He was chairman of HDC from 1986 to 1988, having been vice-chairman between 1984 and 1986. He chaired the personnel committee and environmental services committee for several years and was vice-chairman of policy and resources in the early 1980s.

After the council moved to a cabinet system a decade ago, Mike Newman held the environment portfolio in 2000-01 under then-leader Richard Turpin.

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He is not a fan of cabinet administration, which replaced a system of committee recommendations to full council.

“Half the people on the council don’t know each other any more these days: they did with the committee system. When I was chairman of the council, I was an ex officio member of every committee of the council. Even if I didn’t go to every meeting, I always got the papers.”

In spite of that, he would not have missed it for the world.

“I only got involved because my wife, Jane, didn’t want me under her feet. She thought I should get out and meet people,” he told The Hunts Post.

In spite of having been a life-long Conservative, one thing he never mentions is ‘the party’.

“Over the years my life has been a lot richer for meeting people from all walks of life: that quality of life is very important. I look upon it as serving the community, and I’ve enjoyed every aspect of it – particularly helping to solve people’s problems.

“Very occasionally – I have one letter under the blotter on my desk – they say thank you, even though you don’t expect it. That means a great deal: it sticks in the mind.”

Other things stick in the mind, too – such as appointing a woman, and later her husband, to work for HDC in its early days. Since then, their children and now their children’s children have become HDC employees.

Mike is the only councillor to have been present at the opening of both Pathfinder House headquarters buildings – the first the 1970s spec-built office block that was razed to the ground after suffering terminal concrete cancer in the noughties, and the second complex that finally replaced it a year ago.

And for the future? “I thought another four-year term at HDC could be a bridge too far, but I’m still farming.” So, too, are their son David and daughter-in-law Jayne, who run an upmarket caravan park and the award-winning Barn restaurant as diversified activities.

Mike and Jane, who have lived on the Pidley farm since 1955, are proud of those achievements. “We diversified at just the right time.” Their other child, daughter Jane, is a teacher in Saffron Walden in north Essex.