Fringe Box



Ash Aspect: End of an Era – Ash’s Dominant Tory Chairman Is Succeeded By an Independent

Published on: 24 May, 2023
Updated on: 26 May, 2023

By David Reading

For more than two decades, Conservative Cllr Nigel Manning was the leading figure in Ash parish affairs. As longstanding chairman of the parish council, he kept a firm grip on business both during meetings and outside them.

Now that has all changed with the emergence of a new set of faces on Ash Parish Council and a new chair. Cllr Manning remains on the council along with fellow Conservatives Marsha Moseley and John Tonks, but the independents outnumber the Tories 6-3.

Cllr Fiona White

The new chair elected at this week’s meeting was the experienced Cllr Fiona White, who sits on Guildford Borough Council and Surrey County Council as a Lib Dem but provides an independent voice on Ash PC.

Her vice-chair is the popular Cllr Carla Morson, another Lib Dem sitting as an independent, who first joined the parish council in May 2021. She is also now a member of GBC and SCC.

Cllr Carla Morson

It was the May 2023 elections that changed everything. Five Conservatives on the council decided not to stand and Independent Cllr Pat Scott retired.

Only nine candidates put themselves forward to contest the 12 places – meaning that all got through without any votes needing to be cast.

There remain three empty parish council places, and the clerk, Dennis Wheeler, is preparing to advertise to fill those vacancies.

Cllr Nigel Manning

Cllr Manning, a former tax inspector, is clearly a man of great organisational and financial ability, but there were those who felt he lacked openness, transparency. Ash Parish Council appeared to be The Nigel Manning Show, which any resident who attended the monthly meetings might attest to. As chairman, he demanded compliance and his voice was the dominant one.

One might have expected interesting discussions to take place at the first meeting after the 2023 elections, but in the event Cllr Manning and Cllr Moseley Nigel Manning’s partner – and another strong-willed Tory – sent apologies for absence. They are understood to be on holiday.

Cllr John Tonks

That first meeting was different in tone to previous recent meetings, with more open discussion, eagerness to work as a team and, indeed, good humour. The only Conservative present, Cllr Tonks, acted professionally in accepting the changes.

The new chairman, Cllr White, set the tone in her opening remarks when she stressed that openness and transparency with members of the community was a vital part of Ash Parish Council business.

“We are here to serve you – not the other way round,” she told members of the public present. “So please come along to our meetings, ask questions, challenge us if you feel we need to be challenged and encourage your neighbours and everyone else to do the same. The best way democracy can work at any level is when there is a good level of public scrutiny.”

The council’s reputation has suffered in recent years, notably through the saga of the two absentee councillors. That may be one of the key reasons why six people put themselves forward as Independent candidates.

The controversy began in September 2020 when the two councillors, Helen and Tony Gorham, left the area to live in Wiltshire. Supported by Cllr Manning, they declined to step down. There were those who believed that this was because Cllr Manning did not want a by-election, which would have risked a challenge to the Conservative dominance.

Since that time, the two councillors did not attend a single parish council meeting in person. Their only attendance was at committee meetings held online. This was permitted during the pandemic, but in the spring of 2021 a High Court ruling meant that attendance at online council meetings would no longer count.

The council, led by Cllr Manning as chairman, steadfastly refused to accept that the two councillors should resign.

Despite hearing legal advice from two sources that the couple’s membership was unlawful, the council wasn’t convinced and voted to pay for a barrister to clarify the position.

The matter dragged on. Eventually the barrister’s opinion was received, declaring that the two councillors were entitled to remain in post. By then there were two independents on the council and they protested, but the council voted by a majority to accept the barrister’s opinion – sparking fury among members of the public present at the full council meeting.

The full make-up of the present council still has to be decided, depending on who – if anyone – applies to be co-opted to fill the three vacancies.

The absence of Cllr Manning and Cllr Moseley at this week’s meeting meant they were unable to be nominated for key committee positions on the council.

The full Ash Parish Council line-up:

 Ash South Ward 

Cllr Carl Cookson (Independent)

Cllr Paul Golding (Independent)

Ash Vale Ward 

Cllr Carla  Morson (Independent)

Cllr Richard Lucas (Independent)

Cllr Nigel Manning (Conservative)

Cllr Marsha Moseley (Conservative)

Ash Wharf Ward 

Cllr Fiona White (Independent)

Cllr Philip Bellamy (Independent)

Cllr John Tonks (Conservative)




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