Fringe Box



Residents Rebel Against Total Tory Control of Ash Parish Council

Published on: 10 Oct, 2020
Updated on: 12 Oct, 2020

Cllr Nigel Manning

By David Reading

Ash Parish councillors are facing a series of official complaints from residents concerned by how local affairs are being handled.

The mini-rebellion is being tackled by Guildford Borough Council, which has a legal duty to promote and maintain high standards of conduct by all councillors and co-opted members in its remit.

One complaint is about a couple, Tony and Helen Gorham, who have moved near Marlborough, 60 miles away, but still remain on the 12-member, all-Conservative parish council.

Click here to see more stories on Ash Parish Council.

Another refers to a disrespectful remark made at an online meeting to a council candidate and the failure of the chairman, Cllr Nigel Manning, to deal with the incident. A third relates to a councillor’s behaviour on social media.

The underlying concern among many residents is that the council’s Conservative domination allows little or no opportunity for challenge. Most parish councils in the borough are not party-political.

Ash Vale resident Peter Corns is challenging the ability of the Gorhams to handle local issues and effectively represent residents when they are no longer part of the community.

The couple left Ash on September 15 but as of today (October 9) Tony Gorham’s profile on the parish council website says: “We are part of the Ash and Ash Vale community, involved in the village and its people, a diverse population enriching our lives.” Helen Gorham’s profile says: “I have lived in Ash Vale since 1989 and still enjoy living in the village.”

The website still shows them to have an interest in their former Ash Vale home, although it was on the market and a “Sold” sign appeared.

In September, Mr Gorham told the Dragon: “We still have the Ash Vale house and we will be frequent visitors too.”

He was confident he and his wife could continue to represent the people of Ash. “When we finally get back to actual council meetings, if we ever do, we shall be meeting our obligations, of course.

“Over the past 12 months, the council work has been by far online, so distance is no obstacle to meeting the obligations of the role.”

The chairman, Cllr Manning, said moving away does not mean a councillor has to resign. The position of those elected for four-year terms, he added, become vacant only if they resign, breach the terms of the Local Government Act or die.

But some residents suspect the reluctance for the Gorhams to resign may reflect a general unwillingness at the council to allow non-Conservatives into their ranks.

Ash Parish Council – as it was before Cllr Eyre’s resignation and Bill Cole’s co-option.

In July, Cllr Manning said: “Ash Parish Council is a political council” and “Ash Parish councillors are elected under a political banner and since 2003 the entire Ash Parish Council has been elected as Conservatives.

“There is no reason why the elected councillors should not wish someone with the same values to be part of the council.”

Resident James Morgan-Yates has lodged three complaints with the borough council. One refers to what he considers disrespectful remarks made by Cllr Ed Schofield on social media to local residents.

His second refers to a comment by Cllr Bill Cole to rival candidate Carla Morson at the online council meeting after Cllr Cole was co-opted.

Mr Morgan-Yates also says Cllr Manning failed to deal with Cllr Cole’s remark, adding: “He brushed it under the carpet and moved the meeting to a close as quickly as he could.”

The strength of local opinion is swelling in Ash. After Cllr Graham Eyre resigned, people rallied to ensure his seat will be filled by an election rather than co-option.

There was an outcry in September when the council chose Cllr Cole, a fellow party supporter, to join them after Cllr Paul Spooner resigned, instead of independent Ms Morson. Critics felt strongly the selection had been settled before the meeting.

So when Cllr Eyre’s resignation became known, residents joined forces to ensure an election. Under the rules, at least ten residents must formally request an election, otherwise the council can co-opt a member of their choosing. Within a day, more than 20 signatures were obtained.

Sue Wyeth-Price, a leading signatory from Ash Green, said then: “A petition for an election really is necessary to allow residents to actually elect a representative.

“The chairman may have followed the law when the council co-opted a Tory supporter to replace Mr Spooner, but we believe the way this was done showed complete disregard for any semblance of democracy.”

Mr Morgan-Yates said: “There is a feeling among many residents that the council really doesn’t conduct its affairs in a transparent manner. The issue of the MoD’s closure of part of the Ash Ranges is a prime example.

“It appears there were no official minutes or notes of meetings with the Defence Infrastructure Organisation, where decisions were made on issues affecting local residents. The term ‘sitting on their hands’ has been used to describe the council.”

Carla Morson

Ms Morson, the unsuccessful candidate, said lack of openness and transparency was a major concern. “They don’t seem to talk to the people they represent. The impression given is that we should just pay up and shut up as we really don’t need to know what they are all doing or not doing.

“It’s very much a closed shop and if you aren’t a Conservative you will not be allowed to participate.”

Ms Morson, a Lib Dem supporter, maintains her role with the council would have been completely independent. She added: “We have pretty much the same councillors at all three levels of local government, all Conservatives. That is not in the best interests of the residents of Ash parish.”

A GBC statement said: “We have received more than the required 10 signatories of local government electors from the relevant parish ward requesting a by-election. We anticipate that the by-election will take place on May 6, 2021.”

GBC would not comment on the complaints.

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test One Response to Residents Rebel Against Total Tory Control of Ash Parish Council

  1. John Ferns Reply

    December 13, 2020 at 7:02 pm

    So the complaints by local residents about the behaviour of the Ash Parish council were not upheld by GBC.

    Sadly, no surprises there.

    I think that this recent article in The Dragon says everything you need to know about the councillors and their attunement with local issues and passions.

    Did the chairman impose a “three-line whip” on local councillors not to attend? Was it because eminent borough councillors from far outside the parish, of a different political persuasion, had signified their attendance?

    Ash Parish Cllrs should not be surprised if they are ousted at the next session of local elections.

    It’s just a pity that these won’t be held until May 2023.

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