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Uttlesford District Council: Opposition parties unite to table motion of no confidence in R4U administration

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Uttlesford District Council is an administration in “chaos and turmoil” it was claimed this week as ruling group Residents for Uttlesford (R4U) faced a vote of no confidence from all three opposition parties.

In an unprecedented move, the Conservatives, Liberal Democrats and Greens tabled a joint motion for the April 13 meeting of the full council, calling time on R4U’s rule.

They were due to issue a statement on Monday (March 22), but Lib Dem group leader Cllr Alan Dean, of Stansted, said that the matter had been referred to the council’s legal team, effectively seeking to “gag” opposition councillors, and they had been told that the meeting in just three weeks’ time had been cancelled because of a “lack of council business”.

Uttlesford is believed to be verifying whether a motion of no confidence can be considered in the run-up to the May 6 county council elections.

“Never in my 34 years’ membership at Uttlesford has a motion of no confidence been tabled before and now it is all becoming rather unpleasant,” said Cllr Dean, who represents Stansted North ward.

“And as of this moment, this is an attempt to gag members and stop them challenging the administration for poor behaviour.

Stansted's Alan Dean, leader of UDC's Liberal Democrat group
Stansted's Alan Dean, leader of UDC's Liberal Democrat group

“In my experience, nobody has ever attempted to cancel the April full council meeting, even when there have been Uttlesford elections.

“I have serious concerns about this council’s accountability and its ability to run the council properly.”

Conservative group leader Chris Criscione (Flitch Green and Little Dunmow) said: “On this we are united. R4U says it’s political game playing, but I think it’s just the opposite. They have managed to unite opposing political parties because of their incompetence.

“It’s about the council following proper processes and allowing fair, democratic input, and we have no choice because the council is failing in these fundamental duties. What we are seeing is going to be the demise of this council and the only people who are going to suffer are the residents.”

Cllr Chris Criscione, leader of the four Conservatives on UDC
Cllr Chris Criscione, leader of the four Conservatives on UDC

The motion centres around three main points: firstly, the Stansted Airport passenger growth planning inquiry which ended abruptly, with UDC accused of failing to mount a robust defence of its refusal of planning permission to increase passenger numbers to 43 million.

Then there is the ongoing police investigation into governance issues within the authority. Essex Police is looking into whether any criminal offences have been committed and the council has still not been able to sign off its accounts for 2019-20 as a result.

And, finally, the motion deals with broader issues concerning scrutiny, lack of transparency and accountability and the “closing down of discussions” within meetings.

It’s been a tumultuous week for local politics, with the two Independent district councillors for the Thaxted and Eastons ward, who were elected less than two years ago as Liberal Democrats, joining R4U.

One of them is outgoing UDC chairman Cllr Martin Foley, who served as a Lib Dem for 26 years before quitting last year over “growing disappointment” with the party.

UDC chairman Martin Foley was elected as a Lib Dem in May 2019, became an Independent and has now joined R4U
UDC chairman Martin Foley was elected as a Lib Dem in May 2019, became an Independent and has now joined R4U

He and fellow ward member Cllr Mike Tayler, a former Thaxted GP, formed the Thaxted and the Eastons Independent Group.

Now, less than 12 months later, Cllr Foley believes joining R4U will “create the best outcome for my ward residents” and is one of four R4U candidates standing for election to Essex County Council in May.

He said: “R4U’s policies and independent ethos fit with my own. I have been a strong supporter of SSE (Stop Stansted Expansion) and I still am. R4U has opposed unsustainable airport expansion, and if it was not for R4U the Tories would have backed massive expansion at the airport.

“Before making the move to R4U I spoke to supporters that have been with me for years, parish council chairs in my ward and many residents.

“I am delighted that they overwhelmingly understand and support my reasons for working as part of R4U and are happy I want to represent their needs at Essex County Council.”

The decisions by Cllrs Foley and Tayler mean that R4U now has 24 councillors on the 39-seat council – a significant majority after the party which claims to represent residents’ interests swept to victory at the May 2019 local elections, almost completely wiping out the previous, Conservative administration.

There are five Liberal Democrats, four Conservatives, two Green Party members and two Independents, with two vacancies in the Newport and Sampfords wards.

The Indie has approached UDC for a comment.

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