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Uttlesford District Council cabinet trio quit Residents for Uttlesford party for Green Party

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The stability of Uttlesford District Council's administration has been called into question after three Residents for Uttlesford (R4U) members of the cabinet defected to the Green Party.

Cllrs Dr Barbara Light, Paul Fairhurst – both of whom represent Saffron Walden wards – and Anthony Gerard (Newport) have left R4U, which won control of the council at May's local elections, citing the climate crisis as their motivation for the switch.

In an open letter, the trio said: "The current climate and ecological emergency is of such importance to us all, particularly in Uttlesford. We believe it is right to focus our time strongly on this issue and we can do this better through a closer alignment with the global green movement and a national Green Party.”

Former R4U councillor Paul Fairhurst (19352685)
Former R4U councillor Paul Fairhurst (19352685)

But Howard Rolfe, who led the council under the previous Conservative administration, said that it was "worrying" that three of the most experienced members in an inexperienced council had left.

"Firstly we hear that trust has broken down between the new administration and council officers. Having worked with these officers for 12 years, I am quite clear that they give professional and expert advice and respect the decisions made by politicians. For politicians to lose that trust suggests arrogance and inexperience.

"We now learn that three leading members of the new cabinet have defected to the Green Party. Does this therefore mean that these three councillors are dissatisfied with the agenda of the R4U administration or does it mean they are dissatisfied with its leadership? We hear they may not be the only defectors."

Former R4U councillor Dr Barbara Light (19352680)
Former R4U councillor Dr Barbara Light (19352680)

Cllr John Moran, Conservative Essex county councillor for Saffron Walden, said: “This exodus of senior cabinet figures of a fledgling administration is the latest in a long line of missteps which has befallen the stuttering Residents for Uttlesford administration in their first six months in office.

"This latest problem calls into question their competence to perform such a critical role in local government on behalf of our residents and businesses. It has not taken long for the cracks to appear and now the district council will get three even more inexperienced portfolio holders in important cabinet roles.”

Cllr Christian Criscione, deputy leader of the Conservative group at UDC, said: “It’s clear to see that after a little over five months in charge R4U are failing residents, and even their own councillors and cabinet members can see that now. They’ve misled residents of Uttlesford on key issues, promising the world and delivering nothing.”

Last week, UDC chief executive Dawn French stated her 'regret' at the erosion of trust between councillors and officers at UDC since the new administration was formed in May.

Former R4U councillor Anthony Gerard (19352682)
Former R4U councillor Anthony Gerard (19352682)

UDC’s Liberal Democrat group leader, Cllr Alan Dean, said: “Our officers also need a clear, democratically agreed policy direction from the R4U administration.

“Unfortunately, R4U is not providing coherent leadership. I asked for the second time in two months at last Tuesday’s (October 8) council meeting where their plan of policy priorities is. No new plan exists, so council officers are obliged to continue to work to the Tories’ old plan almost six months after the May elections. That’s not good enough.”

Stansted Labour parish councillor Daniel Brett was also sceptical: "I am not convinced that three of R4U's most experienced councillors have suddenly had a Damascene conversion just five months after the local elections. There are obvious problems with a political group that has no coherent mission. The signs are that the administration is tying itself in knots."

Leader of Uttlesford and chair of R4U, Cllr John Lodge, said: “At R4U we’re proud of the environmental programmes we have delivered, including declaring a climate change emergency. We’d like to thank Barbara, Anthony and Paul for the work they have done on these and other initiatives as part of our team."

R4U's majority on the council has now been reduced from 13 seats to seven. The new composition of the council is: RFU 23 seats, Lib Dems 7, Conservatives 4, Green Party 3 and Independents 2.

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