A TORY councillor has resigned the party whip after plans to introduce Saturday parking charges across the Rochford district were upheld despite mass protest from the public.
Toby Mountain, a Conservative councillor for Sweyne Park, on Rochford District Council, will see out the remaining 15 months of his term as an independent Conservative after claiming he had been subject to “unpleasantness, hypocrisy, threats and abuse” during the row over parking charges.
The controversial charges were voted in by the Tory-run council last month by 14 votes to seven, with 11 abstentions. But on Tuesday night nine Conservatives were among those who brought a motion to full council calling for further debate over the charges.
However, the motion was defeated by 19 votes to 14 and Saturday parking charges will be introduced on April 1, costing motorists £1 per hour.
Mr Mountain said: “It is important to remember that at every level, we are the servants and not masters of those who elect us, transparency is paramount.
“Since I pushed the suggestion that there should be a higher level of democratic accountability and more transparent discussion and debate within the decision-making process of the ruling administration, I have been on the receiving end of unpleasantness, hypocrisy, threats and abuse.
“This is not what I signed up for.”
Mr Mountain explained in Tuesday’s meeting how an idea to increase parking charges throughout the week, along with the idea of Saturday charges, was put forward at a council awayday in January.
Members agreed to further discussion on the suggestions, but no debate was held until the full council meeting on January 28.
He also accused council leader Terry Cutmore and councillor Mike Steptoe of misleading members by informing them the local chambers of trade were broadly in agreement of both a fee increase and the introduction of a Saturday charge, which they have since denied.
Mr Mountain said: “This extends beyond the issue of car parking charges. In my opinion, proper discussion around important issues and policies is not being undertaken in a manner which I feel is conducive to a transparent process. We are then encouraged to tow the party line, against the better judgement of some members.”
Mr Mountain will attend a meeting of the Conservative Association tomorrow, to explain his stance to Rayleigh and Wickford MP Mark Francois. Mr Mountain said he would continue to serve his constituents and Conservative ideals.
He said: “I am extremely proud to be serving as a district councillor in a debt-free council run under a Conservative administration.”
Mr Cutmore, who was the only member to speak in favour of the Saturday charge, said: “I appreciate the cost of running a car is expensive but parking is a minor part of it.
“We have to do it, nobody wants to, but we have to do it for our budget.”
Resigned the party whip - Toby Mountain
Fears businesses will suffer from new charges
COUNCILLORS and campaigners have reacted strongly to losing a vote on scrapping planned Saturday afternoon parking charges across the Rochford District.
A motion to overturn January’s Rochford District Council decision to introduce Saturday afternoon charges was heard at Tuesday’s full council meeting but a vote was lost by 19 to 14. Nine councillors signed the motion for further discussion, with the Conservative councillor for Lodge, Ian Ward, presenting figures showing up to 60 per cent of annual turnover for businesses on Rayleigh High Street can be generated on a Saturday afternoon.
Mr Ward said: “I am naturally disappointed, I felt we presented a strong argument.
“We now have to keep a realeye on the situation so businesses do not close because of this.”
Carl Watson, president of the Rayleigh Chamber of Trade, who wrote a letter to the council speaking against the Saturday charge, thought those speaking against the charges being imposed won the debate. He said: “I thought those in favour of the motion won the argument hands down.
“Good questions were asked of those voting against, but not answered – it was politics at its lowest ebb.
“The smaller businesses are struggling to keep customer numbers up and to survive.”
HOW THE COUNCILLORS VOTED:
AGAINST THE MOTION: Lesley Butcher, Phil Capon, Mike Carter, James Cottis, Terry Cutmore, Heather Glynn, Trevor Goodwin, Keith Gordon, Jim Grey, Brian Hazlewood, Keith Hudson, Gillian Lucas-Gill, David Merrick, Joan Mockford, Colin Seagers, Simon Smith, Mike Steptoe, Carole Weston and Barbara Wilkins (all Tories)
FOR THE MOTION: Pat Aves (Tory), Chris Black (Lib Dem), Robin Dray (Tory), John Griffin (Tory), Angela Hale (Tory), Diane Hoy (Green), Michael Hoy (Green), Chris Lumley (Lib Dem), Christine Mason (Rochford Resident Party), John Mason (Rochford Resident Party), Toby Mountain (Independent Conservative), Cheryl Roe (Tory), Dave Sperring (Tory) and Ian Ward (Tory).
Click here for the Echo's live blog of the evening's council meeting:
Rochford District Council meeting - live blog