Public elected 'lots of naive councillors', says former leader Nigel Ashton

PUBLISHED: 16:41 23 September 2019 | UPDATED: 16:47 23 September 2019

Cllr Nigel Ashton retained his seat for Gordano Valley in May's local election. Picture: BBC

Cllr Nigel Ashton retained his seat for Gordano Valley in May's local election. Picture: BBC

BBC

Former North Somerset Council leader Nigel Ashton has promised the Conservatives will not oppose the new administration 'for the sake of it'.

Cllr Ashton said: "I have no problem saying Brexit was the overriding issue in the election, not because it's the easy thing to say. People said they just weren't going to vote because of what was happening in Parliament - it was the only protest vote they had.

"They didn't switch to other parties, they voted for independents or minority groups. They felt they weren't doing too much damage, but of course it doesn't work that way. They still got rid of a highly successful council.

"Now North Somerset has the worst of all worlds - a coalition of five different groups with different priorities.

"I'm starting to hear comments that they haven't got the money to do what they wanted to do. Welcome to local government.

"It's not a piggy bank to do what you want to do. It's about being as efficient as you can with the resources available.

"There's a lot of naive new councillors. Some will leave, some will find it impossible to deal with."

Cllr Ashton says the result has not persuaded him to step away from politics.

He said: "I will stand again. It will be up to the community whether I get re-elected. I hope my former colleagues who all did a fantastic job all stand again."

Speaking shortly after the election, new council leader Donald Davies criticised the previous administration's policy of freezing council tax, claiming the council may have lost out on £10million as a result.

Cllr Ashton, the ward member for Gordano Valley, said: "Was it right to freeze council tax?

"At the time we were getting a subsidy from central Government. What we didn't know was that that money wouldn't be amalgamated into the core budget. You can only take what you think is the right decision at the time.

"Some irresponsible people would put up council tax hugely to do what they want to do. We've always tried to balance keeping statutory services running and council tax low.

"Some councils are well run and efficient. Some are wealthy. Others like North Somerset haven't got ancient assets they can sell or that generate income."


Housing

This week the council was told it would need to rewrite its Joint Spatial Plan housing strategy - a document formulated under Cllr Ashton's administration.

He said the Government's call for more houses to be built was to developers' advantage.

Inspectors said the JSP lacked robust evidence for the way 12 new settlements - including near Churchill and Banwell - were chosen.

But Cllr Ashton 'totally disagreed with the inspectors' view there wasn't robust evidence' behind the settlements.

He said: "They're following the Government mantra that we need more houses.

"I think the number of houses for North Somerset is too many. We need some more homes for our own growth, and we need to replace some homes.

"What we don't need is to be flooded with planning applications that take years to build. Allow us to build the houses we need for our own population.

"I don't see why North Somerset has to be totally focused around getting people in and out of Bristol.

"We should be looking to the underdeveloped South West, not expect Bristol to become a mini London.

"I value the greenbelt. If you move the greenbelt every time it's inconvenient to developers, you haven't got a greenbelt. It's there to stop urban sprawl."


Abuse of councillors

Cllr Ashton criticised social media platforms for failing to respond to abuse, and said it is increasing offline as well.

He said: "Being a councillor is an important job but it's not a glamorous one. Some colleagues have been horrified by the abuse they've had. A member of staff told me she loved working here but had to leave because her child was being abused because she worked for the council."

Cllr Ashton said his colleagues had been branded corrupt, or filmed and had different words dubbed over what they were actually saying.

He said: "You can disagree with someone, but don't be vile and abusive.

"I've had abusive mail, had my car scratched three times and the windscreen broken twice.

"Why is that acceptable, just because I'm a councillor who has done my best for the community for the last 28 years?

"Why is it acceptable, just because I was the leader of the council?"


How will the Conservatives act in opposition?

Cllr Ashton said: "We have no intention of just opposing things for the sake of it. We will contribute to help North Somerset the fantastic place it is.

"It's going to be difficult seeing some of the good things we've done get torn down. I fear some things will be done out of sheer dogma.

"We're going to keep working. I hope the new administration don't destroy too many things.

"I would question the motive of what it says it is going to do - if it's just because we didn't do it, it's not for the benefit of the people."

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