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Referendum to decide fate of Hadleigh town councillors as public discontent grows

Hadleigh High Street. Picture: Mark Westley (2288703)
Hadleigh High Street. Picture: Mark Westley (2288703)

Hadleigh Town Council faces being told to resign en masse, after a motion was approved to stage a public referendum on whether members should remain in their role.

More than 100 residents turned out to an extraordinary meeting in the Guildhall on Thursday, which was called by public demand due to growing discontent with the council’s conduct, with some people turned away at the door due to a lack of space.

A large majority of attendees approved the motion, as well as the question that will appear on the referendum, which will ask voters if they want to see the current councillors resign.

Babergh District Council has accepted the motion to enable the vote to go ahead, having rejected a previous motion at Hadleigh’s annual town meeting in April, as it was ruled invalid because it did not pose a question in a valid format.

The referendum, which will cost about £3,000 to run, is expected to take place some time this month.

However, the referendum is not binding, meaning the town councillors would not be legally required to step down, even if the majority of the electorate voted ‘Yes’.

Prior to the meeting, councillors Kieron Ruddy and Anita Young resigned, stating they wanted to avoid the cost of a referendum, and called on others to follow suit.

The vote is the culmination of several months of internal disputes between councillors and accusations of improper conduct, with disagreements stemming from issues such as council finances and the handling of the Hadleigh Neighbourhood Development Plan.

Former deputy mayor Bill Wilson, who proposed the motion, stepped down from the council in January due to his dissatisfaction with how the authority was being run.

He told the Free Press he was very pleased the motion had succeeded, arguing the cost of a referendum was a small price to pay, as he believed the current council planned to spend far more on projects with little to no public consultation.

He gave his backing to the Together Hadleigh community group, which has people ready to stand for election.

“I feel I am vindicated in taking this action, which I believe is in Hadleigh’s best interest,” he said.

“I suspect another two or three will resign, but I am not surprised that others will not. Some longer-serving councillors are used to doing what they think, rather than what is required by policy and legislation.

“If the referendum does call for resignations, it would be a very arrogant and self-serving person who did not stand down.

“I expect and hope some of the current councillors will stand and will be re-elected, along with younger people in the town who are willing to stand. These people have a clear vision for Hadleigh.”

Mr Wilson added he did not intend to stand himself, but was willing to offer support to new councillors.

Former Hadleigh town councillor Miss Young says leaving the council in its current state for another year would be far more costly than holding a vote on its future now.

Following the public meeting last week, some residents voiced concerns on Hadleigh social media pages about the anticipated £3,000 cost of staging a referendum, and whether such a vote was necessary, given the next town council elections were scheduled for May 2019.

But Miss Young, who was a councillor until resigning earlier this month, said the authority is dysfunctional, and could do a great deal of damage if it continued as is for another 12 months.

In her resignation statement, she said: “There has been a two-tier council, some longer serving members of the council acting in the capacity of a ‘management committee’. They have been guilty of predetermination and managing information to keep control and steer outcomes.

“Since the start of the third year term, it became more obvious and some councillors have challenged this behaviour, including myself, which has been met with hostility, especially from the town clerk.

“Over the last twelve months, things have deteriorated as some councillors have continued to challenge matters of concern and the actions of the town clerk when she has exceeded her authority.

“The situation has gone on for so long and continued to deteriorate and is now seriously dysfunctional. Those of us who have endeavoured to bring about change have been ignored or treated with contempt.”