Derek Longhurst’s Resignation.
ARAG has received many positive messages of support for Derek Longhurst which have shown appreciation for the outstanding contribution he made to representing our community and demonstrated a sympathetic understanding of his decision to resign.
Many of these response have asked if more detail can be made available regarding what actually happened and who was involved and so we have produced a ‘time line’ of the events which led to Derek’s decision to resign and resulted in the current position adopted by our organisation. Sadly the whole sorry saga started when ARAG was asked to represent the Town Council at a Cheshire East Planning Committee meeting.
- During October 2014 Cheshire East’s Southern Area Planning Committee were scheduled to consider a planning application 13/4081C, for housing development on the CARDWAY CARTONS site at Linley, and ARAG registered to speak and prepared a presentation statement as it had done for all other housing development applications and appeals within Alsager.
- On Tuesday 21st October 2014; ARAG learned that the Town Council had not registered to speak so we attended the scheduled Town Council Planning Committee meeting, that same evening, to ask if they had any additional points which they would wish us to include in our presentation. They were happy with the points which we had identified and asked us to speak on behalf of the Town Council in addition to representing ARAG. In a spirit of co-operation this was readily agreed to and their formal resolution is recorded as item 14/98 in their minutes. The Acting Town Clerk also notified Cheshire East that ARAG would be speaking as a representative of the Town Council. The ARAG presentation can be viewed Here and the minutes of the Town Council Planning Committee can be viewed Here.
- The Cheshire East committee responded well to the points raised and the application was refused. Following our usual procedure, ARAG produced a Post to keep our members informed and this can be viewed Here. We received an almost immediate email response from Mrs Helliwell, too abusive to publish, which is archived in our extensive record system.
- Ultimately the developers submitted a new application which, this time, significantly reduced the number of houses on green open space while at the same time providing improved facilities for young children. The Town Council Planning Committee, which has full delegated powers as an advisory body to the Local Planning Authority on such matters, decided not to object to the application but raised, largely at Derek’s request, a number of issues such as access and highways concerns that required further consideration. This decision was forwarded to Cheshire East as is normal practice.
- Councillor Sue Helliwell subsequently approached the Chairman of the Town Council and other Councillors and, we are led to believe, insisted that the matter be brought back before the Planning Committee seemingly because she had not been present at the previous meeting when the decision ‘not to object’ had been made. It was stated that many residents had approached her but none of the East Ward Councillors present at the subsequent meeting, including the Committee Chairman, indicated that they personally had been approached.
- No special meeting was arranged and at the next scheduled Planning Committee meeting Councillor Helliwell failed to get the decision of the earlier meeting rescinded but verbally attacked Derek Longhurst; publically questioning his integrity, objectivity and professionalism. She also made sarcastic reference to an officer of ARAG who had previously assisted the Town Council in representing its views on the planning application under discussion (as explained above). This “tirade” was reported in the Alsager Chronicle.
- Because Derek Longhurst immediately recognised that the Code of Conduct for Councillors had been breached he gently pointed out that members of the public, as well as councillors, should be treated with respect and courtesy and asked for the remarks to be withdrawn and a simple apology made. Clearly this was not forthcoming from Councillor Helliwell. Her ‘personal’ attack was deeply offensive in that Derek had thoroughly researched, unlike the rest of the Planning Committee, all the Cardway Application documentation on the Cheshire East website. He saw her behaviour as typical publicity seeking and more seriously divisive.
- A short time after the above meeting; Derek Longhurst contacted the Town Clerk to voice his concerns over the breaches to the Councillors’ Code of Conduct. The Town Clerk indicated that he would arrange a meeting between himself, Councillor Longhurst, Councillor Helliwell and the Chairman of the Planning Committee, Councillor Colin Burgess and Derek agreed to this in the hope that the matter could be resolved by way of a simple apology.
- The Town Clerk’s meeting took place on Wednesday 26th August 2015 and rather than being a constructive effort to resolve the issue it degenerated into a tirade about ARAG and Derek Longhurst was subjected to an unpleasant personal attack for “bragging about being a member of ARAG” on social media – a direct quotation repeated twice by Councillor Helliwell. Derek pointed out that he does not use Facebook, Twitter or any other form of social media. With some support from Councillor Burgess, Derek was described as having been seen ‘as a mouthpiece for ARAG’. What followed was even more outlandish, bizarre and totally unfounded allegations, from Councillor Helliwell, about specific named ARAG officers which ultimately have led to the current position adopted by our organisation. The actual claims made cannot be publicised at this time because ARAG currently has the matter under advisement; but rest assured that we will be monitoring this Councillor’s behaviour very carefully from this point on.
- During the above meeting Councillor Burgess insisted emphatically that he had never asked the ARAG officer to represent the Town Council at the Cardway application. This information was passed to ARAG and our President wrote to the, recently appointed, Town Clerk to make him aware of the true facts of the matter. You may see his letter Here.
- Derek Longhurst’s long professional career often involved the need to take detailed notes at meetings and this particular meeting was no exception. His notes were passed to the Town Clerk and also to the Chairman of the Town Council but he also felt that as a matter of honour he should inform the ARAG officers of the allegations made against them. Because the meeting had been declared as private, Derek could not do this without himself infringing the Code of Conduct, and because he felt that this was the final straw, he made the decision to resign from the Town Council so that he could pass on his record of the meeting to ARAG. The rest has been publicised and ARAG will seek to ensure that this bizarre and outrageous behaviour is not allowed to be ‘swept under the carpet’ and that the Town Council operates in a seemly and professional manner.