Liberal Democrat district councillors defect to newly-formed independent group

PUBLISHED: 14:32 20 May 2020 | UPDATED: 12:50 26 May 2020

Cllr Mike Tayler and Cllr Martin Foley, who represent Thaxted and the Eastons on Uttlesford District Council. Photo: Michael Bailie Photography.

Cllr Mike Tayler and Cllr Martin Foley, who represent Thaxted and the Eastons on Uttlesford District Council. Photo: Michael Bailie Photography.

Michael Bailie Photography

Two Liberal Democrat district councillors for Thaxted and the Eastons have stepped down from representing their party and formed a new alliance: Thaxted and the Eastons Independent Group.

The move was made by Cllr Mike Tayler and Cllr Martin Foley – and coincides with Cllr Folley being elected as chairman of the Uttlesford District Council this week, although he denies there is any link between his appointment and his resignation.

The party switch prompted the Uttlesford Liberal Democrats to express “deep sadness”, while Cllr Christian Criscione, Conservative councillor for Flitch Green and Little Dunmow called for a re-election of the two councillors, as well as the previous R4U councillors who defected to form the Green Party - Cllr Barbara Light and Cllr Paul Fairhurst.

“We started a new council term with four political parties after a fiercely fought election, but today we see six!” Cllr Criscione said, adding:

“Councillors are elected to serve their wards under the banner that they waved on election day last year.”

But Councillors Foley and Tayler said they are comfortable to stand in another election when this is possible, as the current coronavirus pandemic has put this option on hold.

This is because they say they obtained one of the highest majorities in the district in last year’s local elections, and people voted for them not because of their political affiliation with the local Liberal Democrats, but because of the issues they stood for and which they say they will continue to stand for – namely fighting the expansion of Stansted Airport and a garden community built on Easton Park, which was part of the previous Conservative administration’s local plan, recently rejected by the District Council.

Speaking to this newspaper, Cllr Foley said: “I think Cllr Criscione is trying to make something out of this from a very weak position. National party politics should not play a part.

“There comes a time when serious problems happen in the country when people need to come together. Some things are just too big to score cheap, political, party points, and I think it upsets everybody if someone tries to do this.

“All councils will have a lot of financial issues as a result of the pandemic. We will work with all parties on an issue-by-issue basis and taking a by-party approach to the betterment of our district.”

Cllr Tayler said him and Cllr Foley shared similar views with the Uttlesford Liberal Democrats about the airport, but not about the Easton Park and the wider local plan, but insists that is not the reason for the split:

“Party politics doesn’t always go well because people tend to go into entrenched positions. We will have to get used to having loads of groups.

“We are keen to form a collaborative agenda with all the parties in the council.

“We have been very steady in our approach to garden communities which we think would not serve the communities in the best possible way.”

The reason for this is, he says, that a lack of rapid transport link to the airport would have meant more cars, and that developer-led housing would not have met the need for low-cost housing and council housing.

Now, the two councillors want to collaborate with all other groups on a local plan that they think will benefit everyone in Uttleford.

Because of their defection, Cllrs Foley and Tayler are no longer on the planning committee, which the latter says is due to the limited seats available - but does not represent a problem in his view.

“A lot of local politics and local council work is not party political, so it doesn’t matter which party we are in.”

Cllr Ayub Khan, chair of the council’s Liberal Democrat group and councillor for Stansted South, said that the group has always “respected” Cllrs Foley and Tayler’s “strongly fought opposition” to housing development on Easton Park.

Cllr Khan also said the Lib Dems will be working with all members of the council across political groups, but will also continue to challenge the R4U administration when needed.

Cllr Alan Dean, the council’s Liberal Democrat Group leader and councillor for Stansted North, said: “We wish Martin and Mike well. Together they retain their national Liberal Democrat Party membership and continue to share our values. We have agreed to work with them on an issue by issue basis.

“Together, councillors have to ensure that a local plan is produced by the Government’s target date of December 2023. It must deliver much improved infrastructure, new homes that are truly affordable for everyone, whilst meeting carbon reduction targets.”

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