Councillor slams colleagues over attitudes to disability

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THE leader of a Yorkshire council who is profoundly deaf has accused political rivals of taking advantage of his disability after announcing he is stepping down following 17 years at the authority’s helm.

Councillor Keith Knaggs admitted that his long-running tenure as the leader of Ryedale District Council had been brought to an end as a result of “clashes of personality rather than major policy differences”.

He paid tribute to the work of the council’s civil servants, but maintained unnamed political opponents had undermined his authority which meant he no longer has the full confidence of the Conservative group.

Coun Knaggs, who will continue as the leader until the end of this month, said: “I am now aware that my deafness has done me more harm than I realised.

“It’s easy to get isolated, easy not to pick things up, and easy for others to take advantage.”

His broadside came as another veteran member, Coun Linda Cowling, was named as his successor. Coun Cowling, who has been a councillor for 22 years, is now due to be installed to Ryedale’s top political job at a full council meeting in January.

Coun Knaggs suffered from Scarlet Fever, which is notorious for damaging sight and hearing, during his childhood.

His hearing has since deteriorated over the years, and he is now profoundly deaf.

He said: “Not being able to use the telephone, and – in the past couple years – struggling even with face-to-face conversation as lip-reading only takes you so far – are handicaps you can’t overcome and have gradually worn me down.

“Politics is all about communication and add to that my lack of a fundamental political skill – the ability to suffer fools gladly – and I’ve done well to last so long,” he added.

Coun Knaggs, who stressed he will continue as a backbench member, denied his decision to step down was prompted by the bitter planning battle surrounding the Wentworth Street car park in Malton, which the council has agreed to sell to developers for a £5m windfall.

He did admit, however, the pressures of the council leader’s role had led to him making “avoidable personnel management mistakes”.

A Government planning inspector ruled in October that the council’s decision to grant planning permission for a supermarket to be built on the car park was flawed, a move that means the application will now have to be reconsidered by the authority.

The ruling follows a planning inquiry after the Fitzwilliam Estate challenged the council’s decision to deny it permission to build a smaller food store and retail units on Malton’s livestock market.

Undisclosed costs will now have to be paid by council taxpayers after the inspector ruled reasons the authority gave for refusing the application were erroneous.