Rare intervention to bring order following parish council turmoil

The Dales village of Long Preston, near Settle.
The Dales village of Long Preston, near Settle.
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Councillors have moved to restore order to a troubled parish council in a North Yorkshire village after it was struck by mass resignation.

Long Preston Parish Council was left in turmoil after six of its seven members quit over what they claimed was a “bitter, personal and unrelenting attack” from residents.

But it is hoped that parish council business can be resumed after Craven District Council intervened and took urgent action.

At a meeting of the local authority, members paved the way for four district councillors to be temporarily appointed as parish councillors to Long Preston Parish Council so that it is able to act until vacancies are filled by an election.

Calling an election, if necessary, is estimated to cost between £1,000 and £1,500 – which would have to be met from the parish council’s purse.

The one remaining member of the parish council, independent member Chris Moorby, will be joined by Councillor Carl Lis, Coun David Staveley, Coun Richard Welch and Coun John Kerwin-Davey.

Gill Cooper, Craven Council’s strategic manager, legal and democratic services, said: “The role of these councillors will be to stand in the shoes of a parish councillor and to make the decisions that a parish councillor would make for the foreseeable future until such time as an election is called.”

The newly-formed parish council will meet for the first time on Thursday.

One of its first tasks is expected to be to elect a chairman.

The resignation of six of the parish council’s seven members resulted in it becoming inquorate and it was unable to hold meetings or make decisions on the business of a parish council.

A report to Craven Council’s elected members said: “There are a number of decisions which need to be taken by the parish council immediately, one decision being in relation to payment for the Christmas lights.

“A decision will need to be taken very shortly in relation to setting the parish precept. This meant that it was necessary for consideration to be given to taking urgent action to enable parish business to continue.”

There have only been two other occasions in the history of Craven Council when the local authority has exercised such powers under Section 91 of the 1972 Local Government Act.

Mrs Cooper has warned that this may not be the last time.

She said: “I said in my report that it is not inconceivable it could happen again so it is important for us that we have delegated authority to act quickly if we need to.

“At this particular point in the year a lot of parish councils are considering setting their precepts and that is why it is important for us to be able to act quickly.”

Councillors backed a move to give the local authority’s chief executive Paul Shevlin authority to take similar action in the event of a parish council becoming inquorate. Mr Shevlin has also authorised the £1,133 payment for the Christmas lights in the village.

Coun Moorby, who is also a district councillor for Long Preston and Hellifield, said: “It is time that this village started pulling together like it used to do in the past and community groups started working together along with the parish council.”

Last month the Yorkshire Post reported Long Preston was left without a parish council after its chairman Nick Thwaite and colleagues Hilary Baker, Philip Johnston, Keith McBride, David Monks and Roy Newhouse resigned.

Craven Council’s returning officer Annette Moppett said yesterday that a “notice of casual vacancy will be published shortly and it will provide all the necessary information for the residents of Long Preston”.