‘Bullying’ and no work on neighbourhood plan - what is happening at Hadleigh Town Council?

Hadleigh Guildhall, home of the town council

Hadleigh Guildhall, home of the town council

A fall-out at a Suffolk council has led to mediators needing to be brought in after allegations of “bullying, harassment and intimidation”.

The row at Hadleigh Town Council started as a disagreement over the way a plan was being drawn up for the future of Hadleigh.

Called the neighbourhood plan, the Town Council was consulting with Hadleigh’s residents on development in the town, as well as how areas could be conserved or regenerated.

Consultation on the neighbourhood plan began in 2015 and the council set up a working group for it.

But the council’s clerk, Carol Bailey, suspended the work of that group in July last year after three councillors resigned from it.

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It has not done any work since and the town council’s Facebook page about the plan has not posted an update since September 2016.

Councillor Trevor Sheldrick said the clerk was right to suspend the group working on the neighbourhood plan because he said the alleged actions of some councillors led the clerk to believe the council could be “brought into disrepute”.

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He claimed some members of the neighbourhood plan group had been acting as representatives of the council without the council’s consent.

But a group of councillors quizzed the clerk’s authority to suspend the work at the council’s August and September meetings last year – and the dispute still has not been resolved.

They included deputy mayor Bill Wilson who has just resigned from the council.

The clerk told the council’s September 2017 meeting that she suspended the group as allegations had been made to her and “circumstances led me to believe that the council was being brought into disrepute”.

The clerk said her actions had been “endorsed” by Arthur Charvonia, the chief executive of Babergh Council, which is the district council for the area.

But a Babergh Council spokesman said: “The chief executive did have informal conversations with the clerk about the options, but didn’t advise on any specific course in this instance.”

In October the clerk made a formal complaint that the actions of one councillor, who was questioning her authority, amounted to “bullying, intimidation and harassment”.

On October 30, the council’s grievance panel upheld the complaint and said the councillor should apologise.

They declined to apologise, according to the minutes of the November meeting.

And the decision of the grievance panel was also challenged by some councillors.

Deputy mayor, Councillor Bill Wilson, was one of three councillors who walked out when the decision of the grievance panel was about to be announced in November’s council meeting.

He said the formation and findings of the grievance panel were “unlawful”.

“I felt I could take no further part in the meeting and left, followed by Councillors Young and Shearly-Sanders,” he said.

The neighbourhood plan group was meant to be up and running again in September. But no solution has been found yet and mediators are now set to be brought in to try to resolve the dispute between councillors.

Councillor Sheldrick said the “intransigence” of some of the councillors meant the work on the plan had stalled.

He said the plan was still in a good position and the argument was over procedure rather than the plan itself.

“There are a lot of councillors who are desperate to get on with it,” he said.

Councillor Penny Cook said it was unfortunate the suspension of the neighbourhood plan had dragged on while a mediator was appointed.

Councillor Jan Byrne added some of the councillors would not accept the role of the clerk.

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