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Former Fenland Council leader John Clark quits Conservative Party

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A former Conservative leader of Fenland District Council has quit with a scathing attack that includes criticism of councillors caught on CCTV breaking Covid restrictions at a Wisbech pub.

Cllr John Clark is also critical of the NE Cambs Conservative Association for accepting a £10,000 Covid furlough business support hand out.

“The Conservative office is hardly a business,” he said. “It only has one part time employee (Cllr Sam Hoy is part time association agent) who is a councillor who continued to receive their allowances of £24,411.64 through the Covid period.”

“The Conservative group has a large cash reserve of some £90,000.

“Our MP Steve Barclay was against the application and receipt of the central government furlough funding.”

And he also took a second swipe at Wisbech councillor Steve Tierney (one of those who breached Covid regulations).

Cllr Clark questioned “the continual use of social media by some Wisbech members to voice anti-vaccination, anti-government and anti-global warming messaging”

March improvements 

But an £8m package of improvements for March – backed by the district council has proven to be the final straw.

“I have lived all my life in March,” he said. “I brought up a family in the town and ran businesses here.

“March has always been a bustling market town and I want it to stay that way.

“Most recently, I have become extremely frustrated by the approach taken by FDC in relation to the project to develop March town centre. “This is an £8 million project, with funding which Steve Barclay helped to secure" says Cllr John Clark

“Most recently, I have become extremely frustrated by the approach taken by FDC in relation to the project to develop March town centre.
“This is an £8 million project, with funding which Steve Barclay helped to secure” says Cllr John Clark

“Twelve years ago, I put myself up for election to Fenland District Council (FDC) as a Conservative councillor to give back to the town.

“I am proud to represent the March people and hope I deliver them a quality service, with their opinions at the forefront of my mind. “

“Most recently, I have become extremely frustrated by the approach taken by FDC in relation to the project to develop March town centre.

“This is an £8 million project, with funding which Steve Barclay helped to secure.

“I am particularly aggrieved that the voice of the March people is not being listened to, and the denial of the significant role that FDC is playing in the decision-making process.”

He said Cllr Jan French, a March county councillor and deputy leader of the district council, downplayed the council’s role.

Cllr Clark said she had alleged that Cambridgeshire County Council did not have to take notice of Fenland Council’s opinion on ‘highways issues’.

“I believe this is wholly untrue in relation to this major project,” said Cllr Clark.

“As I understand it, the funds are for FDC to control and spend, and the CCC is our appointed partner to deliver our wishes.

“As such, FDC and CCC set up a Members Steering Group (MSG) which consists of Cllrs French, Mark Purser, Steve Count, John  Gowing and Rob Skoulding (who later left the group due to a difference in viewpoint).

“An FDC/CCC study examined a wide range of options for the March Town Centre development, which were then reviewed by the MSG.

“The MSG were responsible for selecting only one final proposal to present to the public in a consultation.

Report highlighted ‘widespread concern’

“The consultation was therefore not a meaningful one. Further, it actually highlighted widespread concern with the public which I feel has been largely ignored.”

Cllr Clark said a Facebook group ‘Save March’ was created in December 2022 for “anyone who is against the proposed changes to March Town Centre” and already has over 1000 members.

“As one councillor put it, ‘I am not changing my mind because of a few names on Facebook’” he said.

Conservatives ‘want to sterilise and rip heart out of March’

“I cannot remain in a Conservative Group which wants to sterilise and rip the heart out of March and therefore I am resigning as a Conservative group member.

“In due course I will inform: Conservative Central Office, Paul Medd, Steve Barclay and Mike Cornwell of my decision.”

Independent group leader Mike Cornwell, another former Conservative, confirmed today that Cllr Clark had joined the opposition benches.

Local elections are in May at it is not known if Cllr Clark is standing for re-election.

Background

In 2018 Cllr Clark told a private meeting of Conservative councillors that he had “had enough” and would be relinquishing the leadership he had since May 2014.

Cllr Clark said he was unhappy with the recent de-selection of Cabinet colleagues Will Sutton (his effective deputy) and Michelle Tanfield after the NE Cambs Association picked alternative candidates to contest their seats in 2019.

2019 FDC results

2019 FDC results

But at the time Cllr Clark remained in the Conservative Party and held onto his council seat.

 

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