Only in Torbay as Tories defect to tighten Coalition stranglehold on Town Hall power

Cllr Judith Mills who has resigned  from the ToriesCllr Judith Mills who has resigned from the Tories

It is somehow weirdly refreshing that amid all the doom, gloom, anguish and frightening uncertainty, one thing remains hardly unchanged in dear old Torbay. Politics.

I had almost forgotten that with the pandemic occupying all our minds, there was still a Town Hall and council to run and, more to the point who was actually running the show.

In the driving seat for a while now has been a coalition between the Liberal Democrats and Independents which has consigned the once-ruling Conservatives to the opposition benches or chairs!

That power-sharing partnership has now been further cemented by the ‘defection’ of two Tory councillors.

The coalition announced that Judith Mills and Karen Kennedy, who both represent the Churston-with-Galmpton ward, resigned from the Tory group.

Independent Group leader Robert Loxton, “We are delighted to welcome both Karen and Judith. Both Karen and Judith have a wealth of experience that will only add to policy development as we work to take Torbay forward.”

Cllr Kennedy said, “During my campaign for election I made my support for Neighbourhood Plans absolutely clear. The referendums held on the same day as my election showed over 90 per cent support for the three plans across Torbay.

“It has become increasingly clear that the Conservative Group are less than enthusiastic and I often found myself in a small minority within the group. This is the most significant factor in my decision and I found more support from amongst the Partnership who are far more committed to Neighbourhood planning.”

The reasons behind Cllr Mills’ decision were more national as she said: “I am resigning from the Conservative Party, the government is shambolic in its dealings with Covid 19, the examination grades fiasco and the latest Brexit carry on. “The Prime Minister and the majority of the cabinets’ indecisiveness has completely destroyed my faith in the Conservative Government and I am ashamed and embarrassed to be a Conservative.”

Independent Darren Cowell, Torbay Council deputy leader, said: “Our Partnership administration is working hard in a positive way to change the way council works and to put the community back at the heart of the council.

“I have worked with Karen on local planning issues and know how committed they both are to the Neighbourhood Plans. Judith is also a fellow Trustee of Torbay Community Partnerships and she is absolutely committed to building relationships between the Council and residents.”

Tory group leader Dave Thomas said: “The group not supporting the Neighbourhood Plans has been cited as being the issue as to why they are leaving.

“I have asked them for one example. It is not the case.

“When the Neighbourhood Plans came along my portfolio was planning. I actually stalled the Local Plan so the Neighbourhood Plans could catch up.

“It came up for referendum. It was supported by the Conservative group. The council had to endorse that referendum for it to become policy. I supported that.”

He suggests a controversial planning application for a new Torbay Hospital car park off Riviera Way on land protected as a green space unless there were ‘exceptional circumstances may have something to do with what has happened.

He said: “Karen and Judith may be saying that because three members of the Conservative group – Chris Lewis, Barbara Lewis and Jackie Thomas – spoke in favour of the hospital the Conservative group did not support the Neighbourhood Plan. “But planning issues are not discussed by the group. They are down to those who sit on the planning committee. The three councillors put forward the argument that a worldwide pandemic was exceptional circumstances. The application failed. That was fine.”

Ironically, there has been speculation that a couple of coalition councillors were contemplating jumping ship and joining the Tory group. A ‘watch this space’ was the only hint on that one.

At least it is nice to fetch out the ‘Only in Torbay’ slogan once again