Seven Chapel-en-le-Frith parish councillors quit as £13,000 complaints bill revealed

Chapel-en-le-Frith Parish Council has been gutted after more than half its members quit this week - following 18-months of squabbling costing the taxpayer over £13,000.
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On Tuesday five Chapel councillors announced their immediate resignations - blaming a ‘toxic atmosphere’ since the May 2019 local election.

Councillors Hilary Batterbee, Carole Cobb, Tony Dales, Peter Harrison and Liam McCarthy co-signed a statement saying ‘since the last election the parish council has been paralysed by unnecessary division’.

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The shock resignations come as a Freedom of Information document showed High Peak Borough Council received seven invoices between January and May this year from lawyers investigating complaints made by the outgoing councillors against other members.

Former Chapel councillor Tony DalesFormer Chapel councillor Tony Dales
Former Chapel councillor Tony Dales

The bill - picked up by High Peak residents - comes to a staggering £13,689.60.

Chapel Parish Council - made up of 13 seats - now has only five remaining members following Tuesday’s announcement.

Two other councillors - Lorraine Green and Paddy Bann - resigned the previous week.

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In their joint statement on Tuesday the group of five outgoing councillors wrote: “The cooperative working relationship has been destroyed by sustained, abusive and defamatory attacks on some councillors and unreasonable demands on members of staff.

Chapel-en-le-Frith Town HallChapel-en-le-Frith Town Hall
Chapel-en-le-Frith Town Hall
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“In our view the council can no longer provide an effective service to local residents.”

Following the 18-month-long battle between councillors it is understood High Peak Borough Council has recommended hiring a firm of solicitors specialising in helping councils with a breakdown in governance.

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Chapel-en-le-Frith councillor cleared over ‘filming ban’ Facebook post

Speaking about the mass departure, Chapel Parish Council’s acting chairman Stewart Young said: “Having been on the council since 1999 I’ve never experienced anything like this - it’s amazing.

Former Chapel councillor Paddy Bann quit last weekFormer Chapel councillor Paddy Bann quit last week
Former Chapel councillor Paddy Bann quit last week
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“I knew about Lorraine and Paddy last week but when the other five quit on Tuesday I was astounded.

“But this is a new chapter and a new start for the council and I’d like to thank those who have resigned for their service.”

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In recent months the council has been rocked by a series of embarrassing tiffs carried out over social media and during filmed meetings posted on YouTube.

During one instance Councillor Tony Dales - who quit last week - called a member of the public a ‘t***’ at the end of a council meeting held on Zoom while unaware his microphone was still on.

Councillor Nigel Gourlay was accused of breaking the rules after he wrote on Facebook that councillors held a vote to ‘ban filming’ of council meetingsCouncillor Nigel Gourlay was accused of breaking the rules after he wrote on Facebook that councillors held a vote to ‘ban filming’ of council meetings
Councillor Nigel Gourlay was accused of breaking the rules after he wrote on Facebook that councillors held a vote to ‘ban filming’ of council meetings
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And last month it was revealed outgoing councillors ordered an investigation after Councillor Nigel Gourlay posted on Facebook that fellow members had voted to ‘ban filming’ of council meetings.

The investigation report – conducted by a firm of lawyers – told how the complaint against Coun Gourlay was made by fellow councillor Paddy Bann – who also quit last week.

Councillor Bann - who works as a taxi driver - pointed to comments made on Mr Gourlay’s post by other Facebook users calling for a ‘ban’ on travelling in his taxi.

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Mr Bann said this had damaged his business as he had stopped receiving calls from Chapel’s Old Cell and New Inn pubs - bars where Coun Gourlay’s friends were known to drink.

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Councillor Gourlay - who remains in his Chapel West Ward seat - was cleared of any wrongdoing by an investigating lawyer however he said afterwards ‘like tuppenny-bit despots they have sought to restrict any openness in the council’s business’.

Nigel Gourlay branded follow councillors 'tuppenny-bit despots'Nigel Gourlay branded follow councillors 'tuppenny-bit despots'
Nigel Gourlay branded follow councillors 'tuppenny-bit despots'

Speaking about this week’s mass resignation Nigel, who has served on the council since July 2018, said: “I’m excited because this is a new start - it means we can get on with the things we want to do.

“We can get more engaged with the town and instead of sitting back and watching things happen we can intervene.

“The council has been ineffective for many years and we’ve shone a light on that with filming, increased publicity and getting people involved through social media.

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“This has led to a situation where the town is involved far more with what’s happening at the parish council.”

Nigel added ‘you only have to look at the state of the town’s play parks to realise this has been an incredibly long-term problem’.

Following the resignation of Councillor Charles Lawley - whose seat remains empty after his resignation some time ago - eight seats in Chapel parish are now unoccupied.

Though a by-election process is already underway for Mr Lawley’s seat, 10 voters from each of the further seven Chapel seats which have lost a councillor – 70 in total – have to request a by-election by October 27.

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Any wards which do not send 10 requests to the borough’s returning officer by the set date will have their new councillors ‘co-opted’ through an interview panel process at the parish council.

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Speaking about the daunting task Councillor Gourlay said: “From my point of view I would prefer by-elections as co-opting looks a bit too much like councillors are just electing their mates.”

However, even if by-elections for each ward were successfully registered, the seven further wards now up for grabs would remain without councillors until at least May next year.

This is because the Government has suspended all elections until that date under the Coronavirus Act 2020 to reduce social contact during the pandemic.

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Chapel Parish Council’s acting chairman Stewart Young said: “I hope we get enough people to sign up for an election but we’ll have to co-opt someone.

“If you look at Dove Holes they have no representation at present and they would have to wait until May.”

Wards in need of election requests are:

*Dover Holes and Martinside (2 seats)

*Barren Clough, Combs and Whitehough (1 seat)

*Chapel West (2 seats)

*Chapel East (2 seats)

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To request a by-election in your ward before October 27 write to Andrew Stokes, Returning Officer, Buxton Town Hall, Market Place, Buxton SK17 6EL.

*This report originally quoted the clerk of Chapel-en-le-Frith Parish Council Suzan Stockdale. We are pleased to make it clear that the information attributed to her was taken from a press release from the parish council. Although she sent it to us, the comments were not hers and did not reflect her personal views.

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