Tunley quits Tory group as Fenland councillors opt for compromise talks to try and settle future of Estover playing fields
11:13 25 July 2014
A Conservative councillor quit the party yesterday in a row over the future of Estover playing fields in March.
Councillor Peter Tunley walked out of a private meeting of his party’s ruling group on Fenland District Council after refusing to back down on his anti housing stance on Estover.
The private meeting had been called at short notice ahead of a meeting of the council at which Cllr Tunley had put down a motion calling for pressure to be put on the county council over Estover.
Cllr Tunley, a former director of operational services at Fenland Council and north ward councillor since 2011, stormed out stating he no longer wished to accept the group’s ‘whip’. Effectively he has expelled himself.
It means that in next year’s local elections – where he faced strong opposition anyway- to be re selected as a Conservative candidate, that prospect no longer arises. He could stand as an independent although UKIP view him as a possible ‘recruit’..
During yesterday’s debate Cllr Tunley called for the county council to grant a long term lease with a peppercorn rent to enable grant funding to be sought to boost sports provision at Estover.
However the council opted for an amendment, proposed by Councillor Jan French, which paves the way for immediate and wide ranging talks with all councils and interested parties to work out a long term future for Estover.
She said it was inevitable a compromise would need to be reached and it was “inappropriate” to accept Cllr Tunley’s motion.
“We want to resolve this – it has gone on for 20 years,” she said.
Cllr French expressed surprise that county council leader Steve Count (ironically a Tory hopeful for the March North district council seat) had only put forward one option for Estover at his public meeting last week.
“County council were working on various options so why only one option came forward I don’t know,” she said.
Councillor Gavin Booth said the district council had the courage “to do the right thing by the residents of March” by rejecting housing at Estover during the core strategy debate.
“We need to show the residents of March that we are, like the district council says, 100 per cent people driven,” he said.
Cllr Tunley argued that the amendment “does not give the impression of intent”. He said people were upset by the county council leader’s presentation.
“Not to go forward with my original motion would give the impression this council is stalling,” he said.
But cabinet member for leisure, Councillor Michelle Tanfield, said it was “important we engage with people” whilst Councillor Trevor Quince felt the council “must get it sorted, once and for all.”
Councillor Mike Cornwell said the amendment – which was approved- “tries to achieve far more than the original motion. There is a time in life when we have to compromise and try to negotiate with the county council to get more out of this deal”.
Cllr French rounded up the debate by again questioning why the county council’s range of options weren’t discussed earlier.
“We need to get round the table – there is no way on this earth the county council will hand over that land. Some compromise is needed – anything else is a pipe dream,” she said.