Labour says it forced Whittlesey by election and residents of Coronation Avenue signed up to support the £7,000 poll

Cambridgeshire County Council election count at the Hudson Leisure Centre, Wisbech. Colin Gale (Lab)

Cambridgeshire County Council election count at the Hudson Leisure Centre, Wisbech. Colin Gale (Lab) - Credit: Archant

Labour has admitted it called the by election in Whittlesey following the disqualification of Martin Curtis as a town councillor.

Martin Curtis.

Martin Curtis. - Credit: Archant

Colin Gale, a Labour candidate in the May election, said: “On July 1, took 10 names to Fenland Hall to trigger the by election for the vacancy town council seat.

“I feel the electorate needs a councillor who will fully represent them. Even though I am in a wheelchair I can still speak on their behalf.”

Prior to the May elections he wrote that “like many local people I shudder at the waste of money and the loss of reputation for my town and Fenland from Tesco-Gate fiasco. “We need councillors who have common sense, spend wisely for the good of the people of Whittlesey, and its surrounding area.”

Mr Gale obtained signatures from 10 residents of Coronation Avenue, Whittlesey, to sign the forms that will mean a by election in August.

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The names accompany a letter to Fenland District Council from Richard Kent of Teal Road, Whittlesey, also calling for the by election to take place.

Mr Kent wrote: “I feel it is a disgrace that he was voted in at the election sound six weeks ago promising this and that when he can forget to sign a declaration of office.”

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The letter says “there is no excuse, as being a councillor for over 15 years he would know that he needed to sign a declaration within 28 days.”

Mr Curtis has confirmed he hopes to be a candidate.

The by-election, expected to cost up to £7,000, has been forced on the town after the 10 voters went to the returning officer to demand the poll. It could otherwise have been settled by co-opting Mr Curtis, who topped the poll in the Bassenhally ward on May 7.

Community activist Roy Gerstner and a regular candidate in local elections said he would not be standing this time since he felt the “political landscape” favoured the Conservatives.

Accusing Mr Curtis of “treating the electorate with disdain” by not knowing the rules that prompted his qualification, he nevertheless felt that re running the vote “a waste of council taxpayers’ money”.

Last month when news broke of the disqualification he wrote a blog saying he had been asked to stand as a candidate in a by election but had declined.

“Although ‘someone’ has been rather foolish in the respect that Martin being a very experienced councillor forgot to validate his election – why stand against someone who has already won by a big majority in the elections in May,” he wrote

And he told his regular readers: “You and I will have to fund any by-election which could run to £7,000 plus and for what end? Martin will still be elected.

“Let’s keep our money to be spent on something better for our town.”

But Mr Curtis said he wouldn’t necessarily be the automatic choice of the Conservative group as candidate since there would have to be a local selection process.

“It is for the party to decide but yes, I would like to be the candidate,” he said.

Mr Curtis, a former county council leader, stepped down as a county and district councillor in May but topped the poll for the town ward.

However he failed to realise that by not being at the town council annual meeting on May 20 – when all councillors were expected to sign their declaration of acceptance - he was automatically disqualified.

“I never forgot, to forget means you have to know in the first place,” he said. “The rule I have fallen foul of applies to town and parish councillors who have signed before the annual meeting,” he said.

“In Whittlesey no advice was given beforehand that the form needed to be signed; there was an expectation that it would be signed by councillors at the AGM. I had to give apologies for that meeting because of a work commitment. Which I did at 11.43am on the day of the annual meeting. No advice was given to me that the form needed signing even after that.”

He added: “Ultimately I accept this is my responsibility. However, I have failed to sign a form I didn’t know about nor was advised about. I have had huge support from my fellow town councillors and aim to continue.”

A Fenland Council spokesman said the by election would take place on August 20; candidates can collect nomination packs from next week.

The date was chosen, said their spokesman, because it was the earliest date Alderman Jacobs School was free for use as a polling station.

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