Torfaen’s largest opposition group suffers ’embarrassing’ split
Twm Owen, local democracy reporter
A split among councillors in Torfaen has been called “embarrassing” and “childish” as the council’s largest opposition group has disbanded.
The borough council is now facing a massive shake up of seats on 10 committees as the Independent Group, which had seven members, collapsed following the resignation of one councillor just six months after he was elected.
Llantarnam ward councillor Nick Jones resigned from the council, with immediate effect, in November but his decision has also led to the disintegration of the Independent Group which he had been a member of.
Former Independent Group leader Councillor Alan Slade said in a statement issued with fellow Llantarnam member, Cllr David Thomas, that they had contacted potential candidates that may have been interested in standing for the vacancy in their Cwmbran ward.
But they admitted those approaches may have upset other members of the group, prompting the resignations, which they said began with sisters Catherine Bonera and Elizabeth Haynes who represent the town’s St Dial’s ward.
“Certain Independent Group members appear to have taken umbrage at the way the situation was being managed and felt that they should have been more involved in, what we believe to be, a Llantarnam ward issue,” the pair said in a statement.
The statement also said: “The break up began with the St Dials ward members so we would say both sisters absolutely do have a motive behind it.”
‘Toys out of the pram’
As all six members of the Independent Group have resigned to instead sit as individual independents ten council committees which by law have to reflect the political balance of the council have had be reorganised.
The ruling Labour group holds 30 of the council’s 40 seats but with the Independent Group having disbanded the three member Torfaen Independent Group is now the largest opposition grouping and entitled to a seat on each of the 10 committees.
A report setting out the changes is due to be issued to the full council when it meets in Pontypool on Tuesday, December 6, but councillors will be able to agree changes so that the councillors who are no longer members of any group can sit on the committees.
But Cllr Ron Burnett, the leader of the Torfaen Independent Group, said he suspects a new group will be formed – leading to further work for council officers which he believes the councillors could have avoided.
“We are the original Torfaen Independent Group with our feet firmly on the ground representing the people of Torfaen and we haven’t thrown our toys out of the pram.
“Once again it’s caused a lot of work for the officers they have to rehash all the seats and chairs, it’s a lot of work and probably, after Christmas, we’ll find they get another group together.
“It is just messing everybody about and embarrassing. I find it totally embarrassing, one minute they are one group and then they are independent, independents.”
Cllr Thomas said he accepted the situation didn’t look good.
He said: “Cllr Burnett is absolutely right it is embarrassing and a little bit more than that it is childish.”
Cllr Bonera said she was “dumbfounded” at the claim she, and her sister, are behind the break up of the group. She said: “I can’t speak on behalf of my sister. I made a decision being in a group didn’t work for me and whatever happened after I left I have no idea about.”
The councillor also said she couldn’t rule out the possibility of joining another group should one be formed in the future.
The joint statement, issued by councillors Thomas and Slade, said they had been made aware by Mr Jones of his decision to resign but didn’t feel it was for them to share it with other councillors in the group.
The statement added that Mr Jones had informed them he didn’t wish to be contacted by the media.
The Local Democracy Reporting Service has been unable to contact Mr Jones, Cllr Haynes was contacted for comment.
The third Llantarnam ward seat remains vacant and an election will be held if two electors submit a written request for a by-election.
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