Published: June 3, 2014
Row over 'politicised' selection of new town councillor for Highbridge

A row has broken out over the selection of a new town councillor for Highbridge this week after claims that the vote was "highly politicised".

Lib Dem councillor Helen Groves claims yesterday's selection of Andy Brewer to fill a vacant seat on the council following the recent resignation of Alan Miller was poorly handled.

Burnham resident Andy Brewer, pictured with Mayor Cllr Martin Cox, was chosen after a ballot of councillors.

However, Cllr Groves said: "I object to the manner in which this has been carried out. The Conservatives voted on block, except for one member, which meant Mr Brewer - a Burnham resident - won due to the party's majority on the council."

"Highbridge actually needs a voice, and while the person selected is a nice man, I understand his efforts have been focussed on Burnham both privately and politically. I understand a person wanting to be a councillor but the first concern and consideration should be to the ward. Two of the other candidates had a stronger record of work in the Highbridge area."

"I think it is sad that a block vote by Burnham's Conservatives determined the councillor for Highbridge. It is democracy, but a poor spirit of it."

But Mr Brewer said he would ensure that Highbridge is well represented during council debates. "I am very pleased to have been chosen and look forward to a busy 11 months before next May's elections," he told Burnham-On-Sea.com.

During Monday's Town Council meeting, councillors heard from each of the four candidates standing for the vacant seat before making their decision.

Mr Brewer said he has strong local community connections and has been closely involved with the local church and has attended many Burnham PACT meetings in recent years which, he said, mean he is "fully in touch with the population of Burnham and Highbridge."

Roger Keen also stood for the position, saying he has lived and worked in Highbridge for 27 years and, as a former member of the town council during the 1990s is familiar with how the council works. "Highbridge is a wonderful town and it would be a great honour to serve as its councillor," he said.

The third candidate, John Parkes, told councillors he has recently moved to Highbridge and has a strong background in local authority work over several decades and is currently heavily involved with the project to create a new Neighbourhood Plan for Burnham and Highbridge. "I'm looking to support local projects which give residents a voice," he said.

The fourth candidate, Gypsy Watkins, right, told the meeting she offers a complete alternative by "standing against the establishment and those who are oppressed." She added: "I am against corruption in politics and am passionate about equality and diversity."

Each of the four candidates was nominated and seconded by councillors before the vote, which Mr Brewer won. He will also have a seat on the council's planning and Princess Theatre committees.

The vacancy was created last month when Alan Miller stepped down due to poor health. A costly by-election was avoided because ten parishioners in the Highbridge ward did not come forward. The Town Council was then able to co-opt a member and invited expressions of interest, leading to Monday's vote.


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