Senior New Forest Tory Mark Steele claims New Forest District Council leader Edward Heron trying to force him out over Barry Rickman national park authority plan
SENIOR Conservatives on New Forest District Council have had a major bust-up over moves to axe former leader Cllr Barry Rickman from the national park authority after he was convicted of flouting environmental regulations.
A member of the ruling cabinet, Cllr Mark Steele, has accused the new leader, Cllr Edward Heron, of threatening to force him out if he refused to back the plan, agreed at a meeting on Wednesday.
Speaking out on Wednesday, Cllr Steele said he had been given an ultimatum by Cllr Heron over a proposal to replace Cllr Rickman on the NPA with Tory Cllr Diane Andrews as one of the four NFDC representatives.
As reported in the A&T, Cllr Rickman resigned as NFDC leader and is now an Independent after being stripped of the Tory whip over a breach of the law at a scrapyard in Sway that he co-owns with his brother, Robert. Both men are to be sentenced on Monday.
Cllr Steele told the meeting: “Yesterday I was presented with three options. One was to vote with you, another was to not turn up with apologies, and the other was to vote against and resign.
“Here is option four: I will vote against this item, as I believe it to be morally wrong, and not resign.”
A report to cabinet did not mention Cllr Rickman by name and was very vague as to why he was being removed from the post.
It said: “Political balance rules do apply to the council’s appointments to the NPA and there is a duty to take into account the political groups’ wishes when making appointments where political balance rules apply.”
Speaking to the A&T after the meeting, Cllr Steele said he was banned from a meeting with NFDC’s executive management team that follows the cabinet meeting.
He confirmed he would not leave the cabinet voluntarily, but would not comment further until after the conclusion of the Conservative group meeting, which was due to be held last night (Thursday).
Richard Frampton, a friend of Cllr Steele’s and a former district councillor and NPA member, was present at the cabinet meeting and subsequently spoke to the A&T.
“He phoned me up yesterday very upset and shocked about what Cllr Heron had said to him,” he said.
“He said he was not going to be bullied. He was determined to vote against this because he believes in free speech and democracy. How many of those cabinet members can say the same thing?”
Mr Frampton claimed Cllr Steele had said he intended to report Cllr Heron to the council’s standards department.
Cllr Heron said after the meeting that it was “regrettable” Cllr Steele had voted against the recommendation to replace Cllr Rickman.
“I will consider Cllr Steele’s position with my cabinet over the next few days, but at this point in time there are no official changes made to cabinet,” he said.
An NFDC spokesperson told the A&T that NPA appointments are required to be “proportional” on the seats held by political parties.
“The report sought to restore this proportionality, given that one of the Conservative appointments was held by a member that is no longer a member of that political group,” she said.
As reported in the A&T, Cllr Rickman and his brother Robert Rickman were charged earlier this year with breaking environmental laws at a scrapyard they co-own at Lower Mead End Road in Sway.
He stepped down as leader in March, ending his 12-year tenure, and in April was kicked out of the Tory group.
Cllr Rickman is due at Southampton Magistrates’ Court alongside his brother on Monday for sentence.
All cabinet members with the exception of Cllr Steele voted to appoint Cllr Andrews to the NPA for the rest of the four-year term ending May 2023, alongside Tory councillors Sue Bennison and Ann Sevier and Lib Dem Cllr Caroline Rackham.