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North Norfolk District Council leader Tom FitzPatrick under growing pressure after resignation of eight councillor, Simon Hester, from his team

PUBLISHED: 08:15 28 October 2017 | UPDATED: 09:38 28 October 2017

Left, North Norfolk District Councillor Simon Hester, and right, council leader Tom FitzPatrick. Pictures: Archant Library

Left, North Norfolk District Councillor Simon Hester, and right, council leader Tom FitzPatrick. Pictures: Archant Library

Archant

The leader of North Norfolk District Council is facing growing pressure to step down after the resignation of yet another councillor from his Conservative team.

Simon Hester, ward councillor for Priory, has become the latest Tory to jump ship to the Independent Group, making him the eighth member of his party to have left since June this year.

The resignation throws a cloud over the authority of council leader Tom FitzPatrick’s Conservative group, which is now down to 24 councillors - half the council’s total number.

In his resignation, Mr Hester said joining the Independent Group was: “The only way I may continue to effectively represent the best interests of my constituents without fear of retribution arising from constructive criticism.”

MORE: Conservatives lose North Norfolk majority as eighth councillor resigns

In response, Sarah Butikofer, leader of the council’s second-biggest group, the Liberal Democrats, said: “If I ever found myself in this situation I would certainly be resigning. He really needs to get a grip now. He needs to get control of his ruling group, take a look at himself and make a decision about whether he can continue in this current climate.”

Fellow defectors to the Independent Group include Nick Coppack, Angie Fitch-Tillett, John Rest, Georgie Perry-Warnes and Annie Green and Doug Smith.

Mr Smith, who earlier this month likened the council to North Korea, said it was time for Mr FitzPatrick to go.

He said: “He should resign. There’s no question about it. This is an indictment of his style of leadership.”

MORE: Third councillor resigns from Conservative party at the North Norfolk District Council

Mrs Butikofer said the council would be more democratic because the Tories had lost their majority. She said: “Each vote will be taken on its own merits and the council will work as it should - with people working in the best interests of their communities.”

And Mrs Fitch-Tillett said: “I will always be a Conservative myself, and I will support the corporate plan as best I can unless there’s a conflict with my area, in which case I’ll stick up for my residents.”

MORE: Departing councillor likens North Norfolk District Council to North Korea

Mr FitzPatrick was yesterday not available to comment on Mr Hester’s resignation. Richard Shepherd, the Conservative chairman of the council, said his first reaction was “great disappointment” but he could not comment further until the situation became clearer.

Nigel Dixon, deputy leader of NNDC, said: “The resignation of Simon Hester was expected, it was just a matter of when. Group members are perfectly free to decide their political party and policy alignment but they owe their electorate and supporters an explanation when their actions place the good work of the administration and the officers at risk. In May 2017 Cllr Tom Fitzpatrick was re-elected leader of the Conservative Group for the ensuing year and the Conservatives still have, by far, the biggest political party group. It thus has a mandate and responsibility to lead North Norfolk District Council and it would like to do so with the support of all councillors who agreed the manifesto on which the Conservatives were elected and subsequently the corporate plan which is currently being delivered for the benefit of the residents of North Norfolk.”

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