Tenth councillor to quit north Norfolk Conservatives blames “disillusionment”

Jeremy Punchard, former mayor of Fakenham, has become the tenth councillor to resign from the North

Jeremy Punchard, former mayor of Fakenham, has become the tenth councillor to resign from the North Norfolk District Council Conservative group. Photo: Matthew Usher - Credit: Matthew Usher

A Norfolk district council has been rocked by the news of yet another resignation from the council's Conservative group.

Jeremy Punchard. Photo: NNDC

Jeremy Punchard. Photo: NNDC

Cllr Jeremy Punchard, a former Conservative member of the North Norfolk District Council (NNDC) has resigned from the group citing 'disillusionment' with his constituency association.

Mr Punchard, ward member for Fakenham Lancaster South for more than seven years, announced his decision to join the council's growing group of independent councillors 'with immediate effect' on Friday, July 14.

He is the tenth Conservative councillor to quit the group in just over 18 months.

Read more: Ninth defection means Conservatives continue to lose their grip on North Norfolk council

John Rest. Photo: NNDC

John Rest. Photo: NNDC

He said: 'I regret that I have had to take the decision to resign from the Conservative group at NNDC and will now become an independent district councillor with immediate effect.

'I truly believe that, as a district councillor, my first priority is to support and represent the residents and businesses within my ward.

'I feel that I am best able to fulfil my obligations to the electorate of Fakenham by representing them as an independent councillor.'

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He added: 'Although I still generally support Conservative ideals, I find I have become disillusioned with the Broadland Conservative Association.'

North Norfolk District Council leader, John Lee. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

North Norfolk District Council leader, John Lee. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY - Credit: Copyright: Archant 2018

Mr Punchard described the council's independent group as having 'strength in numbers'.

He said: 'There's a cultural change in this country that you don't always need to be aligned to a party to represent people.

'My priorities for residents are the same as they have been for the past seven or eight years.'

He declined to comment on the string of previous resignations of Conservative councillors.

Sarah Butikofer. Photo: NNDC

Sarah Butikofer. Photo: NNDC

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Cllr John Rest, leader of NNDC's independent group, said he was delighted with the news.

Mr Rest said: 'Due to a situation that has arisen at the Broadland Conservative Association, Jeremy now feels he can better serve his community if he is free of political restraints.

'Like other independent councillors [he] believes his first duty is to the people of his ward.

'We warmly welcome him to the group and look forward to benefiting from his skills and years of experience in local government.'

Council and Conservative group leader, Cllr John Lee, described the news as 'frustrating to say the least'.

He added: 'He [Mr Punchard] has informed me it has absolutely no bearing on my leadership, but to lose a member from our group is extremely disappointing.'

Leader of NNDC's Liberal Democrat group, Cllr Sarah Butikofer, said: 'It just shows they still haven't got the turmoil they were going through under control.

'They should be focusing on the people of north Norfolk rather than fighting among themselves.'

Broadland Conservative Association were not immediately available for comment.

Resignations at North Norfolk District Council

In 2016 the Conservative group at North Norfolk District Council (NNDC) had a majority of 32 councillors to the Liberal Democrats' 16.

Now, ten resignations later, the council is under no overall control, with a Lib Dem shadow cabinet working alongside the Cons, who are still the largest party group on the council, and a growing group of newly independent councillors.

The ten councillors who have quit the Cons group include Nicholas Coppack, Angie Fitch-Tillett, Ann Green, Simon Hester, Georgie Perry-Warnes, Jeremy Punchard, John Rest, Doug Smith, and Norman Smith.

These councillors now make up the nine-strong group of independents.

Former Conservative Nigel Pearce also left the group to join the Lib Dems, who gained another seat this year in a landslide victory in the Worstead by-election.

So, after this latest resignation, NNDC is now made up of 21 Cons, 18 Lib Dems and nine independents.