A councillor says he has quit the Conservative group of Central Beds Council because he was unable to speak out on key issues such as the threat to Leighton Buzzard town centre posed by new retail parks.
As reported on Tuesday, Cllr Roy Johnstone left the Tories after years of service to become an independent councillor.
Explaining his decision, he has since told us: “Not only have I left the Conservative group on the council, I’ve left the party as well.”
Cllr Johnstone said he felt like a “lone voice” in the Tory group, and obliged to tow the party line. He said: “There are 52 Conservatives out of the 59 councillors. It’s often proved impossible for me to raise issues and concerns. You are expected to support decisions or risk being regarded as disloyal.
“As an independent, I can be a councillor that isn’t ham-strung, one that can speak out. I’ve been a party member since 1982 and a councillor for a considerable part of that time, so it took a huge amount of thought for me to come to that decision.”
Cllr Johnstone said he had problems nationally with the party’s agenda, including cuts to services and a lack of progress on Brexit.
He added: “And of course, there’s all of the housing being imposed upon Central Bedfordshire. I’m concerned about the housing commission given to the east side of Leighton Buzzard.
“The out-of-town commercial developments that have been granted permission off Grovebury Road could adversely affect the viability of the town centre.”
According to Cllr Johnstone, the Grovebury Road retail parks are the gamechanger that could affect Leighton Buzzard’s future.
He said: “The Land South of High Street development has been talked about for many years. At the time the Liberal Democrat group first brought those plans forward, it was scheduled to be done three years ago and we still haven’t got anywhere near that.
“We’re very lucky in a sense. Our businesses are niche, very few big chains and unusually, they are run by local people. That makes them very attractive to outsiders coming here to shop, as does our market. So, we’ve always had a thriving town centre and new businesses continue to open up. That’s in direct contrast to Dunstable, which has been dead for years.
“The White Lion retail park didn’t damage Dunstable because its town centre was already in some difficulty. It hasn’t had the kind of effect which Grovebury Road could have on a thriving Leighton Buzzard town centre.”
Cllr Johnstone said he intended to stand again as an independent at the next election and is still heavily involved in carrying out constituency work.