By Tony Earnshaw Local Democracy Reporter
A ROW has broken out between the Tories in Mirfield over claims one councillor defected to the Greens when he was not selected as deputy mayor.
Coun Steve Benson is also accused of storming out of a meeting – although he described the claims by Conservative Party branch chairman Coun Martyn Connell, as “absolute rubbish”.
Coun Benson instead said that a lack of interest by Conservatives in green issues, including the Neighbourhood Plan, which will see thousands of homes built in the area, was the deciding factor in him leaving the party.
Reacting to stories circulating on social media Coun Connell said it was “important to put the record straight‚” regarding his former party colleague’s defection.
He claimed Coun Benson put himself forward to be deputy mayor of Mirfield at the town’s first council meeting on May 14 but that it was decided only one candidate was required.
The role was already filled by Coun Vivien Lees-Hamilton (Hopton) with her Kirklees Council colleague Coun Martyn Bolt (Battyeford) elected as mayor. Coun Connell said an option was left open for a second deputy mayor “dependent on workload and commitments” of councillors Bolt and Lees-Hamilton.
He said: “Coun Benson became very agitated and upset that he had not been selected as a deputy mayor at this time. He stood up abruptly, threw discussion documents on the table and stormed out of the meeting stating ‘This isn’t the last you have heard of this’.
“This was in the first five minutes of the new council session. He did not stay in the meeting long enough to hear the discussion relating to the appointment of a second deputy mayor based on community needs.
“I am certain if he had stayed all councillors would have listened to his representations.”
Coun Benson dismissed party chairman Connell’s comments as “total lies” and said he had been proposed as deputy mayor by fellow Tory councillor Keith Taylor.
“All this stuff about me proposing myself and storming out is total lies,” he said.
“Keith Taylor proposed me as the second deputy mayor and somebody else seconded me. After that I got up and walked out. I didn’t storm out. That is absolute rubbish. It’s not on.
“My defection has nothing to do with that. The fact is that I have tried to get them involved with the Neighbourhood Plan in Mirfield for over three years.
“I am astounded that they have not involved the public in the Neighbourhood Plan, which will see thousands of houses built in the area. Many people have no clue about that.
“I have been very unhappy with the way things have been done for some time.
“As a Green now I can have my say on what is going on. That is why I jumped ship.”
Coun Benson was one of the leading campaigners who stopped pastureland at Balderstone Fields in Mirfield being turned into a housing estate. He said he also wants to address flooding problems associated with the River Calder.
He admitted that he had not renewed his subscription to the Conservative Party prior to the May council meeting and so had not attended as a Tory.
The minutes of the meeting on May 14 show that Mr Benson was proposed by Coun Keith Taylor, but that there was no seconder and the motion was withdrawn.
Coun Connell said: “Conservatives in Mirfield had been working hard on green issues such as cleaning up the canal towpaths and litter picking, and supporting Mirfield in Bloom.
He added: “We look forward to working with Coun Benson in a proactive and constructive manner.”
Coun Andrew Cooper, the Green group leader on Kirklees Council, said it was “great” to welcome Coun Benson to the party.