Harpenden Town Council accused of passing false minutes over meadow plan

Cllr Simon Leadbeater on the patch of land which he is hoping to be turned into a new meadow

Cllr Simon Leadbeater on the patch of land which he is hoping to be turned into a new meadow - Credit: Archant

A Harpenden town councillor has quit after rowing over an allegation of incorrect minutes and concern about the local authority’s leadership.

Conservative councillor Simon Leadbeater is at odds with town clerk John Bagshaw’s minutes of a vote on a proposal to create a new meadow in Harpenden.

The row has escalated to such an extent that Cllr Leadbeater, a green campaigner, has decided against standing again for election, after being made to feel “very isolated on the council. They couldn’t care less”.

At an environment committee meeting on September 3 last year, he put forward a proposal for two new meadow areas – one in front of Rothamsted’s main entrance and a second incorporating a corridor of grassland opposite St John’s church.

He believed that the vote for both was carried – an assertion backed by Pip Martyn of the Harpenden Independent Partnership, who attended the meeting.

Members of the partnership took an unofficial audio recording of the meeting which has been heard by the Herts Advertiser.

The chair of the committee Cllr Nicola Linacre can be heard initially saying there were two votes in favour, before correcting herself to say there were three votes for the proposal, and one abstention.

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There are seven councillors on the committee but one left before the vote was taken, according to Cllr Leadbeater.

He was “dismayed” later, however, upon reading Mr Bagshaw’s minutes stating the vote for the St John’s meadow was lost.

The land at St John’s Road is often used during summer months by local residents, cubs and brownie groups and the committee minutes note that councillors were concerned that turning the area into a meadow would create problems for some of the users.

Feeling “vindicated” after hearing the audio recording, Cllr Leadbeater wrote to the town clerk, alleging his minutes were incorrect.

But, he said, at the following environment committee meeting when, following his complaint, councillors were asked to recall how they had initially voted, “they claimed to have voted against the meadow”.

He said: “I really cannot help it if councillors fail to remember how they voted, or decided they did not like how they had voted.

“The need for new meadow areas is imperative to halt species declining or becoming extinct.”

Cllr Leadbeater said that while he had “genuinely hoped my colleagues would realise the mistake they had made, they simply were not interested in what had happened.

“It is very frustrating and disheartening; any faith I had in the council has dissipated.”

Pip Martyn, an independent candidate who is contesting Harpenden East on the district and town councils, called upon the council to fully investigate Cllr Leadbeater’s complaint.

She added: “It is very clear on the audio recording. There were definitely three who voted in favour. It was carried.”

But Mr Bagshaw has denied his minutes were incorrect, saying, “The draft minutes of the September meeting presented to the November meeting of the committee were resolved to be a true and accurate record, and were duly signed by the chair as such.

“If I had recorded it incorrectly, the council could have challenged it. At the November meeting, three councillors said they voted against the meadow, and two wanted it. If I had got it wrong, I would have amended the minutes accordingly.”

Mike Lovelady, head of legal and democracy at the district council, said the authority had “no adjudicating powers over decisions taken by Harpenden town council.

“Any questions concerning the processes followed at [that] council’s meetings should be addressed to the town clerk.”