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Proposed ARA Constitution changes - Comment

Since their AGM on 16th April 2023, there has been considerable publicity, discussion, and concern about the Ashtead Residents Association (ARA) intending to make fundamental and substantial changes to the Association’s Constitution.

At the AGM, Mr Peter Ross (committee member) outlined his ideas about the existing status of the ARA and reiterated the proposals for changes. He was greeted with strong opposition and, in particular, over the point where the ‘political independence’ of the Committee would be changed to ‘political neutrality’. It was pointed out from the floor that, from the inception of the ARA in the first half of the 20th century, no member of the ARA Committee was expected to belong to any national political party. Every new member was tested on this requirement but, in recent years, this had lapsed.

Councillor David Hawksworth had argued that this stipulation should be reinstated. Mr Ross’s opinion was that the ARA was a quasi-public body and, as such, was subject to the Human Rights Act meaning that it could not require any member from being a member of a political party. His view was contested most eloquently by Ashtead resident and Senior Barrister, Mr Donald Broatch.

Mr Broach subsequently prepared a Memorandum (on this website) on the legal position of the ARA as he interpreted it, and refuted that the Association was a “hybrid authority” (the category used in Human Rights legislation). He stated that the ARA was a voluntary organisation, and that conditions could be placed on Committee membership. No formal response to that Memorandum has been received from the ARA Committee.

Subsequently, it was decided that three meetings would be held in public so that motions tabled at the AGM by Mr Quentin Armitage, Councillor David Hawksworth, and Mr Steven Kershaw could be debated. The first of these was held on 12th July 2023 at the APMH where there was much heated discussion and, again, considerable opposition to the idea of changing the political stance of the ARA.

Mr Armitage, presented his amendments to the proposed constitutional changes of the ARA and were mainly designed to retain the apolitical status of the ARA. These were strongly supported by the meeting; no substantive arguments were offered by the ARA representatives. The other motions will be considered at the next meeting 19th July 2023 at 7.30 p.m. at APMH. It is hoped that there will be a good attendance at this meeting. Please come and have your say.

Elected Mole Valley Independent Councillors were present: Councillor Chris Hunt, Councillor David Hawksworth CBE, Councillor Patricia Wiltshire, Councillor Mary Cooper, and Councillor Garry Stansfield. Several members explained the necessity of keeping Ashtead councillors independent of national party politics, and they explained the advantages for this status.

None of the six Independent Councillors is a member of any national political party and each one truly expresses their own views, and those of any resident who contacts them on contentious issues. They are solely concerned with matters that affect the well-being of nearly 16,000 Ashtead residents, and the status and landscape of the whole of Ashtead Village.

Councillors were keen to point out that as they are completely free from any national party constraints, they can vote freely and for the benefit of Ashtead rather than be subjected to a political whip where they would be forced to vote in a particular way.

Furthermore, it is essential to keep as many Independent councillors as possible so that Ashtead will be truly represented on Council committees. At the moment, the Independents are the formal opposition against the Liberal Democrat Party in MVDC with Councillor Chris Hunt as opposition leader. They have places on all the major decision-making committees, including three on the Development Management Committee (the Conservatives hold one seat). Councillor Wiltshire is Chairman of the Council, Councillor Hawksworth is Chairman of Scrutiny, and Councillors Cooper, Stansfield, and Sevenoaks sit on a number of other committees. Although they are often outvoted by virtue of the huge Liberal Democrat majority, they are able to press forward views which will be for the benefit of Ashtead and Mole Valley as a whole. Their independence ensures that they are free to influence other members of the various committees.

This freedom from political control would be lost if the ARA were to affiliate or promote any candidate or member of any national political party because they would inevitably be subjected to being whipped into voting along party lines.


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