Highland councillors have been reacting to the shock resignation of Lochaber member Andrew Baxter from the chairmanship of a major council committee.
Mr Baxter announced his resignation from Care, Learning and Housing (CLH) committee after council bosses told him the local committee he also chairs had no right to offer two hours free parking in Fort William in the run-up to Christmas.
They said the decision “has budgetary consequences and needs to be considered by the Highland Council when it next meets on December 13″.
Councillors of all political parties have described Mr Baxter as ‘a man of principle’ and a loss to one of the council’s most important committees.
Lochaber councillors said they supported his stance over a situation they find unjust.
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Councillor Ben Thompson said: “We would like to support our own High Street retailers over this Christmas period. Even with six weeks of two hours free parking, Fort William would still be contributing about one third of all the money raised in the Highlands through parking.”
Councillor Niall Maclean said: “Andrew is standing up for local democracy, a decision was made in Fort William and squashed in Inverness by bully boy tactics of an administration which doesn’t consult or listen.”
Dingwall has also taken a stance against the introduction of parking charges in the town, with councillor Graham Mackenzie a vociferous opponent.
Mr Mackenzie said he admired Mr Baxter’s stance and was sorry he was leaving CLH.
He said: “He was doing a great job of listening to people and I’m sorry to see him go from that committee.
“The council administration found parking charges too hot to handle so they decided to off-load it to area committees. Having done so, they’re not allowing the areas to make decisions. It flies in the face of all their talk of local democracy and I’m glad somebody’s standing up to them.”
Opposition leader Maxine Smith suggested Lochaber councillor Allan Henderson should also resign from a major committee he chairs, Environment, Development and Infrastructure.
Mr Henderson replied: “I will certainly not be resigning over an issue that I was not party to, due to attending a funeral in my ward. While I understand Andrew’s frustration, there are parts of legislation that have not yet moved as quickly as the localism agenda.”
Council leader Margaret Davidson said parking revenue is part of the council’s budget and until next year there are no powers for area committees to make a decision on free parking.
Mr Baxter said: “I’ve made it clear I’ve resigned as a matter of principle. My ward and Lochaber comes first.”
He retains his Fort William and Ardnamurchan ward, and his position as chairman of the Lochaber area committee.