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Row in Bearsted over parish councillors living in France

Villagers are angry that two of their parish councillors are continuing to serve Bearsted Parish Council even though they are currently living in France.

The pair Jon and Fabienne Hughes initially put their home in Ware Street on the market but it is believed they now let it out as it didn't immediately sell.

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French-born Bearsted parish councillor Fabienne Hughes
French-born Bearsted parish councillor Fabienne Hughes

Mrs Hughes is of French descent and has family in France.

The couple last attended a council meeting on January 25, although they were in the village to attend the annual parish meeting on April 27.

Their absence has angered some who say that living so far away means the couple cannot take a full part in the business of the parish council and importantly cannot vote, since by law that requires the councillors to be physically present at the meeting.

Tony Grieve, of Cross Keys, is one of 70 residents who signed a letter to the Kent Messenger calling on the councillors to resign.

He said: "It's quite unreasonable for the pair to carry on being councillors."

Tony Grieve: They should resign
Tony Grieve: They should resign

Mr Grieve, who has lived in the village for 50 years and has served as a parish councillor himself in the past, said: "The parish has some important issues to decide shortly, and it's important that the parish councillors are here to understand the feelings of the village. If they can't be here, they should resign and make way for new councillors to be elected - that's democracy."

Mr Grieve was referring principally to a controversial proposal put forward by the parish council.

'Project A' would see the village's existing allotment plot moved so that extra tennis courts could be created for the Bearsted and Thurnham Tennis Club and a car park for the Holy Cross Church extended at a cost of around £100,000.

Jon Hughes (back row far right) and Fabienne Hughes (front row, second from right)
Jon Hughes (back row far right) and Fabienne Hughes (front row, second from right)

But parish clerk Erin Sugden defended the absent couple.

She said: "There is a lot more to being a parish councillor than just attending meetings, which people don't realise.

"A lot can be done online and by email. These two councillors are still doing a lot of work for us even though they are not physically present in the parish."

Duncan Edwards, of Spot Lane, has lived in Bearsted for 30 years. He was not one of the letter's signatories.

Duncan Edwards: Question of expectation
Duncan Edwards: Question of expectation

He said: "I have great admiration for everybody who gives up their time voluntarily for the village - as the Hughes have done as parish councillors.

"That said, people expect a certain degree of openness. Questions have been asked abut the Hughes's current status, but they haven't been answered."

Mr Edwards said: "The rules require only that parish councillors attend once every six months, but there are the rules and there is the intention of the rules.

"My expectation is that parish councillors, representing local views, must be accessible and live locally".

The Kent Messenger attempted to contact Mr and Mrs Hughes for comment using their parish council email address. They have not responded.

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