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Medway Tory Gloria Opara calling on council leader Alan Jarrett to stand down

The leader of Medway Council has been accused of bullying by a colleague and urged to step down.

Conservative councillor Gloria Opara alleges Cllr Alan Jarrett was overly aggressive towards her during the selection process for next year's local council elections.

Cllr Gloria Opara
Cllr Gloria Opara

She's been left baffled she won't be able to stand in her Princes Park ward, despite winning it twice and having the support of local members.

Things came to a head last week when a meeting of the local party's executive, attended by Cllr Jarrett, was held to confirm who would be standing.

Cllr Opara was passed over in favour of Cllr Robbie Lammas and parliamentary researcher Alex Hyne.

She says such was Cllr Jarrett's behaviour she is making a formal complaint to the Conservative Party.

She accuses him of being aggressive in "bombarding" her with questions about the Medway Local Plan – something she'd previously failed to support because it wasn't complete.

Although Cllr Jarrett previously said he would be stepping down from his role ahead of next year's election, Cllr Opara says he should go now.

Medway Council leader Alan Jarrett
Medway Council leader Alan Jarrett

She was elected in 2015 alongside Cllr Tashi Bhutia, who died last year.

Cllr Lammas, who previously worked for the area's MP Tracey Crouch, was elected in his place following a by-election.

Ahead of next year’s elections, ward representatives backed Cllr Opara to stand again but deselected Cllr Lammas.

Mr Hyne, a staffer for Rochester and Strood MP Kelly Tolhurst, was picked in his place.

Cllr Opara said: "I felt Cllr Jarrett's approach was nothing short of bullying.

"I made my position clear that I needed some more information to be able to make an intelligent decision on the Local Plan, to be able to advise my residents as to the reason for my either supporting Chatham Docks being included in the Local Plan or not.

The late Cllr Tashi Bhutia
The late Cllr Tashi Bhutia

"In my opinion, he was interrogating me. I didn’t feel he was asking selection interview questions.

"I feel he was just bombarding me regarding my stance on the Local Plan. I have never been given the opportunity to vote on the Local Plan.

"The Local Plan was withdrawn from the agenda last October and I think there was a lack of sufficient information which they were going to bring back."

Cllr Opara, who runs a local cyber security firm, said she was also baffled when she was told she was deselected but then offered an alternative ward to stand in.

She was asked if she would stand in the newly-created Fort Pitt ward – which has been formed following a change in the electoral boundaries – but wanted to stay in Princes Park.

She said: "I've been there since 2015 and I have been working hard for my residents. My ward residents voted to retain me.

Cllr David Wildey
Cllr David Wildey

"I worked hard even when my colleague Tashi Bhutia was unwell. In the last three years I have been working solely on that ward by myself.

"If I wasn't good enough more or less to retain my ward, why would you offer me another one?

"I am the only black woman among them. It doesn't sit well, when we consider inclusion and diversity.

"My ward residents elected me, but on the basis of an incomplete Local Plan that the leader of the council has obviously has his heart set on.

"I do not think he is fit to lead the Conservative group. This has nothing to do with the Conservative Party, we are a party that is fair to everyone, a party for everyone.

"It's just that within the party, unfortunately, we have the likes of Alan Jarrett.

Tracey Crouch MP
Tracey Crouch MP

"In my opinion he is not fit to be the leader. He is not fit to lead the local Medway Conservative Group so I am going to be calling for his immediate resignation.

"His time has come to an end and it's time for him to step down."

In response, Cllr Jarrett said he would not be considering his position and said what happens during selection meetings are private.

While he said he had no further comments, he added: "People need to look at themselves if they are unsuccessful."

Cllr David Wildey, who chairs the Chatham and Aylesford Conservative Association, also said he wouldn't be able to comment until the complaint has been resolved.

The constituency's MP Tracey Crouch said: “The selection process for councillors is independent of me as the MP and I was not involved.

Cllr Gloria Opara and Cllr Alan Jarrett
Cllr Gloria Opara and Cllr Alan Jarrett

"However, I was sorry to see that Gloria was deselected.

"She has been an excellent, hard-working councillor who not only cares about her community but has brought a refreshing outlook based on her professional and life experiences.”

Medway's Local Plan – What's gone wrong?

Medway Council is in the process of updating its Local Plan, a crucial document which will set out sites for 27,000 new homes and new space for employment up to 2037.

Draft documents were released ahead of a vote on whether to begin its public consultation process back in October.

They gave indication the council wanted to earmark thousands of new homes on the Hoo Peninsula and 3,265 homes and space for businesses at Chatham Docks.

Cllr Rupert Turpin
Cllr Rupert Turpin

However, the vote was pulled from the agenda at the 11th hour after Cllr Jane Chitty (Con), portfolio holder for planning, economic growth and regulation, said a full evidence base would need to be completed before it could come back for consideration.

Conservative councillors spoke of their dismay at the inclusion of Chatham Docks, and how much of the proposed development was concentrated on Hoo.

Cllr Opara is not the first politician to butt heads with the leadership over the Local Plan; MP Kelly Tolhurst described the draft plan as "flawed", and Cllr Rupert Turpin (Con) was also sacked from his cabinet position after voicing his opposition to the plans.

Questions remain over when the plan will be ready to come back for a vote.

Cllr Opara is the second councillor who is known to have been deselected.

Cllr Chitty – who represents Strood North and has overseen the Local Plan-making process - was banned from standing again.

She was told one of the reasons she had been dumped was because she did not cooperate enough with Miss Tolhurst, who she has clashed with over the plans for Chatham Docks.

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