February 5, 2021 4.16 pm This story is over 7 months old

Censured West Lindsey deputy leader expelled from Conservative party

He says he quit though

The Conservative deputy leader of West Lindsey District Council, who was told to apologise to a local house builder after telling residents to spy on him, has been expelled from the party — though he says he quit.

A statement from Gainsborough Conservative Association said a meeting of its executive council on Thursday night took the decision to expel Councillor Paul Howitt-Cowan due to his behaviour — “acting in a manner inconsistent with the objects and values of the association and the party.”

However, the councillor himself says he resigned because he “lacked faith and confidence in its officers”.

Councillor Howitt-Cowan was censured by senior officers and an independent person at West Lindsey District Council after he told Hemswell Parish Council that he feared Alan Morris might illegally demolish a former blacksmiths forge in the area as part of plans to build a new one-and-a-half storey home.

He was also told to apologise to the developer and appear back before the parish council to place on record that “his comments were inaccurate and inappropriate”.

At the time he was also suspended by his party association.

However, in a statement on Friday, the association said: “After careful deliberation of a specific complaint brought by a party member it was determined that his actions were in breach of rules of the Conservative Party Constitution and the Gainsborough Constituency Conservative Association, specifically by acting in a manner inconsistent with the objects and values of [both].

“The decision was therefore taken to expel him from both the association and the party. Councillor Howitt-Cowan has the right to appeal this decision.”

In response, Councillor Howitt-Cowan said: “I resigned from the Conservative Association on January 31 because I lacked faith and confidence in its officers.”

He also denied allegations he was in contact with someone called “Billy” who was keeping him informed about The Forge as completely unfounded, despite an email circulating to councillors with his name and from an email address he uses for Bigby Parish Council.

The email, seen by reporters and signed off “Best Paul”, describes visits and statements by WLDC’s conservation officer and expresses that “in the light of the evidence… I should be exonerated”.

Lines in the email include “I knew that in time that I would be vindicated, and now WLDC has the evidence” and “the press has crucified me and my council along with Giles who is innocent until proved otherwise”.

Developer Alan Morris, whose plans sit at the centre of the row, says he still has not received an apology from Councillor Howitt-Cowan.

Local objectors to the plans, including Hemswell Parish Council, say the move will result in a “significant part” of Hemswell history being lost and called for a “sympathetic” reconstruction of the building.

 

Collapsed walls at the Forge in Hemswell

The parish council in January also wrote a letter of support for Councillor Howitt-Cowan to WLDC.

A spokesman said: “Hemswell Parish council wished to express to WLDC, its acknowledgement of the years of service and unstinting support it has received from District Councillor Paul Howitt-Cowan.”

West Lindsey District Council’s Conservation Officer has set out her own concerns for the building following the loss of a window and masonry collapse – she has also successfully applied for the secretary of state to order “necessary structural propping”.

The state of the Forge in Hemswell

Mr Morris, however, argues the building is beyond repair and says the council has known about the issue since at least 2006 when Ward Cole Consulting recommended that it be demolished.

His application is due before planning committee on March 3.

A statement from WLDC said: “West Lindsey District Council carried out an internal investigation into the matter of a breach of the member’s code of conduct and put all appropriate sanctions in place as a result. Any further investigation will be for the councillors’ political party to determine.”

Councillor Howitt-Cowan became deputy leader of the authority after former leader Giles McNeill stepped aside due to fraud allegations – investigations are still ongoing into the matter.

The authority confirmed he remained a part of the administration and was still deputy leader of the council until the authority received notice otherwise.

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