Independent pair switch to Conservatives

Cllr Howard Roberts pictured outside Rugby Town Hall. NNL-170322-102051001

Cllr Howard Roberts pictured outside Rugby Town Hall. NNL-170322-102051001

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In an era of political surprises, Rugby got in on the act last week as leading independent councillor Howard Roberts announced he was returning to the Conservative party.

His move comes ahead of the county council elections in May when he will stand on a Tory ticket in the Dunchurch division.

But at the borough council level the impact is hugely significant – the move by Cllr Roberts and wife Cllr Deepah Roberts will give the Conservative party an overall majority at Rugby Town Hall.

With two of the 42 seats currently vacant, the ruling Conservative group has 19 out of 40 seats but when the two Dunsmore independents move across, they will have the advantage with 21 out of those same 40 seats.

Last May, Mr Roberts increased his majority as an independent, his nearest rival being the Conservative.

He had switched from the Tories to independent ahead of the 2012 borough election, telling the Advertiser in March that year he had done so because he feared government policy would lead to massive over-development of his ward.

He told the paper in March 2012: “The development plans for this town could potentially destroy the villages I represent. Remaining a Conservative councillor would mean putting a political party before my constituents; I cannot do that.”

Those fears proved well founded as Dunchurch in particular is under siege in the current draft Local Plan.

But now Mr Roberts feels the time is right to rejoin the party and that with the changing nature of local government and the financial pressure it is under, he can achieve more from the inside.

On the key issue of planning, he said: “My views on the Local Plan have not changed and I will keep fighting for the best deal we can get.”

And in a letter to residents he added: “My move will not change the way I represent you, I am still the same person, I will still keep in contact with you and retain my independent streak.”

Rugby Lib Dems have called on him to step down from his borough council seat but Mr Roberts said with the prospect of a full election in 2019, it would be a waste of money to run another.

Borough Labour leader Claire Edwards said it would be interesting to see the reaction of those who had voted for him as an independent.