Thorpe Bay residents’ group faces revolt as chairman survives calls to quit

Angry campaigners stormed out of a Southend residents’ association meeting after its chairman refused to step down and instead produced 200 “proxy votes” keeping him in the job.

The Burges Estate Residents’ Association in Thorpe Bay met to vote on whether former deputy leader of Southend Council, Ron Woodley, should remain as chairman.

It follows months of criticism over his plans to bring in 20mph limits and speed humps in Thorpe Bay.

Despite a vote of 70 to 30 against Cllr Woodley, he then produced more than 200 proxy votes in his favour.

Residents present were prevented from questioning the provenance of the votes.

They were also unable to voice an opinion on another councillor, Shoebury Independent councillor Nick Ward, being taken on to the committee.

Now residents have launched a breakaway group – the new Thorpe Bay Residents’ Association – led by former Burges Estate Residents’ Association member Andrew Hall, as interim chairman.

The group says it will prevent any politician from sitting on its committee.

Mr Hall said: “Votes at the annual meeting were more than two to one for him to step away, then he pulled out these proxy votes and said ‘Good job I’ve got these then’.

“More than 100 people got up and walked out. One lady who had been a member since the 1990s said she had never seen anything like it.

“There was so much anger.”

Mr Hall added: “Jeers went up when he produced the proxy votes. I was deeply ashamed to be a member and left. The man has no dignity.”

Following the meeting last Thursday, Cllr Woodley said: “Because of COVID, 800 letters were sent out to members asking if they wanted me to resign or stay as chairman.

“Only five came back saying they wanted me to resign and 202 said they wanted me to stay.

“A lot of members were there just to get me out. People left and resigned and the Conservatives have now started their own association.”

Independent councillor Martin Terry said: “I was asked to help out at the meeting because they were short of people. Members who joined after a certain date couldn’t vote. Given the situation with COVID they collected votes by proxy.

“Ron offered to show the emails and letters he got back and only a handful were against him. The association has hundreds of members and has done so much for the community.”

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Christine Sexton

Local Democracy Reporter