TWO councillors have resigned from their party in a dispute over support for Durham County Council's coalition.

Councillors Karen Hawley, for Passfield, and Diane Howarth, for Peterlee East, have resigned from the North East Party.

Cllr Hawley said five town councillors and an executive member had also resigned.

She said this arose from bad feeling over other members' support for the county council's joint administration of Conservatives, Lib Dems and Independents.

The two councillors are now in a newly-formed "Unaligned Group".

But the leader of their former party has called on them to resign as county councillors.

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Cllr Hawley responded: "I'll be independent until such time as people want to get rid of me.

"We won't stand down unless the local people say we don't want you anymore.

"People voted me in as North East party member, not North East party member in coalition.

"I was elected to represent the local people in the community, which is what I've done, and I'll carry on doing that."

She added: "It's been an ongoing issue.

"There's been a lot of mistrust and bad feeling until it's come to a head and people have decided to go. People have had enough.

"We took a stand on what we believed in."

She said the support for the coalition, which has one North East party member in its cabinet, had affected others in the party who had been "ridiculed" and "vilified" as Conservative supporters.

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The North East Party's executive has called on councillors to work "positively and in constructive support of the joint administration at DCC", and resign from formal arrangements with groups outside it. 

A resolution passed this week states: "It is in the best interests of the people we represent for all four NEP county councillors to work together in a coherent group to support the work of the joint administration at Durham County Council."

Party leader Brian Moore said: “It is with regret we have received the resignation of Durham county councillors Karen Hawley and Diane Howarth.

"As a party we reached out to both councillors in a bid to find a solution that would have allowed them to remain as North East Party members and councillors.

“In light of their resignation from the North East Party, we call upon both of them to keep faith with the electorate and resign as county councillors to allow by-elections.

“They were elected as candidates from the North East Party. Midway through their period of office it would be inappropriate and undemocratic to become something else, without reference to the most important people, their constituents.

“We wish both individuals the best and thank them for their service to the North East Party.”

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Mr Moore said of Durham's joint administration: "It's been brilliant. It has been an absolute breath of fresh air for County Durham.

"It's probably the most democratic form of government in the North-east because it's not a one-party state.

"I would like all local government to be run almost mirroring the joint administration."

Cllr Hawley said there had not been consultation with party members about the support for the joint administration.

"People are not happy about it because they wanted their say," she added.

"For me, if the party had been asked and they decided that's what they wanted, I would have gone along with that.

"If the rest of the party had a vote and they wanted to go in with this alliance, absolutely, because I'm democratic. But nobody had a chance to do that."

Mr Moore responded: "There was consultation."

He said three of four party councillors voted to support the Durham coalition a year ago: "We as an executive listened to what the majority of our councillors were saying, and followed their lead."

He said it was also discussed at a spring conference once Covid restrictions were loosened: "We had a long discussion about where we were with Durham County Council, and there wasn't one dissenting voice."


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