Councillor critical of 'behind closed door dealing' as he is suspended and loses key committee position

Councillor Tristan Learoyd
-Credit: (Image: Andrea Learoyd)

A councillor has hit out at “behind closed door dealing” after being suspended and then ousted as a local authority’s planning committee chairman.

Cllr Dr Tristan Learoyd said he was suspended by the Liberal Democrat group on Redcar and Cleveland Council after its members met while he was in hospital having been taken ill. The suspension occurred on the eve of the council’s Annual General Meeting (AGM) held last week which saw Cllr Learoyd’s predecessor as regulatory committee chairman, Councillor Stuart Smith being elected unopposed to replace him after being nominated for the role.

The Lib Dem group said in a statement that Cllr Learoyd, who represents the St Germain’s ward in Marske, had “persistently refused to engage formally and informally” with colleagues and a statement had been read out on his behalf at a meeting of group members where his temporary suspension was proposed and agreed.

Cllr Learoyd said: "I have already been contacted by one of the region's major employers, who expressed their disappointment that the surety and fairness of my chairmanship has come to an end. The behind closed door dealing of councillors, especially that of the Lib Dem group leadership, is bad news for residents and bad for business."

Cllr Learoyd, who at one stage was touted as a potential Lib Dem Parliamentary candidate in Redcar, said he had been told his suspension was for “behavioural reasons”. He said his suspension had removed the chance to contest against Cllr Smith, pointing out he had not been subject to a code of conduct complaint and he had also not been suspended by the national party.

His suspension does not affect his position as a councillor, therefore his name could still have been put forward for the committee chairmanship even if proposed by himself. But with Cllr Learoyd losing the support of his group he lacked the seconder required and independent Cllr Smith, a former borough mayor and police constable in Saltburn before his retirement, then became something of a shoo-in to resume the role after a 12 month hiatus.

Cllr Learoyd said at the AGM all but two chair and vice-chair committee positions on the council, which come with a supplementary allowance, were “nodded through” without being contested.

Councillor Stuart Smith, who has resumed the role of planning committee chairman
Councillor Stuart Smith, who has resumed the role of planning committee chairman -Credit:Redcar and Cleveland Council

At a previous council meeting, he suggested a pact had been reached between the Labour and Conservative groups on the council in a bid to end his chairmanship. However this was denied by council leader, Labour’s Alec Brown, whom Cllr Learoyd has frequently clashed with in council chamber exchanges, and Councillor Paul Salvin, who leads the Tory group.

While some observers have been impressed by the forensic approach of Cllr Learoyd and his knowledge of planning legislation, along with his upholding of environmental considerations, he upset local Tories, including MP Sir Simon Clarke and Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen, when standing in the way of efforts to expedite consideration of a planning application for a new ‘electric arc’ steelmaking furnace proposed by British Steel at Lackenby.

'Rare source of transparency'

Cllr Learoyd, who previously represented Labour in the early 2010s before being re-elected to the council as a Lib Dem last year, added: “I have shone a light on discrepancies around Redcar and Cleveland over this past year and have been a rare source of transparency. Despite the respect and praise I have received from outside of the council, councillors have bowed to officer wishes to put in councillors who are more likely to agree with them."

He said in the meantime he would “be a good councillor and keep doing what I have been doing”.

Cllr Learoyd and Cllr Smith have been on opposing sides over controversial plans for more than 800 new homes on greenfield land on the outskirts of Marske with the former a prominent campaigner against them, leading protests by residents, and the latter having voted in favour of the plans while regulatory committee chairman in March 2023.

A statement from the Lib Dem group on the council said: “The decision to suspend Cllr Learoyd for a fixed period in order to sort out a number of long-standing issues was a unanimous decision of the group, except for one other member who was unable to attend due to illness.

“A statement of Cllr Learoyd’s views was read out at the meeting. Unfortunately, Cllr Learoyd has persistently refused to engage formally and informally with his Liberal Democrat colleagues.”

The statement said he would have the opportunity to present his case, adding: “This is an internal matter which cannot be dealt with in the public arena.”