Fresh Ribble Valley by-election as councillor ups sticks and moves to Scottish island

A Ribble Valley councillor who helped create the borough's new Progressive Liberal group, which works closely with Green and Labour councillors, has moved to Scotland.

Stewart Fletcher has moved to a home near Stornoway on the island of Lewis. His wife, Kerry, has started a new hospital job on Lewis and other Scottish islands. Until recently. Stewart Fletcher was both a Clitheroe borough and town councillor. He left the borough's Lib-Dem group in November 2023 with some others to create the new Progressive Liberals. And they later announced a new formal grouping with Green councillors.

In the past, Kerry Fletcher was also a councillor. But she is a nurse by profession and specialises in ultrasound scans. Her new job takes her to various Hebridean islands. Stewart Fletcher's resignation as a councillor will create a vacancy at Ribble Valley Council, meaning a by-election is expected.

His departure was announced briefly at the latest full council meeting. Steven Atkinson, the Conservative council leader, paid tribute to Mr Fletcher and asked the borough's chief executive to send a letter of thanks.


In an earlier council meeting this year, Stewart Fletcher's contribution to local politics was acknowledged when he handed on the baton of being the official opposition leader role to a Labour councillor, Lee Jameson. That was before his move to Scotland.

Speaking to the Local Democracy Reporting Service this week, Stewart Fletcher explained why he has moved and reflected on his years in Ribble Valley politics. He said key achievements for him included forging closer links with Green and Labour councillors elected last year, and winning a council Living Wage vote.

His frustrations include recent council opposition to a proposal for solar panels on council buildings and occasions where some independent and Lib-Dem councillors have supported the ruling Conservatives in votes.


Regarding the move to Scotland, he said: "My wife, Kerry, was offered a big job opportunity in Stornoway, which she has decided to take. She's an advanced ultrasound practitioner, offering scans for babies and also issues like tumours.  In the past. she'd had offers to move to other places for work, such as the Cayman Islands and Jersey. She's very good at what she does.

"We've always said that we have four-year plans. For me, things changed a lot last year at Ribble Valley Council and the past 12 months has been pretty demanding.

"The changes at the 2023 local elections brought lots of new possibilities, with the election of new Labour and Green councillors. I was Ribble Valley Council's official leader of the opposition. For me, that meant representing all the opposition councillors who were elected on anti-Conservative agendas including Labour and Greens.

"After last year's changes, I and some other councillors were offered potential council roles which would have been very interesting, including a dream role for me, in some ways. I gave it serious thought and I have respect for Steven Atkinson, the council leader.

"However, I couldn't support a Conservative administration at the council. That was not the policy of the Lib-Dems. I couldn't do a Nick Clegg [the former Lib-Dem national leader who formed a coalition with David Cameron's Conservative government]."


Mr Fletcher added: "I don't want to be melodramatic. But being the opposition leader also makes you a political target. People jump on everything you say.  I didn't become a councillor for the horrible side of politics. I don't consider myself a 'politician' - I hate that phrase. I consider myself a servant of people in the town. I love Clitheroe. My wife was from Clitheroe.  I just became a councillor to put something back into the community.

"I joined Clitheroe Town Council in 2015. Until this year, I had never missed a single town council meeting.  I was elected to Ribble Valley Council in 2019 when the former Lib-Dem group leader, Allan Knox, left.  I was thrown in at the deep end but for a long time, I loved it.

"Now, I feel I've done my bit. Ribble Valley politics is in a new place and there are other good councillors to take things forward.  The Progressive Liberal and Green project has started and I think it's got legs. Hopefully it will keep developing and going forward, just without me. The other Progressive Liberal and Green councillors are brilliant - Ryan Corney, Mark French, Gaye McCrum and Malcolm Peplow. "

Mr Fletcher said he disagreed with remaining Ribble Valley Lib-Dems who recently supported the Conservative administration's budget for 2024-25. He said they could have abstained in the budget vote.

However, the Lib-Dems said budget details, such as funds for Clitheroe Castle, were key elements in winning their support and important for the area's tourism and economy. They said the castle and grounds were routinely raised as priorities in Clitheroe.


Now on Lewis, Mr Fletcher said he hopes to keep a few animals and grow some vegetables on land. Scotland has a unique system called crofting, which he is interested in.

He said: "I'll be aged 51 at my next birthday, I've never lived in a house with a grass garden. Now in Scotland I've got a garden measuring 3/4 of an acre. And there are strips of crofting land running down to the sea.

"I'm going to start with some chickens. The guy next door has some sheep and pigs. I'd also like to grow some vegetables. And I'm also obsessed with bees. That's my next ludicrous project."

He added: "I wish everyone in the Ribble Valley well. I do care about what people think. I hope most people think I did a good job as a councillor.  Under the rules, I could have remained a councillor and travelled to meetings when need be. But that would not be right. Councillors should be based locally."

He added: "When I resigned, Ribble Valley Council's chief executive, Marshal Scott, joked that Scotland was looking for a new first minister. But my wife, Kerry, said I definitely won't be applying."