The decision means that alongside Independent cllr Harper, there are now 28 Conservatives on the city council. There are 13 Labour and Cooperative councillors alongside four Labour councillors, eight Liberal Democrats, three Greens, and three councillors representing Werrington First.
Cllr Harper, who was first elected to the council in 2011, said in the post last night: “After a great deal of thought over several months, I have decided that I can no longer support the direction and behaviour of the leadership of the Conservative group at Peterborough City Council and as such I have this morning resigned as a member of the Conservative Party and become an Independent Councillor for the Ward of Stanground South.
“I appreciate some of you might be disappointed at my decision and only ask that you take the time to read on and hopefully appreciate and understand why I have come to the decision I have.
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“In my opinion the city is being led down the wrong and dangerous route and the regular ‘shoot from the hip’ promises being announced to the press by the leader of the council without everyone’s knowledge and involvement, has and continues to do untold damage to our image and will, I have no doubt, lose the confidence of many voters at the next local elections.
“I understand the financial pressures we as a council are under but the latest Key Theatre closure announcement and the ‘put up and shut up’ attitude of the leader to reasonable questions being asked was the last straw for me so I have taken the difficult decision of no longer wishing to be part of the group and therefore the Conservative Party.
“Serving notice of redundancy on employees just before Christmas was like something out of the ‘Grinch’. It was heartless and has no doubt destroyed families and caused much upset to many local residents, residents that have enjoyed the Key Theatre over many years from when they were young to the present day and this just goes to show how out of touch the current leadership of PCC is with the real people of Peterborough, the people we were elected to serve, not the high powered developers and outside political influencers that want to ride roughshod over our agreed local plan and with whom the leader has made clear, he and others within the group support.
“There’s no denying that the Key Theatre has struggled but along with many other leisure activities that also struggle to make a profit, together they make up the vital cultural offer for the city’s residents. Other places such as the Cathedral, Town Hall, Lido, Museum, Gyms, Cinemas’, Theatres, Libraries and Ferry Meadows are just a few of the reasons why some businesses have chosen to relocate to our city and bring their staff to Peterborough, to visit the town just to get away from it all and relax, and spend their money not just at the venues themselves but also at nearby pubs, clubs, restaurants, coffee houses and tea rooms. They are all linked and losing one will likely cause a large knock on effect to others. I understand after much outcry a rescue package is now being muted but this should have been looked into before announcing any such closure or serving notice on employees.
“Becoming an Independent was not an easy decision and will most likely cost me my positions of chairman of two excellent cross party committees by way of punishment, but what is more important to me is my own conscience and my dedication to my ward and my city and I felt I was left with no other choice.
“I have made some great friends and colleagues across all parties in my 10 years as a councillor, most of them I know being in it for the right reasons and I sincerely thank them for their help, advice, and friendship over the years. Not least though, I’d like to thank my ward colleagues and good friends Brian & Ray, I know we will continue to work together and always put the people of our ward and city first.
“And finally. I have always been an advocate of asking the electorate for their approval whenever a politician ‘crosses the floor’ so to speak and as I have 2 years left of my term of office before I need to seek re-election, I would like to gauge your feelings as ward residents to me continuing to represent you as an Independent Councillor, safe in the knowledge that my work and commitment to our ward and city will be as strong and true as it has ever been.”
Speaking to The Peterborough Telegraph, cllr Harper said he had been overwhelmed by the response he had received since making the decision public.
He said: “I’m absolutely humbled by the support I have had. Hundreds of people have bothered to get in touch, and it has been so positive from all sides. There has been no negativity.”
Cllr Harper said the decision to close the Key Theatre - and the way the decision had been made - had been the straw that broke the camel’s back.
“I have no personal axe to grind with anyone, but we were not given a chance to discuss the closures before hand.
“We were not given the chance to question the decision - to see if anyone wanted to create some sort of fundraising campaign, to see if a percentage of council tax could be rinngfenced to be used in culture - there was no consultation.
“I feel sorry for (fellow ward councillors and Conservatives) Ray (Bisby) and Brian (Rush) - they are great guys who work hard for the ward and hard for the city.”