Rushden Town Council 'pride' row erupts over 'intolerable' comments

A councillor is alleged to have said that Hall Park shouldn’t be used for gay pride events
Rushden Town councillor Joe Norris (left) has called for the resignation of Cllr Richard Lewis (right)Rushden Town councillor Joe Norris (left) has called for the resignation of Cllr Richard Lewis (right)
Rushden Town councillor Joe Norris (left) has called for the resignation of Cllr Richard Lewis (right)

A Rushden town councillor has called for a public apology from the authority’s leader after he was alleged to have said that he would ‘draw the line’ at hiring out a town park to a pride event.

The row erupted after a meeting of a town council committee in June when leader Councillor Richard Lewis (Con, Hayden) said he wanted to open up Hall Park for the use of community groups.

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Rushden Liberal Democrat Councillor Joe Norris (Lib Dem, Hayden Central) then alleges that Cllr Lewis paused, and said he would ‘draw the line at gay pride’, before asking that the words not be minuted.

But Cllr Lewis says he did not say ‘gay pride’, but rather LGBT, and that his words were taken out of context.

Now Cllr Norris has called on his colleague to apologise and resign after waiting four months for the issue to be dealt with by North Northants Council’s monitoring officer.Cllr Norris said: "This is an incredibly offensive remark for anyone to make, let alone the leader of the council in a public council meeting.

"The Rushden Conservatives have made an anti-LGBTQ+ reputation for themselves this year with these intolerable statements, which tarnishes the name of our town.

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“These comments are not only incredibly inappropriate, but they leave the council liable to legal action on the basis of discrimination.

“Our town deserves better from its elected representatives.

"After nearly four months of silence it is high time for council leader Lewis to apologise for this thoughtless insult and do the right thing by resigning as leader of the council.”

Earlier this year, another Rushden Town Councillor, Cllr King Lawal (Con, Bates) was also embroiled in a row over remarks he made toward the gay community.

Cllr Lewis told this newspaper: “It is a great pity that a new and young councillor should take comments out of context.

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“However, we were discussing the granting of funds for organisations in Rushden to encourage them to organise events, something I have been involved with for many years.

“The comment could possibly have been better phrased, but was made since some groups may have a political bias or include displays etc which could be offensive to some members of the public, as has happened with some groups in other towns..

“These types of activities would not then be suitable for the Town Council to be seen supporting.

“However, each application is always considered on its own merits.

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“Since 2005 I believe have served the people Rushden pretty well and would be very pleased to meet anyone who considers that I have in any way shown bias or discrimination to any group or individual during that time.

“Sadly on the evening of the meeting the councillor decided not to ask for clarification.”

North Northamptonshire Council’s monitoring officer deals with standards complaints for all local authorities. Cllr Norris made his complaint on June 29.

A statement from NNC said: “The complaints process is predicated on confidentiality; however, the council can confirm that a complaint is being dealt with by the monitoring officer in relation to Rushden Town Council and the outcome will be reported to the democracy and standards committee in due course."