Outer harbour critic John Cooper steps up for election battle

THE man who spearheaded efforts to scrutinise dealings at the outer harbour is to stand as an Independent in a Norfolk County Council by-election.

Pledging openness and transparency, John Cooper of Gorleston, has entered the contest following the stepping down of Gerald Cook as representative of Lothingland on grounds of ill health.

The Lothingland ward covers Belton with Browston, Bradwell South, Fritton and St Olaves, Magdalen, and most of Hopton.

Mr Cooper will be fighting the by-election on Thursday, May 5 – the same day as the district, borough and parish elections, and referenda for an Elected Mayor of Great Yarmouth and Alternative Voting system.

On May 5, 13 wards will be contested on Great Yarmouth Borough Council and there will also be elections for seats at Broadland District Council in areas including Acle, Blofield, South Walsham, Brundall and Sprowston.

Battling for a county council seat, Mr Cooper has been in the spotlight for over a year pushing for a public inquiry into the development of the outer harbour.

The criticism, mostly through the letter columns of The Mercury, expressed public unease over the issue and led to a Norfolk County Council scrutiny committee inquiry into the matter earlier this year.

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However, the retired port welfare officer has always insisted he is not against the outer harbour itself – just the way the deal was done to secure it in the first place.

The 74-year-old said he had made the decision this week after being contacted by various members of the public.

He said: “When I was in Hopton after deciding to run, I spoke to a lady who said ‘I’m a Tory but I will vote for you, primarily to give them all a kick up the backside.’

“I’ve had it everywhere I go, but I think the support is not necessarily for John Cooper, but because they’re fed up being treated as though they have no say in what happens in County Hall or the Town Hall.

“I think one of my attributes is that I’m simply too honest – after three years with the outer harbour I’ve shown I say what I think and call a spade a spade.”

Mr Cooper will be running as an Independent with Dennis Durrant, a childhood friend who has joined him in an outer harbour campaign, acting as his agent.

Mr Cooper, who says some of his main concerns aside from the harbour are erosion at Hopton beach and fighting the incinerator plans for King’s Lynn, added: “I’m an Independent because I don’t believe either party are doing any good at the moment, and I think I could push them into being more open and transparent and doing what the electors want. After all, it’s the ratepayer that elected those people and who pays for council officers.”

Of 13 wards being contested at Great Yarmouth Borough Council level, eight are currently held by Conservatives and five by Labour, with the deadline for nominations being on Monday next week.

Currently, the borough council is made up of 24 Conservatives and 15 Labour candidates.

Among those fighting for seats at borough level will be Matthew Smith, a former leading light of the local Conservative Association who has defected to UKIP; and Brenda Taylor, who was deselected by the Labour group earlier this year. She will stand as an Independent.

The defection of Matthew Smith, who was secretary of the Great Yarmouth Conservative Association and spent 18 months on MP Brandon Lewis’s campaign team, to UKIP will be a blow to the Tories.

The 23-year-old had been selected to stand for the Conservatives in Claydon Ward on May 5 and had been their candidate at the 2010 local elections in the same ward but will now stand for UKIP.

He said: “I have left the Conservative Party as I believe they are out of touch with the needs of people both nationally and locally. There are so many issues on which I feel they are letting us down but two in particular gave me no choice but to move to a party that puts the British people first - immigration and defence cuts.”

Former Mayor Terry Easter will be stepping down from his borough council Central and Northgate Ward after 30 years.

Voters are set to to go to the polls in the following wards currently held by the named councillor: Bradwell North, J Tate (C), Bradwell South and Hopton, S Hacon (C), Caister North B Cunniffe (C), Caister South, M Field (L), Central and Northgate, T Easter (L), Claydon, B Williamson (L), Fleggburgh, D Thomspon (C), Lothingland, M Thompson (C), Magdalen, B Walker (L), Nelson, B Taylor (L), Ormesby, J Shrimplin (C), St Andrews, B Watts, (C), West Flegg, M Coleman (C).