A MAJOR split has taken place among the Vale council’s Conservatives as eight of its councillors – including the entire cabinet – have walked away to form a new independent group, it has been confirmed.

Cabinet member for social care, health and leisure, Cllr Ben Gray will lead the independent group which includes council leader John Thomas and all the councillors in the authority’s ruling body.

The other cabinet members to walk away from the Conservative group and sit as independent councillors are the council’s deputy leader Hunter Jarvie, Geoff Cox, who heads neighbourhood services and transport, planning and regeneration chief Jonathan Bird and cabinet member for housing Andrew Parker. 

Other councillors to leave the Conservative group and join the new independent group includes councillors Michael Morgan and Kathryn McCaffer.

It comes after Conservative councillors elected Cllr Vincent Bailey to lead their group on the Vale council at a party AGM on March 29.

Cllr Thomas has said he will resign as leader – and this may happen at the council’s AGM on May 20.

Cllr Gray would not comment on rumours the group would prop up a potential administration led by Labour and also include Llantwit First.

Speaking to the Local Democracy Reporting Service, he said: “We’re meeting again tomorrow to discuss how we can positively contribute to how the Vale council runs.”

The cabinet members remain in post despite walking away from the Conservative group on the council.

It is understood none of the councillors are resigning their Conservative party memberships, but are rather walking away from the party on the council.

Earlier on Wednesday, Cllr Gray made a statement to Vale council’s Conservative group to say he was resigning.

In his statement, he said he had “absolutely no issue” with the manner in which Cllr Bailey was elected as the new leader of the Conservative group,

But he said he is “at least partially at odds” with Cllr Bailey on three issues – the proposed ‘closure’ of Llancarfan Primary School, the Dinas Powys Bypass and the incinerator in Barry.

On the Llancarfan School proposal, which would see the primary moved to a new building in Rhoose, he said: “I seconded a motion to have the executive reopen the issue consultation and this was ignored by the then cabinet but now that this difficult decision has been made I fear that any attempt to artificially prop up Llancarfan School will take funding away from the budgets of Penarth schools which is something I will not tolerate.”

Cllr Gray said he remained “unconvinced” that the proposed bypass around Dinas Powys, linking Cardiff to Barry, “is an issue with a large base of support in my ward, and the efforts to give it even more prominence and funding would I believe be to the detriment of the residents of my ward.”

The Vale council has been waiting for more than a year for Welsh Government to decide whether the Barry incinerator needs to carry out an environmental impact assessment before it can operate.

Cllr Gray said any efforts to ramp up the council’s rhetoric on the incinerator “would do a disservice to those residents who are passionate about the subject”.

“Raising false hope for headlines is not the reason I stood for local government and I don’t want to mark my success by how many column inches we are able to achieve on a wedge issue,” he said.

He added:  “The structures around the group that Vince is proposing seemed to be geared up to act as an opposition party and not to focus on the work of delivering core services for the benefit of the most vulnerable members of our society.

“I don’t expect everyone to agree with my decision and I don’t take this decision lightly – I am sure that there will be a great number of people who have an opinion on whether I have done the right thing or not.

“I need to remain true to myself and my belief in acting as a positive advocate for the residents in my ward – the issues that get me out of bed every morning to work hard for the residents in my ward are not the way the press views me but how I can make a positive difference to people’s lives.”