COLLEAGUES of a member of Craven District Council who has been disqualified from the authority after failing to attend a meeting for six months have sprung to his defence.

Councillor David Pighills, an Independent, represented Barden Fell, since 2016 when he won the seat from Conservative Gill Quinn.

Last week he was disqualified from the council for non-attendance, but because of the coronavirus pandemic, there will be no by-election and the position will remain un-filled until the deferred local elections due to take place in May, next year.

Meetings have been held remotely, via Zoom, since the start of the lockdown, and the council says arrangements were put in place for those councillors with poor internet connections, including providing a room in the council offices where struggling members could log on; but Mr Pighills supporters say not everyone is computer savvy and he will be greatly missed.

Draughton parish councillor, Margaret Billing, said she was appalled. “We are not all technological experts. Cllr Pighills lives in an area with very poor broadband reception which makes communication by computer difficult on a regular basis.

“In addition, he is of a generation which does not take readily to these new methods, he uses neither email nor possesses a smartphone , relying on land-line telephone communication as do so many others in the Dales.”

She added: “There will be many in Cllr Pighills’s ward who are, like myself, deeply upset to lose such an excellent representative: he rarely missed our monthly meetings and always stopped for a word afterwards with any parishioner who needed his advice. Always kind and cheerful too, he is a fine human being who should not have been treated in this way.”

Cllr Andy Solloway, leader of the Independent group on Craven District Council, said it was a serious issue that not only affected Craven, but the country as a whole.

“Nationwide, there will be areas where people have no councillor and no voice on their council. With no elections until 2021 at least and maybe even longer, there will be vacant seats on councils all over Britain as well as on Craven. This will be worse under a unitary councils as well.

“It also shows that there are still areas poorly served by internet and phone signals and as such as disenfranchised from the digital age and thus the pandemic age as well. Virtual meetings and communication are vital in the fight against this virus, but it needs the electronic infrastructure to be able take part in it.

“David was very much a ward based councillor who was happiest helping out the people he represented. His real passion in the council chamber and at meetings was rural issues, particularly the impact of rural crime and the issue of affordable housing in sparse areas.”

Paul Shevlin, chief executive of Craven District Council, said: “At the beginning of lockdown, we did give all councillors the opportunity to put alternative arrangements in place in order to attend meetings online, if they had difficulty with poor internet and phone signals. We also ensured that members were able to dial in to meetings from a phone line if they wished to do so.

“We also contacted members by post if they had no access to email.”

He added: “Unfortunately due to the Covid-19 pandemic, like all other councils we are currently unable to hold elections. This is an issue that affects the whole country in these unprecedented times, and so the vacancy will be held open until such time as a by-election can take place. The election is likely to be May 6 2021 under the current legislation.”

Former councillor David Pighills was invited to comment.