Chateau-owning councillor hits back over job-shirking claims

Published
Image source, Ashley Waters
Image caption, Ashley Waters (left) said he had been back in the UK for six months apart from a brief trip to Normandy in September

A councillor criticised for spending time in France while renovating a chateau has said he is sick of "lies" that he is shirking his civic duties.

Ashley Waters, who serves as an Independent on Middlesbrough Council, said he worked 50 hours a week and had been in the UK since April apart from a brief trip to France last month.

He has faced repeated calls to resign from fellow councillors.

However, Mr Waters said: "I can take criticism, but it's lies."

Mr Waters, who was elected to the North Ormesby ward in May 2019, bought Chateau De Lalacelle in Normandy with his partner Terry Short and other family members last November.

Councillors do not have to live in the area they serve and Mr Waters would not be breaking any rules if he lived in France.

However, Mr Waters insists he does not reside in France and has no intention of doing so until at least 2023.

Image source, Ashley Waters
Image caption, Mr Waters and family bought the castle in rural Normandy for £250,000 in November

'On another planet'

Labour councillor for the central ward Matthew Storey said: "How low do we have to set the bar for someone to resign?

"He lives in France in a chateau - about as far away from North Ormesby as you could possibly be.

"Quite frankly, he's on another planet if he thinks that's acceptable to the people of Middlesbrough. Of course he should resign."

Independent Joan McTigue, for Longlands and Beechwood, said North Ormesby was a deprived area and needed its councillors to be "available" for residents.

Mr Waters responded: "I attended the last full council meeting on 23 March last year before lockdown and almost all of the meetings in 2020 on Zoom.

"As soon as lockdown was lifted in April this year I was back in person to attend council meetings," he said.

"If it was my constituents were complaining, then fair enough I would step down but they have been nothing but supportive."

Image source, Ashley Waters
Image caption, Mr Waters (top left) said he and his partner Terry Short (top right) shot most of the Youtube videos of their progress months ago

Mr Waters and his family are documenting their renovation progress on a YouTube channel called Escape to the Dream, Restoring the Chateau, which has 23,000 subscribers.

However, Mr Waters said most of the videos - some of which have been posted this week - were recorded months ago.

He said he had served on four council committees and was formerly on the executive committee for the regeneration of Middlesbrough.

"I've always been totally upfront about the fact that I will not stand for re-election in 2023 and will eventually set up home in France," Mr Waters added.

"I have spent time in rural Normandy, but I'm currently in Ingleby Barwick and on Zoom pretty much every day doing council business.

"The workload can range from 20 to 50 hours a week for around £8,000 a year. I'm sick of the lies [claiming] I'm not doing the job.

"I've worked very hard for my constituents."

Image source, Ashley Waters
Image caption, Mr Waters (right) and family are hoping to open the Chateau as a B&B when it is renovated

Follow BBC North East & Cumbria on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Send your story ideas to northeastandcumbria@bbc.co.uk.

More on this story