A FERNHURST councillor has caused a political storm at an already hung council, after deciding to ditch his party and become an Independent.
John Mitchell has this week announced he has not renewed his subscription to the Liberal Democrats and will now be serving as an independent councillor.
The news comes as a blow to Chichester District Council's leader Andrew Smith, who is working hard to move policies forward in a difficult political climate.
Before Mr Mitchell's announcement, the council – which serves areas such as Fernhurst, Camelsdale, Lynchmere, Hammer, Milland and Rake – was already hung with 24 Conservatives, 22 Lib Dems and two Independents.
The two main groups struck up a deal to ensure they can work together, which sees the council's powerful executive posts filled by Tories, but the leader of the council being a Lib Dem.
However, this working relationship has been tricky and the Lib Dems will now find it even more difficult to push forward its ideas if the Conservatives vote along political lines.
Mr Mitchell has attacked both parties for having the wrong priorities and said that this is a major factor behind his move.
In a letter to The Herald, Mr Mitchell, who has served as a councillor for Fernhurst since 1971, explained his decision.
"I have great admiration for several in the Lib Dem group and have personal loyalty to Andrew Smith, both as leader of the party and currently as leader of the council ," he said.
"But I have felt the Lib Dem group as a whole, like the Conservative group, is not particularly in favour of my priority of lower CDC costs and council tax, or particularly supportive on issues north of the Downs."
The newly Independent councillor has also claimed it has been hard to push an agenda forward for his ward in the absence of substantial Lib Dem support in the area.
"Of course all but one of the Lib Dems, Michael Fay, the excellent member for Easebourne, live in and represent electors south of the Downs and have some different priorities.
"Increasingly, my allies in pursuit of the interests of Fernhurst Ward are Conservative councillors north of the Downs, several of whom are also very good in my opinion."
Mr Mitchell has also taken a swipe at the Conservatives, labelling them a "politicised group" and argues party politics at a local level does little to help residents.
"Party policies in local government seems to me to be a harmful irrelevance, especially in Chichester district," he said.
"The Conservative group in particular has many of the 'my party right or wrong' types, who seek to wield the bloc vote – in my view occasionally at the expense of the electorate."
Mr Mitchell said by freeing himself of party politics he will be able to serve Fernhurst better.
"As an Independent, I will be free to promote Fernhurst's interests – and even freer to campaign for lower council costs and tax," he said.
"I will, of course, continue to be available to all constituents and at their service, as before.
In a statement, council leader Andrew Smith expressed his sadness at Mr Mitchell's decision.
He was also disappointed the Fernhurst councillor announced his decision publicly before talking to the Lib Dem group about his views.
"I regret John Mitchell's decision to leave the Liberal Democrats, especially his failure to take the opportunity to discuss his concerns with group colleagues before announcing his intentions," Mr Smith said.
The Herald has also contacted the Conservative deputy leader of the council, Miles Cullen, for a comment but none had been made before The Herald went to press.