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Middlesbrough councilor criticized for moving to Normandy to renovate castle

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An alderman representing one of the UK’s most deprived areas lives nearly 600 miles away in France, where he is renovating an 18th-century castle – sparking furious complaints.

Ashley Waters, 37, who ran as an independent and took over his Labor seat, has spent much of the past year in rural Normandy rather than in his more gritty home town of Middlesbrough, where he has been tax-paying is paid as an elected officer.

He has justified continuing to represent those who voted for him in the impoverished northeastern city by attending most council meetings online from his beautiful historic home — most council meetings have been held online since the pandemic — while occasionally commuted back to Teesside from the mansion near Le Mans to attend in person.

Cllr Waters and his partner Terry Short are renovating the property called Chateau De Lalacelle along with Terry’s parents Tony and Tracy Briggs. They plan to turn it into a luxury bed and breakfast for paying guests.

An alderman representing one of the UK’s most deprived areas lives nearly 600 miles away in France, where he is renovating an 18th-century castle – sparking furious complaints. Above: Middlesbrough Councilor Ashley Waters (left) with his partner Terry Short

Mr Waters, 37, who ran as an independent and took over his Labor seat, has spent much of the past year in rural Normandy rather than in his rougher home town of Middlesbrough, where he taxpayer is paid as an elected official

Mr Waters, 37, who ran as an independent and took over his Labor seat, has spent much of the past year in rural Normandy rather than in his rougher home town of Middlesbrough, where he taxpayer is paid as an elected official

They document their progress with a series of homemade videos posted to YouTube showing their style and content, based on the long-running Channel 4 series ‘Escape to the Chateau’.

Entitled “Escape to the Dream, Restoring the Chateau,” 22 episodes have been uploaded to the video-sharing site so far.

Cllr Waters, who was elected as an independent for the North Ormesby borough in 2019, will receive £20,000 a year in fees for attending council meetings and related Cleveland Fire Authority meetings.

He sits on four council committees and was previously a member of the executive committee for the regeneration of Middlesbrough, recognized as one of the most deprived areas in the UK.

Cllr Waters, who was elected as an independent for the North Ormesby borough in 2019, will receive £20,000 a year in fees for attending council meetings and related Cleveland Fire Authority meetings.  Above: Middlesbrough Transporter Bridge over the River Tees

Cllr Waters, who was elected as an independent for the North Ormesby borough in 2019, will receive £20,000 a year in fees for attending council meetings and related Cleveland Fire Authority meetings. Above: Middlesbrough Transporter Bridge over the River Tees

But Cllr Walters has been accused of neglecting his council duties by another independent councilor, Joan McTigue, who has repeatedly made complaints about her colleague’s household arrangements, insisting that he neglects the people he has chosen to represent by to be so far away.

Cllr McTigue told Mail Online: ‘He is the only councilor for North Ormesby, one of the most deprived in the country, and there is no one looking after that area.

“When you watch the videos, it’s absolutely clear that he’s there for good. They call the castle ‘our new home, new way of living’.’

In the most recent – the 22nd episode – Waters explains how he is going to repair one of the outbuildings on the castle grounds. The 30 minute video was uploaded a week ago.

Other videos show aerial views of the castle, charting its progress from September 2020 when the property was acquired.

Another uploaded video shows the renovation of an antique fireplace, while the first episode took viewers on a tour of the property that had been uninhabitable due to 50 years of neglect.

The quartet taking part in the project, all from Middlesbrough, have lived in caravans on the site as renovations progress.

The area also has the highest child poverty rates of the 12 local authorities in the North East of England, according to the NE Child Poverty Commission.

Middlesbrough Council figures show that Cllr Walters has a 60 per cent attendance record for meetings and has full council approval to commute from the castle.

Cllr Waters was approached by Mail Online for comment but did not respond, but has previously defended his decision to spend much of his time at the castle.

Cllr Walter said in an interview in January this year that he was able to attend meetings online and help with any concerns his constituents may have.

He also insisted that he still had a house in Middlesbrough and paid his council tax there. He also revealed that he suffered from Crohn’s disease, which affects the immune system, making him more prone to contracting Covid-19, so he felt safer in the less populated area around the castle.

He then said, ‘I haven’t had a face-to-face meeting since March 23 last year, so why is it relevant where I attend meetings?

“Whether it’s Timbuktu, France, North Ormesby or Tokyo, it doesn’t matter at all.

Cllr Waters and his partner Terry Short are renovating the property called Chateau De Lalacelle along with Terry's parents Tony and Tracy Briggs.  They plan to turn it into a luxury bed & breakfast for paying guests

Cllr Waters and his partner Terry Short are renovating the property called Chateau De Lalacelle along with Terry’s parents Tony and Tracy Briggs. They plan to turn it into a luxury bed & breakfast for paying guests

“We’ve been working remotely – why does it matter now when I can still do my job?

“My residents still contact me, and if there are any problems, they are treated right away as they always have.

“I’m trying to help my ward and make sure my ward is the best it can be—I don’t know what else to do.”

He added: ‘If the residents asked me to resign, I would resign – she is not a resident of mine.

“There is no complaint from my residents – the only complaint made is from Cllr McTigue.

“I’m doing my job.”

The You Tube videos have been viewed by more than 17,000 times with many positive comments and suggestions about the renovation work.

The TV series ‘Escape to the Chateau’ is credited with convincing many people to move to France and undertake renovation projects of disused houses.

The reality show features former army officer Dick Sawbridge and his partner Angel Adoree as they renovate a dilapidated 45-room 19th-century castle in Martigne sur Mayenne.

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