Middlesbrough councillor moves to Normandy to renovate chateaux

EXCLUSIVE: Councillor in one of the UK’s most deprived areas is slammed for moving 600 miles to Normandy to renovate a chateaux and STILL claims £20,000 to attending meetings… (on Zoom)

  • Ashley Waters, 37, has spent much of the last year in rural Normandy
  • Was elected as as councillor in Middlesbrough in 2019 and is paid by taxpayer
  • Cllr Waters and partner Terry Short are renovating property called Chateau De Lalacelle  

A councillor who represents one of the most deprived areas of the UK has been living nearly 600 miles away to France where he is renovating an 18th century chateau – leading to furious complaints.

Ashley Waters, 37, who ran for election as an independent and took his seat from Labour, has spent much of the last year in rural Normandy rather than his more gritty home town of Middlesbrough where he is paid by the taxpayer as an elected official.

He has justified continuing to represent those who voted for him in the impoverished north eastern city by attending most council meetings online from his magnificent historic home – since the pandemic most council meetings have been held online – while occasionally commuting back to Teesside from the country house near Le Mans to attend in person.

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

A councillor who represents one of the most deprived areas of the UK has been living nearly 600 miles away to France where he is renovating an 18th century chateau – leading to furious complaints. Above: Middlesbrough councillor Ashley Waters (left) with his partner Terry Short

Mr Waters,37, who ran for election as an independent and took his seat from Labour, has spent much of the last year in rural Normandy rather than his more gritty home town of Middlesbrough where he is paid by the taxpayer as an elected official 

They are documenting their progress with a series of self-made videos posted on YouTube with their style and content based on the long running Channel 4 series ‘Escape to the Chateau.’

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

Cllr Waters, who was elected as an independent for the North Ormesby ward in 2019, is paid £20,000 a year in allowances for attending council meetings and related meetings of Cleveland Fire Authority.

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

Cllr Waters, who was elected as an independent for the North Ormesby ward in 2019. is paid £20,000 a year in allowances for attending council meetings and related meetings of Cleveland Fire Authority. Above: The Middlesbrough Transporter Bridge across the river Tees

But Cllr Walters has been accused of neglecting his council duties by another independent councillor, Joan McTigue, who has made repeated complaints about her colleague’s domestic arrangements, insisting he is neglecting the people he was elected to represent by being so far away.

Cllr McTigue told Mail Online:’ He is the only councillor for North Ormesby, one of the most deprived in the country, and there is nobody looking after that area.

‘If you watch the videos it is perfectly clear that he is there for good. They refer to the chateau as ‘our new home, new way of life’.’

The most recent – the 22nd episode – features Waters explaining how he will be repairing one of the outbuildings in the grounds of the chateau. The 30-minute video was uploaded a week ago.

Other videos feature aerial views of the chateau chart the progress from September 2020 when the property was acquired.

Another video uploaded features the renovation of an antique fireplace while the first episode gave viewers a tour of the property which due to 50 years of neglect was uninhabitable.

The quartet taking part in the project, who are all from Middlesbrough, have been living in caravans on the site while the renovation work progresses.

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

Figures supplied by Middlesbrough Council show that Cllr Walters has a 60 per cent attendance record for meetings and has the full approval of the council to commute from the chateau.

Cllr Waters was contacted by Mail Online for comment but didn’t respond but has previously defended his decision to spend much of his time at the chateau.

Cllr Walter said in an interview in January this year he was able to attend online meetings and help with any problems from his constituents.

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

He said then: ‘I have not had a face-to-face meeting since March 23 last year so why is it relevant where I attend meetings from?

‘Whether it be Timbuktu, France, North Ormesby or Tokyo – it’s completely irrelevant.

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

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

‘My residents still contact me, and when there are issues they get dealt with immediately like they always have done.

‘I strive to help my ward and make sure my ward is as good as it can be – I don’t know what else I’m meant to do.’

He added: ‘If the residents asked me to step down, I’d step down – she’s not a resident of mine.

‘There is no complaint from my residents – the only complaint which has been 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 persuading many people to relocate to France and undertake renovation projects of disused homes.

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

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