Lochaber councillor Ben Thompson announces resignation

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Caol and Mallaig Councillor Ben Thompson has announced his resignation from the Highland Council.

Mr Thompson was first elected in a by-election in 2014, making this his second term in the council.

Chairman of the housing and property committee and an active voice on planning, pensions, finance and climate change, Mr Thompson is also a member of the Lochaber area committee and an outspoken advocate of local decision making.

He will attend tomorrow’s meeting of the full council before stepping down officially on November 12.

An independent councillor, Mr Thompson, described it as a very difficult decision.

‘It has been a huge privilege to represent Lochaber for the past seven and a half years,’ he said.

‘It’s a challenging but rewarding role and everyone should think about having a go at it.

‘There is an election in May and it was on my mind whether I should continue after that date. An opportunity has now come up that means I have had to make the decision a few months early.

‘This advance notice hopefully gives would-be candidates the time to consider standing, as well as some encouragement.

‘I know Lochaber has many great potential councillors out there and I am happy to support any independent candidate with advice before they take the plunge.’

Reflecting on his seven years with the council, Mr Thompson said there was much he was proud of.

In particular, he highlighted the delivery of new school buildings and moving Invergarry Primary School children ‘out of the decrepit ancient portacabins they were in’.

Mr Thompson has been involved in several campaigns to improve the Lochaber infrastructure, including securing planning permission for a retail development in Fort William, replacing the Soldier’s Bridge and delivering 20mph zones in the town’s residential areas.

He said the recruitment of countryside rangers has been of great benefit in protecting beauty spots and managing sustainable tourism in the area, and he welcomed the building of new social housing with environmentally-friendly heating systems.

However, Mr Thompson said there is still much to do.

He called for improved transport links around the A82, a replacement of the Corran Ferry, and the opening of the new Belford Hospital and STEM centre on the Blar.

Continuing a theme he often raised at council, the Lochaber member called on council to ‘halt the ongoing centralisation of decision making and resources away from Lochaber communities and make sure Lochaber and Highland get a fair share of government spending.’

In terms of local democracy, land reform is a key issue and Mr Thompson wants to reduce what he called ‘the monopoly control of usable or developable land in Lochaber.’

‘That is only a small part of the list of challenges to get stuck into,’ he said.

Mr Thompson offered his thanks to councillors Allan Henderson and Denis Rixson, as well as his ward colleagues, saying it had been a privilege to work with them.

Council leader Margaret Davidson said she was immensely sad to lose Mr Thompson from the council.

‘Ben has been a great local councillor and achieved much in Lochaber,’ she added.

‘This past year he has taken on the role of housing and property chair and he and the staff have brought forward some outstanding work on property rationalisation and our housing delivery plans.

‘He has a gentle,  fair and innovative mind at committee.

‘He will be missed, but we all wish him very well in his new job.’