Tory to commute 2,900 miles from Canada to attend council meetings

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Indy Politics

As the newly appointed lecturer in black Canadian studies at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, David Divine will be grappling with the finer aspects of ethnic culture.

But away from campus, his extracurricular responsibilities cover more prosaic matters such as bus services, litter collection and noisy neighbours as a Conservative councillor for Chingford, in Essex.

Despite a divide of 2,900 miles, Mr Divine has insisted that he can fulfil his municipal obligations by commuting from Nova Scotia to meetings of Waltham Forest council.

Mr Divine, who was elected last year to serve until 2006, said that he would take his family to Canada. But when he takes up his post in January, he intends to retain his house in Essex and return for about five days a month for weekend surgeries and committee meetings.

Under the council's constitution, Mr Divine, who receives an annual allowance of £8,000, is not obliged to live in the borough.

Yesterday the leader of Waltham Forest council said that Mr Divine should choose between academia or local government. Clyde Loakes, who is leader of the Labour group, said: "It's disappointing that someone thinks that they can be a councillor while living on the other side of the planet.

"He can't make a sound judgement on things like council tax or local services when he does not pay council tax or use local services. He is going to take a lot of flak while he is based in Nova Scotia, and he should make a decision to do one or the other."

Mr Divine, whose ward of Valley is in the Chingford and Woodford Green constituency of Iain Duncan Smith, the Tory leader, told London'sEvening Standard: "If I feel that it can't be done then I will obviously do what a credible councillor does and initiate a by-election."

The Conservative chief whip on the council, Derek Arnold, said that he was confident the Tories, who hold all 18 wards in Chingford, would hold on to the seat but admitted that the current situation was "difficult". "There's e-mail now and so-called e-Government so you can do everything by computer," he added.

A council spokeswoman said: "At the time of their election, councillors must live or work in Waltham Forest. Living elsewhere after their election does not prevent them from continuing as a councillor."

Mr Divine's decision to divide his time follows the case of Annabelle Blackmore, who refused to resign from her position as a councillor on Maidstone council after moving 3,450 miles away to the west Atlantic Island of Bermuda.

Her absence led residents of her ward, Marden and Yalden, to wonder in an online forum whether they would have to pay 78p per minute to speak to their elected representative who was probably "lazing on a beach thousands of miles away".