THE leader of Northumberland County Council says he apologises unreservedly for calling Blyth “a dump” but insists he will not resign over a “stupid” comment.
Plessey ward councillor Jeff Reid says the voters will decide whether he stays or goes come the May elections.
Coun Reid’s comments at a business forum in Hexham last week caused a storm of criticism from his political rivals as well as Blyth residents.
He was quoted as saying: “I live in Blyth and Blyth is a dump. I usually get in the car and go to Cramlington to shop.”
His comments came at a particularly sensitive time, coinciding with the decline of many businesses in Blyth town centre, including the closure last week of Woodcocks after 117 years’ trading.
Coun Reid has drawn furious criticism from his local MP, Ronnie Campbell, fellow county councillors and members of the public.
Responding to the criticism, he said he regretted the words as soon as he had said them.
Speaking to the News Post Leader this week, he said: “I’ve done a lot of thinking over the weekend and my family has lived in Blyth since the mid-1800s, probably well over 150 years. This is where I belong and a place I love.
“Sometimes you just get so passionate about things you get carried away. I said what I said and I instantly regretted it.
“We’ve got the elections in May, I guess people will be able to pass judgement then.
“In five years of being leader of the council I haven’t made many stupid mistakes. I’m not going to resign.
“I said something I shouldn’t have said.
“I was at a meeting in Hexham. I was talking about the relative prosperity of the two shopping centres.
“I was comparing the relative success of Hexham to the relative failure of Blyth.
“Instead of being clever and saying ‘this is Hexham, it’s doing relatively better than Blyth and we need to continue that effort and we’ve already got Morrisons and £650,000 environmental improvements including the new bus station’, I said what I said.
“The second I said it I thought ‘that is just ridiculous’. Sometimes in the heat of the moment you say the wrong things.
“I apologise unreservedly to anyone who was offended by what I said.”
Coun Vince Coils, of Croft ward, said on Monday that a five-minute walk to the shops had turned into a two-hour outing as traders and members of the public approached him about Coun Reid’s comments, and he is now calling for him to apologise to the shopkeepers in person.
“They are all up in arms,” he said.
“This hasn’t been their only problem and they are not pretending that Jeff Reid has caused all their difficulties, but they do feel that his apology has not been appropriate, or that there has been any close contact with them.”
Coun Deirdre Campbell, of Newsham ward, said: “I love living in Blyth. I’ve lived there for 47 years, I have been a councillor for 25 years and I wouldn’t move anywhere else.
“The people of Blyth are the most genuine, salt-of-the-earth people, and the amount of damage something like this can do. I’m so, so angry.
“Five years ago it was an up and coming little town. If it has become a dump, and these are his words, not mine, it’s been under his watch.”
“Blyth is not a dump,” MP Ronnie Campbell added.
“I was born here and I have always been proud of my town.
“Its greatest asset is its people, and they do not deserve Coun Reid’s outrageous slur.
“He is hammering the hard working people who are striving to make a go of their businesses and he is conveniently forgetting his five years as leader of the council, which has neglected Blyth.”