Posthumous honour for Upper Dales councillor John Blackie

Cllr John Blackie.

An outspoken and high-profile Independent councillor who fought tirelessly for services in deeply rural communities looks set to be awarded a Conservative-run authority’s highest honour more than three years after his death.

An extraordinary meeting of North Yorkshire County Council on Wednesday will see members consider conferring the title of honorary alderman posthumously to Upper Dales councillor and long-time leader of the authority’s opposition, John Blackie alongside five former Tory councillors.

The rarely-awarded title may be granted rendered to former councillors who at least two-thirds members believe have rendered eminent service to the council.

Other councillors being proposed for the honour all stepped down in May, ahead or after the elections, following more than 20 years service as an elected community representative.

They include Kirbymoorside councillor Val Arnold, Filey councillor Helen Swiers, former children’s services executive member Caroline Patmore, long-serving planning committee chairman Peter Sowray and Harrogate councillor Cliff Trotter.

While councillors attending the ceremony will be offered the opportunity to make an acceptance speech, no one will be invited to speak behalf of Mr Blackie, who led high-profile campaigns over the Friarage Hospital and Wensleydale Creamery.

The posthumous award is set to come two years after a 2.5-tonne memorial to Mr Blackie was installed at Town Head in Hawes, in recognition of his unsurpassed service as chairman of Hawes and High Abbotside Parish Council, as a district and county councillor and work for the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority.

Mr Blackie’s partner, Jill McMullon, who has succeeded him as the district councillor for Hawes, said it took her a few days to decide to accept the award on his behalf at the ceremony in the council’s historic chamber at County Hall, in Northallerton, where he made many speeches holding the authority to account.

Coun McMullon said she would dedicate the honour to the people he proudly represented as she suspected he would have rejected the idea immediately.

She said: “His reward was seeing the results of his hard work that benefitted so many people.

“He would also have shaken his head as he rarely received support from the Conservative councillors when he was alive, and yet, since his death the platitudes and praise would be bordering on amusing if it wasn’t so ironic.

“The greatest tribute to John is that he is sorely missed in the Upper Dales. Someone said recently ‘he made us all feel safe, he don’t feel that now’.

“He is undoubtedly irreplaceable and the Upper Dales is not and never will be the same without him.”

Mr Blackie’s friend and Richmond councillor Stuart Parsons, who has succeeded him as leader of the authority’s Independent group, said it was unfair some voices would be heard at the ceremony while others would not.

He said: “It is considered to be the highest honour that the council could bestow so it seems a little short-sighted that they don’t allow people to express their gratitude or otherwise.

“John wouldn’t have given a monkey’s armpit about it when he was alive because all he wanted to do was make life better for those who lived in the Upper Dales, however, the honour recognises the communities which were behind John all of this time.”

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