A district councillor has been branded “irritating” after he and a colleague both left the ruling Liberal Democrats, citing unhappiness at “secret meetings” and the council’s “cringeworthy” leader.

Councillors Neil Bloomfield and Louise Clarke both stood for the party in the Martock ward  in the May local elections, and were successfully elected to South Somerset District Council.

Both have now left the party, blaming a lack of local democracy and concerns about council’s borrowing.

They will continue to sit as independent councillors until the next local elections in May 2023.

Mr Bloomfield was first elected to the district council as a Conservative in 2015.

He defected to the Lib Dems in 2018 in protest of the policies being enacted by the Tory-run Somerset County Council (on which he represents Martock).

In a statement, he said his departure from the Lib Dems was prompted by the district council’s recent planning decisions.

He said: “Recently I have become concerned about the manner in which planning – probably the greatest public concern we deal with – is moving into a rather shadowy place, with secret meetings, warnings not to disclose decisions and attempts made to ‘convince’ councillors to do the ‘right’ thing.

“This just adds to the perception that planning is not above board. Certainly this is the feeling in my ward.”

In July Mr Bloomfield accused the council of “running scared” of the Planning Inspectorate over fears it would lose an appeal, when it voted to turn down plans for 120 new homes in Martock.

In his statement, he also criticised current leader Val Keitch, saying he had “cringed more often than I care to remember” since she took over from her predecessor Ric Pallister.

He said: “When officers seem to be in control rather than the administration then something is clearly wrong. Worse than a poor leadership is poor leadership which thinks it’s in charge and doing a good job.

“I have little, if any confidence in the current council leader. The transformation programme is so far behind, we can barely answer the phones, our local service is getting worse, and we are borrowing massive sums to buy property around the country with no prior scrutiny by the elected council.

“‘Putting residents first’ is my election mantra, is my firm belief and is what I do. It’s easy to say but it’s clearly not a reality for some.

“While I do not direct this at all in the party, in general terms I do not feel wanted or even welcome, and therefore resign from the Liberal Democrats with immediate effect.”

Ms Clarke – who was elected for the first time in May – said she would continue to do what was best for her constituents.

She said: “I got involved in local government because of Neil. I care passionately about my community, and I couldn’t stand by and watch what was happening with planning and the secret meetings affecting Martock.

“Local people aren’t being listened to. My loyalty is to the residents here and my Martock ward colleague.

“I will continue to fight with Neil for what’s best for our residents. I believe the best way of doing this is as an independent councillor, so I have also resigned from the Lib Dems.”

Ms Keitch said she was “disappointed” to lose Mr Bloomfield from the party – but added he was not “an easy colleague” and “irritating”.

She said: “We were as disappointed when Neil decided to leave us this week as we were delighted when he crossed over from the Conservatives just over a year ago.

“I cannot say that he has been an easy colleague, but his consistent challenge of things he sees as wrong has been good for us all, much, but not all, of the time.

“I wish him well in independent opposition, where I am sure he will continue to be a useful, if occasionally irritating, thorn in our side.”

Both councillors will continue to sit on the council’s area north committee, which makes decisions on major planning applications in Somerton, Langport and the surrounding villages.

A council spokesman added: “This is a party political matter and therefore we are not issuing any comment to this.”