NUMBERS are down at Instow Parish Council meetings after a councillor's resignation – the fourth in just two months.
An election to replace councillors Stewart White, Ben Thomas and Peter Cook will take place on February 7, while another may be necessary after the resignation of councillor Charlie Harper.
Parish clerk Roger Jacob has also handed in his notice, with the job advertised on the parish council website.
It is thought, but not known, that at least one of the resignations was the direct result of criticism directed at the council over the way it has handled the cleaning of Instow beach.
Although the council has also received compliments for the way it has handled the clean, it has been the target of several locals, including Rosemary Maccall, who in December criticised Mr Cook.
She said he acted irresponsibly by leaving a large fishing net on rocks near the cricket club and not removing it.
The council defended Mr Cook at the time but shortly after he and two other councillors stepped down.
One of the others was chairman Stewart White, who was fed up with being unable to defend himself and other councillors. He says the Localism Act, introduced in 2011, means councillors are now too scared to speak their mind in council meetings lest they find themselves dragged before a court.
The act was designed to make local councils more transparent by scrapping standards boards, which carried out internal investigations, and making it an automatic offence for any councillor to mislead the public.
Mr White says that is wrong.
"I resigned because I wasn't getting the backing of the council," he said. "There were people who were picking on the beach cleaner and I wasn't able to defend him. He worked hard for minimum wage.
"It was continuous and this person was rude and aggressive.
"The Localism Act means you can't speak on your own behalf and I can only take so much.
"I've been on the parish council for 22 years, never taken a penny and decided I wasn't up for it any more.
"I joined the council to serve the community and don't feel I can any more."
Mr White also said he felt the group who attacked the council over plans to consult the public about possible zoning on the beach and the beach clean were making a "mountain out of a molehill".
"Everything's up for discussion," he said. "It's not just dog owners.
"It's no secret and it's all public record."
An election for the fourth vacancy will be held if, by February 14, ten electors in the parish have requested one. To request an election write to the Returning Officer, North Devon District Council, Civic Centre, Barnstaple, EX31 1EA.
The four nominees for the February 7 election are Michael John Champion, Bob Harrison, Shooey Maccall and Will Vandersteen.