‘He was a cham­pion for Spelthorne’

Friends and po­lit­i­cal ri­vals unite to pay trib­ute to Cllr Robert Watts fol­low­ing his death in a fire last week

Staines Informer - - NEWS - Char­lotte Tal­bot and Oliver Florence

TRIBUTES have been paid to ‘hard work­ing and loyal’ Shep­per­ton Town coun­cil­lor Robert Watts, who died in a house fire late on Sun­day Oc­to­ber 4.

Shocked friends, col­leagues and op­po­si­tion coun­cil­lors have spo­ken of Cllr Watt’s ded­i­ca­tion to the bor­ough of Spelthorne since be­com­ing a coun­cil­lor in 2011.

Fel­low ward coun­cil­lor Robin Sider had been with Cllr Watts that week­end on a trip to Melun in France to mark the 25th an­niver­sary of the twin­ning with Spelthorne. Cllr Sider dropped him off at his home at about 3pm on the Sun­day and was shocked to hear news of the fire the fol­low­ing morn­ing.

“I am dev­as­tated at this news hav­ing left him only yesterday af­ter­noon af­ter a week­end in France,” he said. “Cllr Watts was a great friend and col­league. He worked hard for Shep­per­ton and will be sorely missed by those he rep­re­sented.”

The Con­ser­va­tive coun­cil­lor had lived in Spelthorne for more than 60 years, and had been the bor­ough coun­cil leader since Jan­uary 2013.

Dur­ing his lead­er­ship, the lo­cal au­thor­ity backed the ex­pan­sion of Heathrow Air­port and fought against the Shep­per­ton eco-park plans.

Mike Bren­nan, chair­man of Spelthorne Con­ser­va­tive As­so­ci­a­tion, said: “I worked very closely with Robert and we got to know each other quite well.

“He was a very de­cent and straight-talk­ing, good man. There were no airs and graces about him. He just said it the way it was.”

That straight-talk­ing did, how­ever, lead to con­tro­versy at times – most no­tably when Cllr Watts was crit­i­cised for say­ing ‘if peo­ple want to live by the river, that’s up to them’ dur­ing the floods of Fe­bru­ary last year. But Mr Bren­nan said Mr Watts al­ways had the best in­ter­ests of fel­low res­i­dents at heart.

“He was a mas­sive cham­pion for Spelthorne, and the vil­lage of Shep­per­ton,” he added. “He was a great cham­pion of the green belt and wanted to keep the vil­lages as fo­cal com­mu­nity points in Spelthorne.”

Cllr Colin Davis said: “De­spite a fairly aus­tere face to the rest of the world, Robert was kind and com­pas­sion­ate and a deeply car­ing man who loved his Shep­per­ton, his Spelthorne and his Sur­rey. He will be sorely missed.”

Cllr Richard Smith-Ains­ley, coun­cil­lor for Lale­ham and Shep­per­ton Green, said Cllr Watts had ‘ded­i­cated him­self to res­i­dents of the bor­ough’.

“It has been a full-time job be­ing leader and he took it very se­ri­ously,” he said. “It’s a real loss of some­one with ex­per­tise as an engi­neer.

“Robert’s brother died re­cently and they were very close, so it was quite a loss for him. But he still stayed ded­i­cated to what he was do­ing.”

Cllr Mau­reen At­tewell went to Cllr Watt’s Bruce Av­enue home on the Mon­day morn­ing to place some roses.

“I’m ab­so­lutely dev­as­tated,” she said. “I have known him since I moved to Shep­per­ton 10 years ago and it’s Robert who in­tro­duced me to the lo­cal Con­ser­va­tive branch. He was a good friend – sup­port­ive and very loyal – and an ex­cel­lent leader.”

The bor­ough’s MP Kwasi Kwarteng added his trib­ute, say­ing: “Robert was a hard­work­ing coun­cil­lor and a qui­etly ef­fec­tive leader of the bor­ough. His sense of duty and re­spon­si­bil­ity missed.”

Cllr Watts was well known among com­mu­nity groups.

Prior to be­com­ing a coun­cil­lor, he was a com­mit­tee mem­ber of Shep­per­ton Res­i­dents’ As­so­ci­a­tion.

Richard He­witt, chair­man of the as­so­ci­a­tion, said: “Robert has al­ways been a strong sup­porter of res­i­dents and the res­i­dents’ as­so­ci­a­tion. He was pre­pared to talk to any­body and was a strong friend of ev­ery­body in Shep­per­ton.”

Sally Dick, a mem­ber of the Shep­per­ton branch of the Spelthorne Con­ser­va­tives, first met Cllr Watts at the res­i­dents’ as­so­ci­a­tion. She said: “He was a very de­cent man. I’m so shocked and stunned by his death, as a friend and a col­league. It’s par­tic­u­larly ter­ri­ble to die in such a way.”

Spelthorne Labour party’s Robert Evans took the op­por­tu­nity to pay trib­ute to a po­lit­i­cal ad­ver­sary.

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“Robert Watts was a for­mi­da­ble op­po­nent and worked ex­tremely hard for the bor­ough,” said the Sur­rey county coun­cil­lor. “He will be missed.”

Sur­rey County Coun­cil leader David Hodge spoke of his shock and sad­ness, of­fer­ing sym­pa­thies to fam­ily, friends, col­leagues and the peo­ple of Spelthorne, ‘who he served with such com­mit­ment’.

Cllr Tony Har­man is now act­ing leader of the coun­cil.

He said: “Robert was a lovely man and he was very well re­spected lo­cally in Shep­per­ton and through­out Spelthorne. His great­est achieve­ment was keep­ing things to­gether in terms of the re­la­tion­ship be­tween the staff and coun­cil­lors.”

Cllr Watts’ fu­neral is ex­pected to take place this week.

A book of con­do­lences has been opened at the coun­cil of­fices in Knowle Green, Staines.

Coun­cil­lor Robert Watts.

Bou­quets left in the wake of the ter­ri­ble news, in­clud­ing a touch­ing trib­ute from residents to Cllr Watts for his ster­ling ef­forts on their be­half down the years.

Above, with Spelthorne’s Con­ser­va­tive MP Kwasi Kwarteng; above left, dur­ing a cam­paign to keep Wal­ton Lane open; left, back­ing Church Road residents dur­ing a speed­watch cam­paign.

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