The battle for Fenland Hall: Councillors will decide on May 1 the successor to council leader Alan Melton

22:41 12 April 2014

Cambridgeshire County Council election count at the Hudson Leisure Centre, Wisbech.  Cllr John Clark (Con)

Cambridgeshire County Council election count at the Hudson Leisure Centre, Wisbech. Cllr John Clark (Con)

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A timetable for the battle to replace Alan Melton as leader of Fenland District Council has been set with three possible candidates already considering their options.

Opening of Doddington's Skate Park Abbey Recreation Field, Left: Cllr David Connor, Cllr Alan Melton, and Cllr Ralph  Butcher.Opening of Doddington's Skate Park Abbey Recreation Field, Left: Cllr David Connor, Cllr Alan Melton, and Cllr Ralph Butcher.

Most hotly tipped is John Clark, the former Cabinet portfolio for finance, who resigned from Cllr Melton’s cabinet last summer. His resignation letter ignited a fiery response with Cllr Clark telling colleagues he was no longer prepared to work with council leader Alan Melton.

He also told colleagues he was particularly angry that a key meeting to discuss breaking the deadlock on the £52m regeneration of the Nene waterfront at Wisbech was taken whilst he was on holiday.

The row over the Nene site – at which Cabinet decided to sell the former gas works site to a local developer-, has rumbled on since.

Following his resignation Cllr Clark had decided not to stand in next May’s local elections but of late had been seeking to reverse that decision. It will need the executive committee of the local Tory association to amend its rules to allow Cllr Clark to put his name back on the slate for next May: a decision on whether he can is not expected until June,

Cllr Jan French.Cllr Jan French.

Meanwhile Doddington councillor Dave Connor has indicated his intention to stand but the most likely challenge to Cllr Clark to become Tory group leader – and de factor council leader- is Councillor Jan French.

Cllr French was removed from Cabinet over the Whittlesey supermarket row but despite being exonerated remained sidelined following a conduct committee hearing into alleged bullying of a council enforcement officer.

In recent months Cllr French has been critical of aspects of many council actions involving enforcement, publicly criticising the “heavy handed” approach to remove a pet rescue centre from an industrial unit in March.

Now Cllr French is planning a campaign as leader and should she succeed in winning one early beneficiary could be Wisbech mayor Sam Hoy: Cllr French believes Cabinet urgently needs more women to represent the council and considers Cllr Hoy, with her previous experience at county level, an ideal candidate.

One outside candidate possibility is Councillor Martin Curtis, who recently announced he would stand down shortly as leader of Cambridgeshire County Council. He, too, believes he suffered unfairly at the hands of Cllr Melton during the supermarket battle at Whittlesey and may well decide he offers the right mix of competency and vision to move from Shire Hall to Fenland Hall. The Fenland role would attract him on at least one level – it retains Cabinet governance, the removal of which at county level being one of his reasons for standing down as leader.

Whoever decides to stand has a short time in which to garner support: the election for new leader takes place on May 1.

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