Dramatic victory for Alan Melton as he reclaims Fenland council leadership
By John Elworthy. IN one of the most dramatic nights at Fenland Hall in many years Councillor Alan Melton has reclaimed the leadership of Fenland District Council. His victory came after a barn-storming two-and-a-half hour meeting of Tory councillors du
By John Elworthy.
IN one of the most dramatic nights at Fenland Hall in many years Councillor Alan Melton has reclaimed the leadership of Fenland District Council.
His victory came after a barn-storming two-and-a-half hour meeting of Tory councillors during which Cllr Melton defeated five other candidates to secure the leadership he lost four years ago to former leader Councillor Geoffrey Harper.
Cllr Melton had to survive three separate ballots before securing a majority and after he had promised his colleagues a radical shake-up of the way the council is run.
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Cllr Melton promised that councillors would re-establish control of the council and he would break down the barriers between officers and members.
He pledged to "end the culture of secrecy" which he claimed had stifled the successful running of the council in recent years.
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Cllr Melton's criticism's covered a wide range of issues where he felt trust between officers and councillors had evaporated.
He also described it as "appalling" that the council had been obliged to answer 750 Freedom of Information requests in recent years.
"To say that I am surprised by that figure is an understatement" he said.
Cllr Melton also promised that there would be an immediate improvement in communications between the Cabinet and backbench members and he promised greater participation in decision making, particularly in respect of planning and scrutiny.
One immediate outcome is likely to be an increase in the number of councillors sitting on the planning committee and he felt it was wrong that major planning decisions could be taken by only a handful of councillors.
Cllr Melton said it was too soon to highlight specific policy objectives, but he was committed to looking very soon at the redevelopment of the market towns in Fenland particularly in Wisbech and Whittlesey.
One other area of immediate concern was the sum allocated for the neighbourhood panels which he felt were unfair to the rural villages of Fenland, which, he reminded his colleagues, accounted for a third of the population.
There will be immediate ramifications from tonight's vote in respect of the relationship between the new leader and the chief executive Tim Pilsbury, whom Cllr Melton is not expected now to meet until a specially convened council meeting in a week's time.
Over the coming days Cllr Melton is expected to take some time out to consider appointments to his new Cabinet and to determine which of his colleagues will be appointed to the key committees such as planning and overview and scrutiny.
In many respects the new leadership is history repeating itself, since Cllr Melton will be reunited with Councillor Mac Cotterell who will once again serve as his deputy.
All the unsuccessful candidates in tonight's ballot lined up afterwards to congratulate Cllr Melton on his appointment
During a vote of thanks to his Conservative colleagues Cllr Melton pledged that the Conservative group would not only unite on Fenland District Council, but would now work hard to secure the election of Steve Barclay as the MP for North East Cambridgeshire.
One conundrum remaining from tonight's dramatic developments will be the outcome of the complaint made by Mr Pilsbury to the Standards Board of England in which he alleged Cllr Melton may have broken the councillors' code of conduct following an email sent by the new leader at the beginning of December in which he outlined proposals for a leisure centre in Chatteris.
Whether the Standards Board now drops its investigation or Mr Pilsbury withdraws his complaint to secure harmonious working relationships with his new leader remains to be seen.
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