Wisbech market place and A605 through Whittlesey set as Fenland Council priorities

COUNCILLOR Alan Melton last night said resolutions to ongoing problems with Wisbech Market Place and the A605 through Whittlesey are his first targets as leader of Fenland District Council. Cllr Melton was formally elected as leader of the council at an e

EXCLUSIVE by: TOM JACKSON (Email: click here)

COUNCILLOR Alan Melton last night said resolutions to ongoing problems with Wisbech Market Place and the A605 through Whittlesey are his first targets as leader of Fenland District Council.

Cllr Melton was formally elected as leader of the council at an extraordinary meeting at Fenland Hall, following his victory in last Thursday's Conservative Leader election.

But he called on councillors and officers to finally forget the infighting that has rocked the council in the last two months, the same infighting which saw Councillor Geoff Harper stand down as leader and Councillor Fred Yeulett ousted as deputy leader.

Cllr Melton also apologised to any council officer he may have doubted during the fallout.


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In a 20-minute speech to councillors, Cllr Melton said: "Now is the time to move on. We have a challenging period ahead of us.

"I know I am enthusiastic and I know sometimes that my enthusiasm gets carried away. I get angry and frustrated, particularly when our record is questioned.

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"But one thing I want to make clear in this room is in no way do I doubt the professional integrity of any of our officers that work for Fenland District Council.

"If I gave the impression that I have doubted the professionalism and integrity I offer my sincere and profound apologies."

He added: "It was said at the last council meeting that staff morale in some instances was low. I go out on my neck and say I contradict that. I believe it's never been higher. I think our staff are proud of what they have achieved."

But despite those words Cllr Melton and chief executive Tim Pilsbury made no eye contact during the hour-long meeting.

Question marks still linger over Fenland Hall about whether Mr Pilsbury will pursue his Standards Board of England investigation against Cllr Melton.

In his speech Cllr Melton called for the ongoing Wisbech Market Place fiasco to be sorted by the end of this council term next year.

"It has gone on long enough," he said. "We have to think outside the box.

"Why is it you go to other towns like Ely or Ripon (if you go up there) and you see the market place and see some kind of feature, something nice to look at.

"I'll repeat what I said to the town council (when I went on April 6): if you want the market place to be used for people to whizz round in a van and stop and grab a greasy burger you can have it.

"But do you really want that? And do the people of Wisbech really want that and don't they deserve better?

"We are not going to get the Starbucks of this world putting chairs out there while vans are stopping for a greasy burger."

Improvements to the A605 through Whittlesey towards Peterborough will also be a priority - and Cllr Melton called for councillors to forget about possible improvements to the A47.

Cllr Melton said the A47 "is not going to happen in the medium and probably not for the long term" because the A14 has not been improved since talks started in 1995 and Ely is no closer to getting its southern bypass now than it was in 1997.

Cllr Melton said: "Until we get something done with the A605 the economy of Whittlesey will never catch up with the prosperity of other market towns. We need to come up with a plan and we need to start now."

Fenland's villages will get a more proportionate share of the �100,000 allocated for the five neighbourhood boards. There is one board for each town and one that covers the 12 parishes.

Each board gets a �20,000 share of the money - but 33 per cent of Fenland's population live in villages.

Cllr Melton said: "So �80,000 is spent in market towns, leaving �20,000 - one fifth - for all the settlements which contain 33 per cent of the population. That's not fair.

"During the current budget round we will look to address that. Bring in a little bit of equality between rural areas and market towns."

Councillors who hold a senior role on Cambridgeshire County Council were also told to not expect a senior role within Fenland. The promise could spell the end of Councillor Martin Curtis' chairmanship of the planning committee.

Cllr Melton said Fenland Council has some "great and hard decisions to make", but nowhere near the scale of the county council which needs to find savings of �113million.

Cllr Melton said: "Jill Tuck (county council leader) and her team have got one hell of a job. I don't believe that anybody who holds a major position on the county council can hold a position on the district council.

"I did it and I believe that people like Fred (Cllr Yeulett), Martin (Cllr Curtis), Jill (Cllr Tuck) and others have got their work cut out. It is going to be a full-time job, make no bones about it. They cannot afford to fail. Jill Tuck has set their targets very hard targets and it will take a lot of work."

He also promised to expand the planning committee - and said that members will have to undertake planning training.

Cllr Melton described the last few weeks as "very, very busy" and said: "I took on this job with some trepidation. It was not in the game plan. Not plan A, not even plan B - but there we are and here I am.

"But what I want to say is, despite everything that has happened over the last few years or weeks, my passion for Fenland has not diminished. My passion for Chatteris has never diminished and by passion for Cambridgeshire, on a regional scale, has never diminished."

Cllr Melton ended by calling on councillors to help set out a vision of Fenland for the future - for people who have lived here for years, for pensioners who find it difficult to access public transport and for children who are yet to be born.

He said: "We have proved over the last five or six or seven years that we can deliver as a district and we will continue to make Fenland a place people want to come and live and work and spend their retirement years."

• Cllr Melton also appointed Councillor Mac Cotterell as deputy leader.

YOUR COMMENTS

I HOPE Councillor Alan Melton is not going to use the Tesco planning application as a means of diverting the A605.

At a recent neighbourhood forum it was made quite clear that this application was not wanted.

Furthermore, if money is to be saved why not do away with the present town and parish councils which are costing the rate payer a considerable amount and just have a central Fenland council – which could then have more power to get his ambitions for Fenland.

TERRY MOORE

Whittlesey

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