Saturday, 25 September 2021

Tory loses to ‘friend’ in election for new district council leader

A CONSERVATIVE councillor from Henley has failed in his bid to become leader of South Oxfordshire District Council.

Will Hall, who represents Sonning Common on the authority, was defeated by Jane Murphy, a Cholsey ward councillor, in their party’s leadership vote.

Councillor Murphy, the former deputy leader, was elected by 19 votes to 14.

The decision was set to be ratified at a meeting of the Conservative-controlled council st night (Thursday), when the new cabinet was also due to be appointed.

The leadership became available when Councillor John Cotton announced his resignation last month, saying he would not put his name forward in the Conservative group elections.

Cllr Hall, a former cabinet member for finance, said: “I’m not disappointed in the slightest. My focus is on supporting Jane in her new role and going into the elections with a record we can be proud of.

“This was an election between friends. She will do great things and she has 100 per cent got my support.

“Now we have to get on and focus on delivering for our residents.

“John Cotton’s achievements should not be underestimated because he has led the council through an extremely difficult time. His personal commitment and intelligence to what is right have been exemplary.

“If John is no longer involved in local democracy in Oxfordshire that will be a huge loss to our county and our district.”

Cllr Cotton’s resignation came two days after the council voted against its new local plan, which allocates sites for development until the year 2033.

The doucment includes Chalgrove airfield, where Homes England wants to build 3,000 homes but there are concerns that there is insufficient infrastructure to support the development.

Councillors voted to reject the Conservative cabinet’s recommendation by 17 votes to 10 with three abstentions.

Fourteen of Cllr Cotton’s party colleagues refused to support the plan. Cllr Hall voted for the plan while Cllr Murphy did not.

Both councillors were ousted from their cabinet posts under Cllr Cotton’s leadership.

Cllr Murphy was sacked as deputy leader last month while Cllr Hall’s responsibility for the council’s corporate plan was taken over by Cllr Cotton in June last year.

Paul Harrison, who also represents Sonning Common ward on the council, said: “It’s sad for Will because he has been an excellent cabinet member and would have been an excellent leader but there’s got to be a winner and a loser and they are both still valued members of the Conservative group.”

David Nimmo Smith, who represents Woodcote and Rotherfield, said: “I’m looking forward to working with Jane.

“It is important that the Conservatives work together for the benefit of the district and the communities we serve, recognising there are elections next year.”

Councillor Lorraine Hillier, who represents Henley, said: “We just hope that under a new leader we can all be brought together again.”

Councillor Joan Bland, who also represents Henley, said: “Jane will be very good — she’s an experienced councillor and quite dedicated.

“She’s going to have a very strong team behind her.”

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