Tuesday, 21 September 2021

Tory rebel is shock choice for chairman of district council

Tory rebel is shock choice for chairman of district council

LORRAINE HILLIER has been elected chairman of South Oxfordshire District Council.

The Henley town and district councillor, who served as mayor in 2015/16, was voted in at a meeting on Thursday last week.

Her election sparked some controversy among fellow Conservatives as it had been expected that deputy chairman Imran Lokhon, from Wallingford, would step up.

Councillor Hillier, 62, who runs the Hot Gossip coffee house in Friday Street, sits as an Independent Conservative on the town council and a Conservative on the district council.

She was formally proposed by the district council’s new leader Jane Murphy and seconded by Councillor Felix Bloomfield.

After being voted in, she was presented with the chain of office before chairing the remainder of the meeting.

Cllr Hillier will be the council’s ceremonial head for a fixed one-year term and will represent South Oxfordshire at civic functions within the district and further afield.

She said: “I’m really honoured. It came totally out of the blue and I was very flattered when I was asked.

“It’s great news for Henley because I don’t think there has been a chairman from the town before.

“Serving as Henley’s mayor was a huge help because it’s one thing to chair committees and quite another to have to speak ‘off script’ when you’re at public events.

“I used to be really nervous but after a few weeks you realise the conversation just flows naturally and you have plenty of opportunities to chat with the other mayors and dignitaries, who we refer to as the ‘chain gang’.

“I already know a lot of the neighbouring councils’ chairmen from when I met them as mayor so I’m sure it will be fine, even if my schedule is going to be a bit of a juggling act.

“I have some meetings coming up with the council’s officers and have a wonderful personal assistant who will give clear direction on which events I’ll be attending in the next few months.”

Councillor Hillier, who recently moved from Streatley to Park Corner, near Nettlebed, was elected to the district council in 2015 and sits on its general licensing, licensing acts, planning and scrutiny committees.

Councillor John Cotton, who resigned as leader earlier this year, criticised her appointment, saying: “It is sad that the council’s good traditions have been abandoned for political reasons.”

Councillor Jeannette Matelot, who was the previous chairman, said Cllr Lokhon had been “robbed” of his right to become chairman.

Before the vote, Frank Browne, chairman of the Henley Conservatives, wrote to district councillors expressing concern at Cllr Hillier’s suitability for the role.

She abstained from voting at last year’s Henley mayor-making ceremony which allowed Councillor Kellie Hinton, of Henley Residents Group, to win the vote against Conservative mayor-elect Will Hamilton.

She was later expelled from the branch, so she now sits as an Independent

Mr Browne said he wanted to convey “the deep unease and concern” in Henley about the possibility of Cllr Hillier becoming chairman, saying he had been “shocked and dismayed” by her action last May.

He said: “Within Henley there is a deep feeling of betrayal for her failure to support a Conservative as mayor for Henley in 2017 and, through her abstention, ensure that the Conservatives lost their casting vote and thereby control of the council.

“Despite Cllr Hillier’s protestations that no deal had been struck in return for her abstention, she then accepted HRG’s nomination for her to serve as the deputy mayor. There is a very strong feeling in Henley that we should not be rewarding people that have aided HRG.”

Councillor Paul Harrison, a Conservative district councillor for Sonning Common ward and a former chairman, said: “Although the chairmanship generally goes to the previous year’s vice-chairman, it can go a different way and it is not unusual for somebody else to take the position.

“Cllr Hillier has a lot of experience so doesn’t need to have served as vice-chair. She deserves to be congratulated and the offer shows that all the hard work she has put in at district level has paid off. She’s always been very closely involved in the committee work, as she has been with her duties in Henley.

“Lorraine’s appointment is good news as she has a lot of credibility and is not somebody who will be pushed around. She stands up for her principles, which is exactly the quality that’s needed.

“This is no disrespect to Imran, who was very good as vice-chairman and I have no doubt would make a very good chairman in future.”

Cllr Lokhon said he was disappointed but added: “I will continue to do my absolute best for my community and for South Oxfordshire.”

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