New leader promises to make Eden “a moresustainable, happy and prosperous place”

Date: Friday 17th May 2019

A NEW-look executive was sworn in at Eden District Council on Thursday as a Liberal Democrat-led coalition was officially formalised.

Virginia Taylor (Lib Dem, Penrith West) was unopposed as she became the first person in her party’s history to be the authority’s leader, and in her opening address she promised to “make Eden a more sustainable, happy and prosperous place”.

Independent Group leader Mary Robinson (Kirkoswald) has become her deputy and commercial services portfolio holder after Andy Connell (Lib Dem, Appleby Bongate) took over as chairman of the council.

Among the seven executive roles, four have gone to the Liberal Democrats, two to the Independent Group, and Labour has one.

Ms Taylor said: “With these new appointments we have people with very different experiences. We need to be very communicative and take consultation. We will never agree on everything, but need to be communal with each other.”

She reiterated the new leadership’s plan to scrap any idea of new villages north of Penrith Beacon, adding: “The Beacon villages project doesn’t stand up to any examination under scrutiny. We are unlikely to proceed with trying to put it in our review of the local plan, but a review is a review.”

The biggest controversy on the night was over the election of Douglas Banks (Ind, Langwathby) as chairman of the council’s scrutiny co-ordinating board, defeating Joan Raine (Con, Crosby Ravensworth) 22-14 in a vote, despite him being the only member absent.

Clarification was required from officers after John Thompson (Con, Penrith West) said: “The executive cannot scrutinise itself”, referring to the fact Mr Banks is a member of a party in office.

Mr Connell said: “We had a similar situation in 2011 when then-leader was councillor Nicolson (Con, Lazonby) and the scrutiny chair was the late Mike Halliday (Ind) when the Conservatives and Independent Group were in alliance. It was then accepted by the council. The scrutiny chair cannot be from the same group as the leader or from the majority group, but there isn’t one.”

In a complete overhaul of all committee chairmanships and members, local champions and appointments to outside bodies, the “rainbow coalition” of the Lib Dems, Independents, Labour and Greens took control of every post other than Joan Raine being voted to the Eden Access Forum and John Thompson as one of three voted on to the Omega Proteins liaison group as well as becoming armed forces champion.

Mary Robinson has become Eden’s representative on SPARSE (sparsity partnership for authorities delivering rural services), Judith Derbyshire (Lib Dem, Dacre) was elected to continue as Eden’s representative on the Lake District National Park Authority for the next four years, with Sandy Lancaster (Ind, Kirkby Stephen) in a similar role on the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority.

A Conservative statement said: “It is with great sadness that we have stepped away from the administration of Eden District Council, after negotiations with Independent members ceased to be productive. There are many challenges facing the new administration and it is hoped the many good things delivered by the Conservative administration over the past four years may be sustained and, indeed, built upon. In order to do this and maintain services while keeping council tax stable, it is essential that a commercial view of the council as a business is undertaken.”

Council executive: Leader — Virginia Taylor (Lib Dem), deputy leader and commercial services — Mary Robinson (Ind), resources — Karen Greenwood (Lib Dem), Eden development — Mark Rudhall (Lib Dem), services — Michael Tonkin (Ind), health and housing — Judith Derbyshire (Lib Dem), community services — Lissie Sharp (Labour), council chairman — Andy Connell (Lib Dem), vice-chairman — Douglas Banks (Ind).