Babergh to get merger referendum after John Ward elected leader

Babergh council leader John Ward with his opposite number from Mid Suffolk, Nick Gowrley. Picture: P

Babergh council leader John Ward with his opposite number from Mid Suffolk, Nick Gowrley. Picture: PAUL GEATER - Credit: Archant

Voters in Babergh will be able to take part in a referendum on controversial plans to merge it with neighbouring Mid Suffolk Council.

That was the first pledge of new council leader John Ward who was elected to take over from Jennie Jenkins at a special meeting of the council.

Babergh had been without a leader after Mrs Jenkins stepped down last month moments before a council meeting was due to debate a motion to remove her from the role.

Mr Ward was a member of her cabinet, responsible for economic development, and was elected as new Conservative group leader on Wednesday.

There had been talk of a rebel Tory standing against him, but in the event no one else put their name forward and he won the top job at the council by a margin of 22 votes to 16.

He said during his presentation before the vote that he would be hold a referendum before any attempt to merge the council with Mid Suffolk – in 2011 Babergh voters rejected a merger.

Speaking after he was elected he said it was clear that the council wanted a referendum to be held. But he did not know of any timescale for a vote.

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He said: “We will have to sit down and look at what happens next, but any merger is not going to happen before 2019 (when the next council elections are due)”.

He paid tribute to Mrs Jenkins’ leadership of the council and said she had been a great servant to Babergh.

Among the onlookers at the meeting was Mid Suffolk council leader Nick Gowrley who will be working closely with Mr Ward.

The two councils already share an administration and staff – and Mr Gowrley’s authority has already backed proposals to move towards a merger.

He said: “We will have to sit down and see what happens next (on merger) but we have already lost some time and we cannot really stay to the original timetable.”

But the merger proposals are not the only thing they have in common. Mr Gowrley added: “We already work closely together with the joint administration and we will continue to do so.”

Mr Ward will be choosing his cabinet over the next few days. He was questioned by councillors, especially by members of the opposition, before the vote was taken at the meeting at Endeavour House in Ipswich.

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