Dereham’s new mayor ready for the year ahead

After serving his town for more than 30 years, Dereham's flamboyant new civic leader said he was proud to have finally gained the chains of office as mayor.

Michael Fanthorpe is well-known as an antiques dealer in his home town, runs hairdressing salons in Fakenham, and is a colourful character in council debating chambers.

He first took public office in 1977, representing Dereham at town and district levels.

Although he was 'very disappointed' to lose his seat on Breckland Council in the local elections earlier this month, he was unanimously elected as Dereham's mayor a few days later.

It will be Mr Fanthorpe's fourth term at the helm of the council – but his first as mayor after previously serving as chairman.

'The reason they changed to having a mayor was my fault,' he said. 'It is because I went as chairman of Dereham to social functions at other councils like Thetford and Swaffham and, every time, someone said: 'Right, mayors at the front, chairmen at the back.' I thought that was ridiculous, so I came back and said: 'I don't want to be a chairman any more, I want to be a mayor.' And now I am.

'My town is the most important thing to me in my life. I have been here a long time and my family has been here for 300 years.

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'My high priority is to see that there is no radical over-development of Dereham. I quite understand that towns of our size have to develop, but we have to grow slowly so the quality of life does not change.'

Mr Fanthorpe said he didn't want to repeat the wholesale redevelopment which happened while his father Cuthbert was on the town council after the war.

Prominent buildings which were cleared away included the red granite post office and the King's Arms coaching inn on Market Place.

'Things were different then, people wanted to change everything and make everything new,' he said. 'My father was on the council at the time and was the architect of taking down a lot of buildings which should never have been taken down. But at the time it would have seemed the right thing to do and everybody voted for it.'

Mr Fanthorpe replaces outgoing mayor Robert Hambidge, who was praised by councillors for his forthright style during a challenging year which had seen delayed progress to the council's �2.6m Memorial Hall renovation project.

The new mayor said he hoped to encourage more public involvement at the council's monthly meetings.

'It would be nice if the population would show an interest and come to the meetings and steer Dereham the way they want it, which is what we should all be doing,' he said. 'I think they will find it quite entertaining.

'The best thing I can say to the people is that I'm available, face to face. Anyone who has a problem can come and see me or give me a call.'

Mr Fanthorpe can be found in his antiques shop in Cuthbert Court, off Norwich Street, on Fridays and Saturdays, or by calling 01362 695636.