Deadlock at County Hall as first full meeting of Norfolk County Council ends in failure

The battle for control of County Hall has caused acrimony.

The battle for control of County Hall has caused acrimony. - Credit: Archant

The new-look Norfolk County Council was in limbo last night after failing to elect a leader and cabinet at the first full meeting of the council.

New Norfolk County Council chairman Hilary Cox is welcomed to the post by outgoing chairman Ian Mons

New Norfolk County Council chairman Hilary Cox is welcomed to the post by outgoing chairman Ian Monson. - Credit: Archant

Group leaders were locked in discussions to decide the future direction of the council, after Conservative Bill Borrett's bid for the top job was blocked by opposition parties at County Hall.

Conservative leader Bill Borrett. Picture: Matthew Usher.

Conservative leader Bill Borrett. Picture: Matthew Usher. - Credit: Matthew Usher

But a debate on whether to proceed with the controversial incinerator at King's Lynn will be held within weeks, after the council voted overwhelmingly in favour of a motion to correct a 'democratic deficit' in the proposals.

Mr Borrett's failure to secure the leadership meant no cabinet could be appointed and the council will be reconvened on May 24 to attempt to reach an agreement, leaving control of the authority to acting managing director Anne Gibson.

The leaders of UKIP, Labour and the Greens last night urged Conservatives to propose a candidate who could find cross-party approval, while Mr Borrett said a decision on his future – or a possible replacement as leader – lay in the hands of his members.

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'With no overall control you expect to have something like that happen. There's no party that has enough support to have its own way in the council chamber,' he said.

He denied the authority was in crisis, but said: 'Given the huge changes we have over the next four years, having political focus and decision-making is going to be key. If we don't sort it out soon, it will have a big effect in the long term.'

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On his future as group leader, he said: 'That's a matter for them. As long as they want me, I'm keen to fight their corner.'

Yesterday's meeting was the first assembly of the full council since the May 2 county council elections, which saw UKIP become the main opposition and Labour increase their influence.

Richard Coke, leader of the 15-strong UKIP group called for a leader who could unite the parties.

'We are going to have a fresh start in Norfolk,' he said. 'Bill Borrett was involved in the incinerator from the early stages, and things have got to come to a head.'

He said he expected a new Conservative candidate to emerge, but said an anti-incinerator stance was not essential.

'I would think it should be a Conservative as they are the largest group. They must be open, honest and impartial and reflect the views that there are in the majority.

'If he was anti-incinerator that would be a good thing, but the position of leader is not the be all and end all,' he said.

Labour group leader George Nobbs accused the Conservatives of acting as if with 'a God-given right to form an administration' and called for Mr Borrett to stand aside for the good of the county.

'I would remind Bill Borrett of the statement he made to the previous leader that he should fall on his sword for the good of the council,' he said.

Dismissing the incinerator debate as 'deathbed repentance', he added: 'We think whatever emerges should reflect the wishes of people of Norfolk as expressed in the elections.'

Greens leader Richard Bearman said the incinerator was the key issue to his party.

'We need the biggest group to come up with a leader who is acceptable to more than just one party,' he said.

'We need the leader to be clear about the incinerator issue, and to re-examine it. We are seeing some sign of movement on that: there has been a very strong message to the Conservatives that the situation is not the same.'

Acting managing director Anne Gibson said day-to-day council business and services would continue as usual.

'The county council's constitution sets out how the authority will function at a time when no party is in control and our officers are following these procedures,' she said.

'At the request of members, the election of a leader has been deferred. An additional meeting of the County Council is to be held on May 24, when the matter will be reconsidered.'

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