Incoming mayor pledges ‘new era’ for town and divided council
- Credit: Eastern Daily Press © 2016
“It’s important we use this to mark the beginning of a new era.”
That is the powerful message from Philip Leslie, the new mayor of Attleborough and incoming chairman of the town council.
Mr Leslie was elected during an Attleborough Town Council meeting on Monday, with eight councillors voting in favour of him becoming mayor. Three members voted against and the remaining four abstained.
Beverley Bulmer was appointed deputy mayor, coming out on top ahead of Andy Westby.
This week’s election, which should have taken place in May but was delayed amid the coronavirus pandemic, saw the term of outgoing mayor Tony Crouch come to an end, while Ed Tyrer is no longer deputy mayor.
Mr Crouch’s time as mayor was dominated by disputes and in-fighting, mainly the saga which saw Mr Tyrer and fellow councillor, Taila Taylor, accused of “bullying” council staff.
The pair, who have always denied the allegations, were initially removed from their committee roles, but it was finally confirmed during Monday’s meeting that they had been reinstated.
A committee has been set up to investigate the council’s handling of the saga, from which a distinct divide among the 15 members has emerged.
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Mr Leslie, who hails from Worcestershire but has lived in the Attleborough area for the majority of his life, revealed becoming mayor was not something he had contemplated until recent weeks.
“This is not a position I have taken up out of self-gratification or choice,” he said. “I felt I was in a good position to move the town forward as I had support from both ‘sides’ of the council, to some extent.
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“I feel I can be the person to balance out the arguments with integrity. I don’t think it is a role I would otherwise have volunteered for.
“My aim is to reach a point where rather than the community talking about the town council, it is the town council which is talking about the community.”
Mr Leslie is a “self-confessed import” having moved to Norfolk when he was 17, but has since made a name for himself as managing director of Attleborough-based firm, Eastern Attachments.
He played a key role in the creation of the Attleborough Neighbourhood Plan (ANP), the aim of which is to ensure infrastructure is developed alongside 4,000 new homes.
That plan, says the 45-year-old, is paramount to the town’s progression and must once again become a primary focus.
“We have a wonderful opportunity in front of us but we need to look to the future,” added Mr Leslie. “We have a thriving market town with good amenities, a motivated business community and a real crown jewel in Queen’s Square.
“But now the neighbourhood plan desperately needs to progress. We need to see realisation of the plans that came about three years ago, but have still not materialised.
“The ANP was the main reason I became a councillor - I was tired of watching nothing being done and it has taken blood, sweat and tears to get this thing moving forward.
“With our location on the A11 and support from the New Anglia LEP, we should be prime territory for growth. We have taken on 4,000 homes and, if we don’t get a handle on the future growth of the town, we are going to be left with services that don’t match up.”
Amid a catalogue of embarrassing disagreements and rows, which have largely played out in full public view, criticism of ATC over the past year has been widespread.
Mr Leslie acknowledges there is substantial work to be done to win back the trust of disillusioned residents, admitting things desperately need to change.
“We need to start a new era and that means a fresh start,” said Mr Leslie. “What we have done to this point has led to a disastrous conclusion.
“The process of a top to bottom review has already begun, but we also need a change of mindset regarding our relationship with the community.
“What we must do is look outwards rather than inwards. We don’t want councillors sat at meetings endlessly debating matters that have no relevance to the town; they should instead be empowered to make positive change.”