New council leader Lezley Picton announces a pothole cabinet but will it get to grips with the climate emergency?

New council leader Lezley Picton announces a pothole cabinet but will it get to grips with the climate emergency?

The Conservatives retained their majority on Shropshire Council in the 6 May elections despite loses of seats and its leader. On Thursday, the council appointed Lezley Picton, previously cabinet member for culture and waste. She will be the first female leader of Shropshire Council.

There is some evidence that we have moved on from the Shrewsbury-centric obsessions of former leader Peter Nutting. But in her first day in the job, Lezley Picton outlined business as usual. Although she a promising a “pause and reflect”, the council’s most controversial policies – spending millions more on the shopping centres, demolishing Shirehall, building the North West Relief Road and the pushing through new local plan – she is not proposing to scrap the plans.

The appointment of Cecilia Motely to head up transport, tourism and communities may bring a more rural perspective. And for the first time the cabinet has a member dedicated to the climate emergency and green economy.

CouncillorDivisionPortfolio
Lezley PictonTernLeader and improvement
Steve CharmleyWhittingtonPhysical infrastructure, highways and built housing
Gwilym ButlerCleobury MortimerResources
Dean CarrollBattlefieldAdult social care, public health and assets, including population, health and integration
Rob GittinsCheswardineDigital, technology, data and insight
Kirstie Hurst-KnightBridgnorth East and Astley AbbottsChildren and education
Cecilia MotleyCorvedaleCommunities, place, tourism and transport
Ian Nellins Market Drayton WestClimate change, natural assets and the green economy
Edward PotterLotonEconomic growth, regeneration and planning

Despite winning a majority, it was a bruising election for the Tories. Council leader Peter Nutting lost his Copthorne seat by more than 500 votes. He lost his Shrewsbury Town Council seat as well, despite being a former mayor. Nutting was impervious to criticism and apparently blind to his own unpopularity. He pumped money into shopping centres that are now near worthless – they cost £450 for every council tax payer. He championed the North West Relief Road around Shrewsbury. But in his obsession to pave the streets of Shrewsbury with gold, he ignored the rest of the county.

It does not help that Lezley Picton’s deputy is Steve Charmley. Charmley has loyally voted for ip&e, the North West Relief Road, the shopping centres, refurbishment of Shirehall, the demolition of Shirehall, cutting support for the poorest, closing the Coder Road recycling centre… He has supported the sloth like progress of the council to tackling the climate emergency and the biodiversity crisis. No person in the cabinet is more associated with the bad decisions Shropshire Council has made for more than a decade. He was narrowly re-elected earlier this month with a majority of 34 votes.

Under Peter Nutting, Lezley Picton was the only woman on the cabinet. A council cannot represent its communities effectively unless its leadership reflects those communities. From that perspective, her appointment is welcome. But I have found her first statements dispiriting. Everything points to her being elected as leader because she will not rock the boat or innovate. She has even said that if Peter Nutting had not been re-elected to the council, “she would not have stood against him” for the council leadership. Nutting was rubbish for the county. He was dismissed from both Shrewsbury Town Council and Shropshire Council shows that he was rubbish for Shrewsbury as well.

Speaking to BBC Radio Shropshire earlier in the week, Lezley Picton promised big changes across the cabinet said we need more women in politics. She said the climate emergency is important “but there has to be a balance.” Under the Conservatives on Shropshire Council, that balance has always been tipped away from tackling the climate emergency towards fossil fuelled business as usual. Charmley, and enthusiast for the North West Relief Road, oversees infrastructure and roads. He loses responsibility for economic growth to Edward Potter, who was previously portfolio holder for children’s services. He runs a catering business and is director of Cheese Nibbles, so will understand the importance of the food sector to Shropshire.

In her BBC Radio Shropshire interview, she said:

“We do some of the bigger things. Some of the shiny things. But perhaps neglect the basics.”

The basics are about communicating properly.

“I’m not going to shy away from it. It’s about sorting our roads. We do two things for people in Shropshire. We collect their waste and people drive on our roads. We do the waste extremely well but I can’t say the same for the roads.”

 She is at one with the council chief executive that roads are the priority.

“While we will have a pause and reflect on some of the other things, we will absolutely get to grips with the highways.”

Asked by Adam Green, whether she would push ahead with the North West Relief Road, she said:

“It’s in the planning process. I don’t intend to stop that process. It’s the same for the shopping centres and the Shirehall… as is the local plan. Those things need to follow their terms and process… The North West Relief Road is almost entirely in my ward. There were detractors from it. Also, a huge number of people who were of the opposite opinion… Roads and that state of the roads was the biggest thing on the doorstep not the North West Relief Road.”

A listener had emailed in a question. “The council has declared a climate emergency. Will you cancel the road or the climate emergency?” Picton replied: “We will pause and reflect. We will look at both. I want to do more in terms of the green agenda. There is a balance to be had.” She wants to increase recycling rates. “I am very keen on low traffic neighbourhoods but there has to be a balance. So, as I said, pause and reflect. We are not going to shy away from our responsibilities regarding climate change. Absolutely not.”

As with any new cabinet, the jury is out. The portfolio holder for greening, Ian Nellins, is new to the council. From his words to the South Shropshire Climate Action conference yesterday, he is new to green issues. That many not be a bad thing. Under Peter Nutting and Dean Carroll, the climate emergency and biodiversity crisis were marginalised. But he will have a battle as a newcomer against the long established view in Shropshire Council’s leadership that the crisis facing our world is a secondary consideration. We cannot go on marginalising the future of our plant and the people who will live on it.

Lezley Picton talks to Adam Green on BBC Radio Shropshire.

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