Tierney to challenge Clark for council leadership after shock possibility of car park charges in Fenland towns revealed

Cllr Steve Tierney and Cllr John Clark.

Cllr Steve Tierney and Cllr John Clark. - Credit: Archant

A leadership battle is under way for control of Fenland District Council.

It comes after Steve Tierney rejected a cabinet role and threw his hat in the ring to oppose John Clark following a dispute over possible introduction of car park charges.

Cllr Clark has been busy working behind the scenes to assemble a cabinet ahead of Thursday’s leadership vote but the mere possibility of car park charges prompted an angry response from Cllr Tierney.

He refused overtures to join a cabinet run by Cllr Clark and opposed other cost cutting measures that could also see the council charge for brown bin collections.

Cllr Clark confirmed today that although he bitterly opposed car park charges six years ago, the landscape for local authorities had changed.

“I’m not saying we will introduce car park charges and I remain personally opposed to them,” said Cllr Clark.

But he said it would be among a number of issues that would be looked at if he wins the battle to remain as leader.

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In the last few hours frantic phone calls and emails have been exchanged as Cllr Tierney looks to build a substantial base to win the leadership contest.

Cllr Tierney believes he has widespread support within the Wisbech Conservative group – which he chairs- but has also been in touch with disaffected councillors from March.

Councillor Jan French – previously chairman of the overview and scrutiny committee but expected to be replaced by Councillor Fred Yeulett if Cllr Clark wins- is among his supporters. As, too, is Councillor Kit Owen, who was sacked by Cllr Clark’s predecessor Alan Melton and has not found favour with the administration since.

Another councillor unhappy with the strategy adopted by Cllr Clark is Samantha Hoy who, I understand, was told not to expect further advancement at Fenland Hall since she was standing for the vacancy at Wisbech south for the county council.

A colleague described this as “a bit rich” since many of those expected to be in Cllr Clark’s Fenland Hall cabinet –including the leader himself- are also county councillors.

Cllr Clark, however, believes he will carry the group with him (there are now 34 Tories on the district council) because of the financial challenges that lie ahead.

He said car park charging was being looked at by other towns – he cited Downham Market as an example- and brown bin charges were introduced by Peterborough City Council.

He also believes anything that was not what he described as a “statutory service” could be reviewed, and that would include the future ownership of leisure centres in Wisbech, March, Whittlesey and Chatteris.

“Whatever happens it is not going to be a walk in the park,” he said.

The votes for Thursday’s crucial leadership bid appear too close to call but intensive lobbying of many of those elected for the first time last Thursday is already under way.

If Cllr Tierney wins it will be a vastly different style of leadership to that experienced in the past with many familiar names consigned to the history books.

Cllr Clark said he had already been nominated for the leadership by Councillor Chris Seaton but that had only happened since the Wisbech councillor was already travelling to Mexico for a holiday and would not be able to attend this week’s group meeting.

Cllr French was expected to have nominated Cllr Tierney – with both sides eagerly canvassing support from fellow Tories.

One Whittlesey councillor Kay Mayor, a Clark supporter and possible future council chairman, said today: “Free car parking is wonderful. And we don’t want anything to upset our local businesses.”

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