‘I wanted to bang their heads together’ - new council leader on Conservative in-fighting, wind farms, second homes and broadband
PUBLISHED: 17:00 10 March 2018 | UPDATED: 16:11 12 March 2018
The message from the new leader at the North Norfolk District Council is clear: “Grow up and get on with it, for the good of north Norfolk.”
After a prolonged introductory period, John Lee has finally taken over the leadership at NNDC from Tom FitzPatrick, and has called for an end to the in-fighting which has plagued the council with party defections. Mr Lee, who previously held the coastal portfolio, has already laid the foundations for a calmer alliance with the other parties. The fisherman said: “The defections happened as a result of personalities; and I see it as my job to work with the Independents and Liberal Democrats.
“Ultimately I would like to convince these defectors to return to the group, and convince the current members to welcome them, but that’s not something which is going to happen overnight.
“I said it in my acceptance speech, people need to grow up and get on with it. The fighting made me want to bang their heads together.”
Mr Lee, who is now also the leader of the North Norfolk Conservative Group, continued: “We’re going to change the way we do things. For example the overview and scrutiny committee isn’t working, so we’re working at improving communication so that it does.
“Recently we’ve withdrawn our Asset Management Strategy because the members from other parties wanted some changes. We did the same with our budget; I sat down with the leaders of the Lib Dems and Independents and we talked through their concerns ahead of Full Council. None of the number changed, but we absorbed the things they wanted to see into our budget.”
Mr Lee also discussed the key issues facing the North Norfolk District, such as wind farms.
“We’ve already had the success that Vattenfall will be operating with DC voltage, so the people of East Ruston and Ridlington are overjoyed that they won’t have stations near them, and I can’t blame them,” Mr Lee said.
“We’re hoping that Orsted will now follow suit.”
Mr Lee added: “The next immediate steps will be working out what happens when the cables come inshore. We know particularly at Happisburgh what the cliffs can be like, and we wouldn’t want them to become exposed in the future and neither would Vattenfall. They could dig under the cliffs and bring them up much further in land.
“I also feel that the communities most affected should receive some support and compensation.”
Mr Lee, who lives in Cromer, also discussed the housing crisis in north Norfolk, after property prices rose by 14pc last year alone.
“We’re a victim of our own success really,” said Mr Lee. “People come here and it’s so lovely, and the people are so welcoming that visitors want to move here.
“In some places like Wells and Blakeney towns are made up of 40pc or 50pc second homes, which just draws the lifeblood out of towns in the off seasons. Then again, some second home owners rent them out as holiday lets or really get into the spirit of the community, so I don’t want to be too hard on them.
“However we have just increased the council tax on second homes to a 100pc. I feel like if people can afford a second home they can afford the council tax.”
He added: “Victory Housing is doing fantastic work on affordable housing, and we’ve more than fullfilled our quota for house building over the last five years.”
NNDC have also committed £1 million towards improving broadband rollout across the district.
Mr Lee said: “Every time an election comes around people promise to improve coverage, but it never happens. We’ve got £1m to help support broadband rollout in this area.”
NNDC has a big year ahead of them, delivering projects such as the £10m Splash centre in Sheringham, and Cromer’s Sports Hub.
Mr Lee said: “Our priorities are following through on these projects and making sure they happen.”
He added: “We’re also developing our Market Town Initiative. We want to work with town councils, businesses and forums in North Walsham, Stalham, Fakenham and Holt to provide funding, resources and expertise with the aim to improve facilities, enhance the visitor experience and promote economic development. Again, this is something we will be working on closely with the other groups and with the scrutiny committee to develop these proposals.”
The reaction to Mr Lee’s appointment as leader from opposition councillors has been largely positive, but a little cautious.
Sarah Butikofer, leader of the Liberal Democrats, said: “So far it’s been very promising, but the proof will be in the eating.
“For example, the budget that the Conservative Group published didn’t have the new Town Initiative or money for the community buses, which we proposed.
“He managed to negotiate this with his group and got them into the budget. It’s taken eight years for us to have a group that we can work with and strive to achieve the best for the people of north Norfolk.”
Leader of the Independents, Nick Coppack, said: “The Indpendents are much happier with the new administration.
“At present I am not aware of any members of my group wishing to change back to the Conservative Group.”