The former leader of Lichfield District Council has admitted he did not expect to be ousted from the role by his Conservative colleagues.
Cllr Mike Wilcox lost the leadership of his controlling group after a secret ballot of councillors following the local elections which saw the Tory majority reduced.
He will be replaced by Cllr Doug Pullen who was elected as the new leader, with Cllr Iain Eadie as his deputy. Both had previously been Cabinet members before resigning in the wake of the collapse of the Friarsgate redevelopment.
And Cllr Wilcox admitted that while he accepted the decision, it had come out of the blue.
“I’m obviously very disappointed,” he told Lichfield Live. “But that’s democracy.
“You never expect it to happen and I’m always the optimist so I hadn’t expected not to carry on as leader. But the group has decided it is time for a change.
“We’ve come through an election, albeit with a reduced majority, but we’re still in power and have a new mandate that we went to the electors with and were elected on.
“But the group obviously felt they wanted to have a new start and fresh ideas and a new leader to take that forward, which is fine.
“I’ll do all I can to get behind Doug and Iain as the new leadership team and give them as much support as I can from the back benches.”
“Enjoyed every moment”
Cllr Wilcox has been in the leader’s seat for more than a decade at the local authority and has seen significant changes in the shape of the council during that time.
But the latter stages of his leadership saw Cllr Wilcox forced to admit defeat on the long-awaited Friarsgate redevelopment.
Despite the failure to see the scheme over the line, he revealed that he had “enjoyed every moment” of leading the council.
“My wife will say there are some positives to finishing as we’ll get our life back,” he explained. My life’s been on hold while I’ve been leader.
“I’ve got grandchildren and all the rest of it to think about and look forward to spending more time with, because you do get embroiled in the council.
“It has been my life, but I’ve enjoyed every moment.
“Even during the absolute depths of despair with Friarsgate, I still enjoyed being the leader of the council.
“I do ultimately believe we made the right decision not borrowing the money for Friarsgate. We’re in a different landscape now and the world has changed and the high street has changed.
“I’m sure we will bring forward a leisure scheme that will replace what Friarsgate didn’t deliver.
“We’ve got a great opportunity to bring forward stuff like the cinema and some more public realm open space and better leisure facilities within the city.”
“The biggest challenges”
Cllr Wilcox has also overseen the Fit for the Future programme at Lichfield District Council which saw a reshaping of the local authority as it battles to adapt to a new era of funding.
But he admitted that trying to overcome some of the issues posed had been amongst the most rewarding elements of his period at the helm.
“The biggest challenges we’ve had over last ten years has been the reduction in government funding settlement that we’ve got,” he said. “We’ve seen that reduced from £12million to nothing next year.
“I can look at the efficiencies we’ve found and the shared services we’ve established such as the joint waste partnership with Tamworth which has been a great success.
“We’ve also been able to move forward in partnership with Burntwood to bring forward plans for the future of areas such as the blue hoardings site.”
And Cllr Wilcox has backed his replacement to steer the district in the right direction.
“I’ve got a lot of respect for Doug and Iain,” he said. “I’m sure they’ll bring a different dimension to the council and we’ll all get behind them and support them with what they do and the challenges they face going forward.”