We need to consult and engage with residents, says new council leader

WOKING Borough Council will be more open with residents and more transparent in the decisions it makes, says Ayesha Azad, the new leader.

Cllr Azad replaced David Bittleson when he unexpectedly resigned at a council meeting last month.

SEATS OF POWER – Ayesha Azad in the Council Chambers in which she will now sit as leader, and with Woking’s coat of arms

Cllr Bittleston nominated his deputy to be leader and she was unopposed.

In her acceptance speech, Cllr Azad, 47, said: “A change in leadership presents us with an opportunity to reflect and review. A chance for a new agenda and new direction where that is appropriate.

“We will make more time to listen, consult and engage with residents. Each one of us occupies our seat by their consent and it is only right we consult with them more than just once a year, at elections.”

Speaking to the News & Mail, the new council leader said the council must be more transparent about why it makes certain decisions.

“We need to address this, looking at it from the residents’ point of view. We should be more open.”

Some residents and opposition councillors have accused council leaders of putting too many items in Part 2 sections of council meetings, from which the public and media are excluded.

Cllr Azad said she will try very hard to limit the Part 2 items to those that are necessary to protect commercially sensitive details.

She has taken charge of a council run by the Conservatives as a minority administration.

There are 10 wards with three councillors each, adding up to 14 Conservatives, 10 Liberal Democrats, three Labour councillors and three Independents.

In her acceptance speech as leader, Cllr Azad spoke about the need for the different political groups to work together and to de-politicise council decisions.

She has weekly meetings with the opposition leaders and has offered to have opposition councillors in the executive and on the boards of council-linked companies involved in developments around the borough.

“It’s really important, whether there is a minority or majority administration, not to politicise every decision but to think collectively,” Cllr Azad told the News & Mail.

She said that as a young Conservative in a Labour-supporting part of Woking and among left-leaning college and university students, she didn’t find the political divisions to be as stark as they are today.

“It was about big ideas and philosophies. Social media has exacerbated the divisions and people say things they wouldn’t dream of saying in person.

“It does no good to be damning and suspicious about each other’s motives.

“Everybody’s opinion is as valid as anyone else’s,” Cllr Azad said. “Leaders should articulate that and set an example.”

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