Shaun Gunner (Con, Rustington East) took over the leadership from Dr James Walsh (Lib Dem, Littlehampton East), who resigned during the annual meeting of the council on Wednesday (May 19) after two years in charge.
Mr Gunner, who is the youngest leader the council has ever had, was elected by 28 votes to 15 with nine abstentions.
He said: “We’ve had years of Liberal Democrat rule in Arun and there will be a big job to do in clearing up the mess left behind, which is why we need a new start for the district.”
Adding that his administration would be ‘a force for good’, he said: “A force for good in delivering real change in the area that we love, tidying up some of the mess that’s been left behind and creating a new start for Arun.
“A force for good in delivering for the residents and businesses of the district.
“A force for good with our environment, in housing, in jobs, in saving public money.
“I approach the task ahead with a real sense of optimism, positivity and energy that what change we can bring about.”
The Tories took back control of the council after success in two by-elections earlier this month, having been deposed by the Liberal Democrats in May 2019.
The following two years saw increasingly bad-tempered interactions between the two parties during online meetings, where they seemed unable to agree on much.
Welcoming Mr Gunner to his new role, Tony Dixon (Ind, Aldwick East) said: “I find party politics tedious and largely counter-productive at local level.
“It is my hope that in the second part of this administration we will all focus on policies for the benefit of our community.”
Mr Gunner told the meeting that he saw Arun as ‘an area with huge potential’, adding: “But we don’t make enough of it.”
He said: “We need a new start for Arun. The administration I lead will be looking to make the most of our natural environment, to drive tourism, to drive investment and regeneration and to drive jobs.
“We will be looking at new environmental initiatives across the district, such as new gardens and parks, to enhance our natural environment and create leisure and tourism opportunities.
“Creating these opportunities is vital to our economic growth and also vital to the Conservative government’s levelling-up agenda.
“We need to have a serious discussion about regeneration opportunities in Bognor Regis and Littlehampton that is not solely based on what we can build on which plots of land but what we want these places to be.”
He also said his administration would be ‘revisiting’ the Local Plan, which is currently undergoing a review.
Jacky Pendleton (Con, Middleton-on-Sea) was named deputy leader.
Dr Walsh, now Lib Dem group leader, said: “In opposition, it will be our duty to scrutinise proposals from the Conservative administration to ensure that future policies are in the best interests of all residents of the Arun district. We look forward to working hard to ensure that our voice is heard, and to working together with all party colleagues across the new committees to ensure the best for Arun.”