Lib Dems team up with majority of Independents to form minority administration at Mid Sussex District Council

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Liberal Democrats at Mid Sussex District Council have teamed up with most of the authority’s Independent councillors to form a minority joint administration.

While the elections early in May saw the party secure an impressive victory, ousting the ruling Conservative group from power, their 20 seats were not enough to claim a majority.

Joining forces with four of the council’s five Independents still does not represent a majority but, with the Greens and Labour showing no sign of teaming up with the Tories, the Liberal Democrat/Independent alliance will run things for the next four years.

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During an annual council meeting on Wednesday (May 23), only Peter Chapman (Ind, Burgess Hill Franklands) chose not to join the mix, though he gave no reason for his decision.

Robert Eggleston and Alison Bennett are in the centre of the front rowRobert Eggleston and Alison Bennett are in the centre of the front row
Robert Eggleston and Alison Bennett are in the centre of the front row

With a new administration came a new leader in the form of Robert Eggleston (Lib Dem, Burgess Hill Meeds & Hammonds).

But with councillors voting to elect him by 41 votes to 3 with 3 abstentions, he was clearly not everyone’s choice for the top job.

Speaking about the decision to join forces with the Independents, Mr Eggleston said: “It does not give us a majority in this chamber but it does mean we create an administration with representation from south to north and with generally shared values.

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“I look forward to working with our independent partners in this new administration.”

He named a five-strong cabinet, including himself.

It will be made up of Alison Bennett, who will be deputy leader and cabinet member for communities & communications, along with Ian Gibson (economy & housing), Anne-Marie Cooke (finance), and Chris Hobbs (leisure & customer services).

Ms Bennett is the Liberal Democrats’ Parliamentary Candidate for Mid Sussex so, if things go well for her, a new deputy would have to be found following the next General Election.

Mr Gibson will be the only Independent on the cabinet while Mr Eggleston will take on responsibility for the District Plan, the Burgess Hill town centre redevelopment and the Burgess Hill Growth Area.

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He said: “Residents have voted for change and we will bring forward an agenda which reflects that.

“But [the] cabinet knows that we face many challenges as a district.

“I believe that we have a cabinet and a council to bring about the changes that residents seek and to overcome the challenges we face.”

Thanking his fellow councillors for placing their trust in him, Mr Eggleston said: “I do not for one moment underestimate the responsibility that this role places on me, and my hope is that during this term, I am able to repay the faith you have put in me.

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“Being called to serve as leader of this council is an honour and privilege.”

The meeting also saw Rodney Jackson (Lib Dem, Hurstpierpoint) replace Margaret Belsey as chairman of the council, with Janice Henwood (Lib Dem, Burgess Hill Franklands) named as vice-chairman.