Former Wellingborough Council leader reflects on his five years in charge

Cllr Paul Bell has stepped down as leader of Wellingborough Council
Cllr Paul Bell has stepped down as leader of Wellingborough Council

A senior councillor is looking forward to taking a back-seat after stepping down from the role of leader.

Cllr Paul Bell became leader of Wellingborough Council in May 2011, but after five years in charge, the role has been taken on by Cllr Martin Griffiths.

Cllr Paul Bell at the start of the work on Stanton Cross

Cllr Paul Bell at the start of the work on Stanton Cross

Despite stepping down, Cllr Bell will continue representing the Redwell ward and as a senior councillor, he has said he will be happy to offer advice when appropriate from the back benches of the council chamber.

Cllr Bell would have liked to have stood down a year ago but was persuaded to continue for an extra year after last year’s election saw 14 new members who will have benefited from his experience.

Speaking to the Northants Telegraph, Cllr Bell said: “At the start of my leadership, we had 800 empty homes, we had no real projects and nothing was going on.

“We had stagnated.

“No-one wanted to know Wellingborough five years ago, we were just seen as someone in the backwater.

“We were given a mandate to get things moving like Stanton Cross, Glenvale Park and the Prologis site.

“All that and we have also had to work with the budget.

“It’s like the long-term work is coming to fruition which is how we are now able to get the council on a steady footing.”

Cllr Bell said now is the right time for him to go, when the authority has an ‘excellent’ chief executive and a number of key projects are coming to fruition or progressing well.

Highlights during his leadership include getting the Stanton Cross development under way, empty homes brought back into use, development of the Sunlight laundry site in Wellingborough, progress on the Wellingborough North scheme and developer St. Modwen choosing to invest in the London Road site which has attracted names including Lidl and McDonald’s.

Another highlight is investment in council properties which will see them produce revenue for the authority, including the recently approved plans to convert Croyland Hall and Croyland Abbey into flats.

Wellingborough crematorium, due to open soon, is another project which Cllr Bell is very proud to have been involved with.

Free parking in Wellingborough and the council recently becoming part of Semlep (South East Midlands Local Enterprise Partnership) are further areas which Cllr Bell believes are key for the town.

While there have success stories, financial constraints mean it has not all been plain sailing and there was one particular decision which was tough for Cllr Bell and his colleagues to make.

Cllr Bell said: “Glamis Hall was a heartbreaking decision to make, but we have got to a situation now where Glamis Hall is flourishing.

“It was the right decision to close it.

“We couldn’t run it as it was, but the community group could.”

Cllr Bell said his only regret is not seeing the development of High Street move forward, but the hope is that this will happen in due course.

And now the 7.30am calls regarding council business have stopped, Cllr Bell is looking forward to spending more time with his wife Carol, their three-year-old grandson and the family.

He believes he is leaving the council in safe hands as he said Cllr Griffiths will make a good leader and the authority is on a ‘sound footing’ as Wellingborough heads into an exciting period of growth and development.