Newly-elected council leader: ‘We need to rethink, rebuild and repair”  

Cllr Deborah Saw has been elected the new leader of Babergh District Council.

Cllr Deborah Saw has been elected the new leader of Babergh District Council, with a pledge to tackle housing issues, empower communities and address climate change.

She will lead the Green, Independent and Liberal Democrat coalition administration for the next year - replacing Cllr John Ward, who had been acting leader since last summer.

Outlining a new coalition action plan, Cllr Saw said: “It’s a privilege to become Babergh’s first Green council leader. 

“We are confronted by a series of challenges, including a council house repair backlog and a looming budget deficit. That comes on top of the shameful growing dependency of our citizens on food banks, the pressing need to help young people find homes, and the necessity to tackle pollution and climate change.

“One thing is clear, we can’t have business as usual. We need to rethink, rebuild and repair.” 

After becoming leader at Monday’s (20th May) Annual Council Meeting, she said the council’s £6.7m budget gap over the next four years would mean ‘tough decisions’, but also required ‘innovative’ approaches.

Cllr Saw said: “We have to be more innovative in identifying solutions that our communities need, helping them to deliver change at the grassroots level. We need to get cleverer and better at communicating and working with communities so we can more easily win the little funding that might be available from central government.   

“Our vision is to see towns and villages empowered to develop solutions to issues that matter to them, while being supported by the council.”

She said continuing to improve Babergh’s council housing for tenants remained an urgent priority. Nearly £1m has already been invested to clear a repairs backlog, with new systems being introduced and improved communication with tenants pledged.

The council wants to encourage more community-led housing and stimulate the formation of Community Land Trusts. These result in community ownership of land for affordable housing – currently, the district’s only scheme that has built new housing is in Lavenham.

Cllr Saw said more parishes will be supported to complete Neighbourhood Plans or People and Place Plans to help shape future development, with a renewed emphasis on good design in residential and commercial buildings.

She added: “Neighbourhood Plans produce a wealth of information about what communities need, and we want to make better use of this.”

Further action to combat climate change was also outlined, including a desire to explore how communities can create local renewable energy plans.

Work to remove red tape around making listed buildings more energy efficient will continue, while Babergh also hopes to become the first council to allow property owners to put solar panels on outbuildings without planning permission, she said.

Cllr Saw said working with partners like Citizens Advice to help people through the cost-of-living crisis continues to be a priority, with further discussions taking place about how the council can work with communities to deliver additional support services.

She takes over as leader from Cllr John Ward, who had been acting leader since last summer when Cllr Dave Busby was forced to step back to receive cancer treatment. Cllr Ward now resumes his role as deputy leader, with Cllr Busby political deputy leader.

Cllr Elisabeth Malvisi was re-elected chair of the council, with Cllr Ruth Hendry elected vice-chair. 

Cllr Deborah Saw