Councillor Paul Harris has become the new mayor of Gillingham after a mayor-making ceremony this week and a formal vote by fellow councillors.
Councillor Harris, a retired army officer who has been deputy mayor for the last two years, takes over from Councillor Barry Von Clemens. Unusually, Councillor Von Clemens served two consecutive years as a mayor because of the Covid crisis.
The new deputy mayor will be local businesswoman Councillor Sharon Cullingford.
In his speech at the online mayor-making ceremony on Wednesday, Councillor Harris thanked fellow councillors for placing their trust in him for the next 12 months. ‘I will do my utmost to repay that faith you have shown in me,’ he said.
The new mayor also thanked Councillor Von Clemens for his ‘leadership’ during the pandemic. ‘He has set the conditions for success in the future and we now need to deliver that success,’ said Councillor Harris.
Looking ahead to the coming year the new mayor emphasised the role of ‘team work’ in the town, between councillors, council staff and also local residents.
Forthcoming projects and tasks included updating Gillingham’s Neighbourhood Plan to ensure that it would ‘contribute to our defence to counter unwanted or unwarranted development’. Councillor Harris also said the town council would work closely with Gillingham’s Town Team and Dorset Council in the plans to rejuvenate the Station Road area and would be coming up with a Masterplan for the Station Road and Town Centre as part of the Neighbourhood Plan.
The new mayor said he would personally take the lead in developing a five-year plan for the town. ‘This includes many of the projects that we aspire to deliver and in what time frame. It will encompass things such as replacement of play areas at their due time,’ he said.
The five-year plan would also contain some strategic objectives, for example on how the town uses energy. Councillor Harris said: ‘Our energy all now comes from green energy suppliers. Roman Court – this is the new name for our workshop area previously known as Roman Business Centre – will not have a piped gas supply during our ownership. It has taken five months of effort and payment in advance, to have the main gas supply removed.
‘We have already changed many of our power tools to electric. We will change to electric vans when we next need vehicles, provided we have been able to install electric charging points at the workshop and at the Town Hall, and we have installed solar panels to generate electricity, on the large roof area of our workshop,’ he said.
Stepping down as mayor, Councillor Von Clemens said it had been a ‘great honour and privilege to once again serve our fabulous town’. He praised the way the town had come together during the Covid crisis. ‘I was so proud when the High Sheriff of Dorset – after a visit between lockdowns – told me how impressed he was with Gillingham and awarded us his High Sheriffs award,’ said Councillor Von Clemens.
He said the town had ‘achieved so much’ in partisanship with other agencies even under the many Covid restrictions, pointing to the Green Flag status of public open spaces, the replacement Marlott Road play area, the refurbishment of the Sydenhams and Peacemarsh roundabouts and the resurfacing of the High Street, plus the completion of the workshop project.
After thanking staff and fellow councillors he said: ‘Finally I would like to wish Councillor Harris and Councillor Cullingford all the best in the coming year and I hope that I am handing over a council that is in good order.’