Danny Thorpe and Sarah Merrill out campaigning
Both Danny Thorpe and Sarah Merrill return to the backbenches

Greenwich Council’s outgoing leader Danny Thorpe will not be in his successor Anthony Okereke’s first cabinet – and neither will the councillor who scrapped west Greenwich’s low-traffic neighbourhood.

Thorpe finds himself on the backbenches after a tumultuous four years in charge as the public face of the borough during the coronavirus pandemic. He lost his role as leader after a behind-closed-doors meeting of Labour councillors last week.

A statement issued on the council website today said that Thorpe would be stepping down “with a heavy heart”.

His ally Sarah Merrill will also depart from her role as cabinet member for transport. She made her name as chair of planning – rejecting controversial plans for redevelopment at Anchor & Hope Lane in Charlton – but ended up overseeing a reversal of the council’s plans on active travel when she held the transport portfolio, ripping out the low-traffic zone west of Greenwich Park and scrapping planned routes for safer cycling.

While the new cabinet’s line-up has not been publicly confirmed – unlike in other boroughs – details have been circulating around the council this week.

Four new faces will join the cabinet, which is entirely comprised of councillors from the north of the borough. They include Greenwich Park councillor Pat Slattery, who only joined the council in a by-election last year. A former senior housing officer, she takes the housing portfolio and picks up an extra £22,562 in allowances to add to the £10,415 allowance all councillors get.

Her role will include driving forward the Greenwich Builds council homebuilding programme begun under Thorpe, who before the election had announced plans to build another 1,000 new homes to add to the 750 in the scheme’s first phase.

New regeneration member Aidan Smith (second left) on the campaign trail with fellow cabinet member Matt Morrow, new leader Anthony Okereke, new East Greenwich councillor Majid Rahman and Nick Williams, a new Greenwich Peninsula councillor

Slattery’s ward colleague, Aidan Smith, takes one of the most important roles on the council – cabinet member for regeneration, overseeing planning policies and new developments. His challenges will include the promised revaluation of Community Infrastructure Levy – trying to get more money out of developers – as well as overseeing development on the Charlton Riverside and Thamesmead Waterfront.

Abbey Wood councillor Ann-Marie Cousins becomes cabinet member for community safety and enforcement, replacing the long-serving Jackie Smith, who also leaves the cabinet. Her responsibilities will include the council’s red-jacketed enforcement officers, a familiar sight to anyone who visits General Gordon Square in Woolwich during the daytime.

The fourth new face is the Shooters Hill councillor Ivis Williams, who becomes cabinet member for finance, resources and social value – ensuring the council balances its books and spends its money sensibly.

Okereke’s deputy, Averil Lekau, succeeds Merrill as cabinet member for climate change, environment and transport – in charge of the council’s ambition to achieve net zero by 2030 and its proposed new transport strategy.

Averil Lekau on the town hall steps
Deputy leader Averil Lekau will take charge of the promised transport strategy

Securing a DLR extension to her ward of Thamesmead Moorings will be among her ambitions, while she will also have to cope with the ongoing fallout from the Silvertown Tunnel – an issue that helped topple the previous leader. As deputy, she collects £34,185 on top of her standard councillor’s allowance.

Plumstead Common councillor Matt Morrow stays cabinet member for children and young people, while Plumstead & Glyndon’s Adel Khaireh keeps his equality, culture and communities brief.

Blackheath Westcombe councillor Mariam Lolavar keeps her role as the cabinet member for business, although former council leader and outgoing ceremonial mayor Denise Hyland is taking over temporarily to cover her maternity leave.

Lolavar will be the only cabinet member to represent a ward that stretches south of Shooters Hill Road – despite Labour making its greatest gains in Eltham at this month’s election.

While Labour councillors hold a vote on who they think should be in the cabinet, the final decision is down to the leader.

Three years ago Spencer Drury, then a Conservative councillor, recommended cutting the cabinet down to five members – plus leader and deputy – rather than eight, but paying them more, closer to figures recommended by London Councils, which advises the capital’s town halls.

Two of the most important roles outside the cabinet have also effectively been decided after votes among Labour councillors. Charlton Village councillor Gary Dillon will become chair of planning, entitling him to an extra £18,542. He took a harder line with developers – including his own town hall – than his predecessor, Stephen Brain, whose abrasive style annoyed some residents’ groups.

Clare Burke-McDonald, who represents Charlton Hornfair, becomes chair of overview and scrutiny (an extra £22,562) – a role that came into the spotlight earlier this year after councillors rebelled on the Silvertown Tunnel. Like Slattery, she only joined the council after a by-election last year, but had been a familiar face in the town hall’s public gallery long before that.

Leo Fletcher, of Blackheath Westcombe, becomes ceremonial mayor (an extra £10,046). The former school caretaker and council officer was deputy mayor last year, but often found himself standing in for Hyland after she was injured following a fall.

Whilst last night’s result at our AGM wasn’t the one I’d hoped for, I’m so proud of what I’ve achieved as the Leader of @Royal_Greenwich – feeding hungry kids, new community facilities, investing in our parks & tackling inequalities has been the journey of a lifetime. #greenwich pic.twitter.com/AxJrnBh0pP

— Dan Thorpe (@DanLThorpe) May 12, 2022

After being the public face of the borough for four years, and regularly appearing on TV and radio, particularly to rail against government inaction at the start of the pandemic – Thorpe is unlikely to be short of work offers when his spell as leader ends next week.

He said today: “Although I am finishing in my role slightly earlier than I had planned, I can honestly look back and say with pride that the borough is in a better place than it was in 2018.”

Among those paying tribute to his work was Bridget Imeson, the council’s former associate director of public health. She said: “You’ve done a great job as leader. The way you responded to the Covid pandemic was exemplary and won’t be forgotten.”

His opposite number in Lewisham, elected mayor Damien Egan, said: “Congratulations on everything you’ve achieved in Greenwich Danny. You have a lot to look back on with pride.”

One of Thorpe’s council colleagues, Thamesmead West councillor Chris Lloyd, tweeted: “Local politics can be a brutal rollercoaster ride. He led Greenwich from the front and AMAZINGLY during the worst times since WW2. The boy from the Ferrier Estate did good. I’m honoured to call him a friend.”

Barring an unprecedented revolt among councillors, the positions will be confirmed at the council’s annual meeting this Wednesday.

The new Greenwich Council cabinet
Anthony Okereke – leader (total allowance £63,923)
Averil Lekau – deputy leader + climate change, environment, transport (£44,600)
Adel Khaireh – equality, culture, communities (£32,977)
Matt Morrow – children and young people (£32,977)
Pat Slattery – housing, neighbourhoods, homelessness (£32,977)
Ivis Williams – finance, resources, social value (£32,977)
Ann-Marie Cousins – community safety and enforcement (£32,977)
Denise Scott-McDonald – health and adult social care (£32,977)
Aidan Smith – regeneration (£32,977)
Mariam Lolavar* – inclusive economy, business, skills (£32,977)
*Denise Hyland will cover Lolavar’s maternity leave

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