COUNCILLOR Heather Scott was praised as an "incredible" leader as she announced she would be stepping down from the role.

Cllr Scott is to step down as Darlington Borough Council leader, followed by the election of a new leader, at the annual meeting of the council next Thursday.

Conservative group leader for almost 15 years, she will continue to serve as a ward councillor.

She told a full council meeting last night: “I’m not a quitter, I’ve never been a quitter and I’m certainly not starting now.

“I am standing down as leader of the council as in any good organisation you have to plan for succession.

“When I became leader of Darlington Borough Council in 2019, it was one of the best moments in my political life, and to be the first woman in that position was the icing on the cake.

The Northern Echo: Cllr Heather Scott. Picture: Sarah CaldecottCllr Heather Scott. Picture: Sarah Caldecott

“We’ve had an amazing three years, and despite the pandemic, progress has been made to improve prospects for the community, and I will continue to be an integral part of that process going forward.

“This could not have been achieved without the support of my cabinet team and the Conservative group.”

Read more: Darlington Council leader Heather Scott to stand down

She gave personal thanks and said: “The present management team and the dedicated staff gave 110% during the difficult Covid restrictions which we have successfully got through.

“I have complete confidence in the team for the next year and give my full support to building on the progress made and the ambitious programme we have already planned.

“I would not have had this opportunity without being elected to Park West ward, and I assure them that I will represent them as always as a first priority.

“I think it is a very emotional evening for me this evening, but I have enjoyed my time as leader of the council and I will work consistently with the new team coming in and I hope that we can all work together as well.”

Read more: Heather Scott - The Darlington leader and great survivor

She told the Northern Echo yesterday: “I’m 82 now, and I’m still fit and capable, but you’ve got to be realistic, so now is the right time to hand over.”

Tributes were paid to her with Darlington MP Peter Gibson describing her as “our very own Iron Lady”.

At last night's meeting, deputy leader Cllr Jonathan Dulston said: "I have always been inspired by Cllr Scott's ability to remain calm, level-headed and positive.

"These qualities are by far the strongest and why this council continues to punch well above its weight."

The Northern Echo: Cllrs Heather Scott and Jonathan Dulston. Picture: Northern Echo.Cllrs Heather Scott and Jonathan Dulston. Picture: Northern Echo.

He said she focused on residents' main issues, left the cabinet on a "transformational journey" and should be immensely proud of her legacy.

He added: "I am confident she will continue to put energy, passion and humour into driving the council forward and ultimately delivering success for Darlington.

"Cllr Scott leaves a big challenge for the incoming leader, who will have to work extremely hard to maintain the standard she's set.

"Whoever's elected next week to the role would be very wise to take her counsel from time to time."

He wished her luck and thanked her for being a "great leader", colleague, mentor and friend.

Read more: Tributes to Darlington Council leader Heather Scott as she stands down

Conservative Association chair Cllr Pauline Culley said Cllr Scott "literally knows everybody" and was the "only possible choice" for leader in 2019, imparting her wisdom since she started.

"She remains the best speaker at full council, able to respond to probing questions immediately and with authority, and I am delighted that she will continue to do so."

Labour Cllr Nick Wallis said she should be proud of her achievements and lifetime of service and public life, though they had "crossed swords many times".

The Northern Echo: Cllr Nick Wallis. Picture: Stuart Boulton.Cllr Nick Wallis. Picture: Stuart Boulton.

He said: "You've always had the best interests of the people of the borough at heart."

Independent Cllr Kevin Nicholson, cabinet member for health and housing, said she was "incredible" as a leader and friend.

He said: "You gave me more than a job, you gave me confidence, and over two years during Covid, you coached me, supported me and helped us deliver an excellent response.

The Northern Echo: Cllr Kevin Nicholson. Picture: Northern Echo.Cllr Kevin Nicholson. Picture: Northern Echo.

"I for one am exceptionally proud that you were there for me."

Green Party Cllr Matthew Snedker said: "I do wholeheartedly acknowledge the dedication you've given to this town over many years.

"I think we both hold this town in great regard so thank you for your service and I look forward to your time continuing in the chamber for however long you choose."

She was challenged by Labour members about the cost of living crisis, national examples of "Tory disdain for those struggling" and asked whether she regretted imposing council tax increases.

She said the council was doing everything it could to help people: "I've always said that my priority is to help the people of Darlington in the best way I possibly could."

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