LEDBURY'S new mayor, Phillip Howells, said the town was in a good position to build on "the new found respect we have begun to gain from the town".

Speaking at last week's annual meeting in the Community Hall,

Cllr Howells thanked his fellow councillors for placing trust in him and said it was "a new era for the council".

The council has been through troubled times recently, having fought and lost a judicial review, which led to reserves being drained to pay out £220,000 in legal expenses.

The town council is also running at almost half strength at present, with only ten councillors instead of the usual 18, although measures are being taken to help fill the empty seats as soon as possible.

There have also been a series of resignations from council staff, over the past few years.

Speaking at the meeting, Cllr Howells, who has also been elected as a county councillor for Ledbury, said becoming mayor was "a great honour, and one which I will aim to fulfil with energy, pride and integrity".

He added: "The former chairman, Cllr Nina Shields led us through the very complex process of concluding all the judicial review matters so we can start our new council with a clean slate. She also guided us through a review of our governance and operating procedures so that we now have up to date Standing Orders, Financial Regulations and the Councillor Code of Conduct. As a result, we tightened up considerably on how the council is run and managed."

The town council has a new clerk, Angela Price, and Cllr Howells said: "I’m sure all the town are with me in welcoming her and in wishing her every success and fulfilment in the vital role she has in helping us make the town proud of their council."

He added: "Above all it was in making real efforts to engage with the town in ways not seen in recent years that in my view is where we gained most ground through Nina’s leadership and which puts us, as a result, in a very strong position to build upon the new found respect we have begun to gain from the town.

"We know there is still a lot to do, but I’m personally very positive we can work together to lift the town to new heights. In the words that Cllr Nick Morris used to us, a motto of civic and civility is a great one to aspire too."

The council's theme this year will be "youth" and one of the mayoral charities will be Strong Young Minds.

Cllr Howells said:"We all know that mental health is a real issue for many young people, as are drugs, so we will also be fund raising for ADD Action, a Hereford based young persons’ charity on drugs.

"A third charity suggested by young people at the drop in centre will be Amnesty International, which also has a strong group supporting its human rights work, at John Masefield High School."

A town business plan will be created, "expected to incorporate our adopted Neighbourhood Development Plan which is being enhanced during the year by an already active working party to incorporate a very important settlement boundary".

This could help to curtail speculative housing developments in Ledbury.

The business plan will also encompass the Town Plan and the emerging Traffic Management Plan.

The town council will also organise more parish meetings "to gain input and ideas on how the people of Ledbury would like to see the council working on their behalf".