TAUNTON Deane Borough and West Somerset Council chief executive Penny James is taking redundancy ahead of the two authorities’ merger.

After 18 years at Deane House, 15 in the top job and five as joint boss of both councils Ms James, 54, is one of country’s longest-serving local government CEOs.

Announcing her departure, she said: “I’ve put my heart and soul into the role and the community and it was time to think about new challenges. It’s the right time for the council. There’s going to be a new council, a fresh start. I’m leaving it in a really good place.”

The search is on for Ms James’s successor to guide the Somerset West and Taunton Council, which comes into existence next year.

She said: “I’ve enjoyed bringing the two councils together, setting up the design of the new council. I’m proud the overall design of the transformation delivers a sustainable future without reducing services to our community.”

On town matters, she says she is not frustrated by the delay in the development of Firepool, saying: “A conscious decision was made to spend the early years putting in the infrastructure. The economic crash hit everybody, not just Taunton.”

And she views the Deane’s greatest achievement as its ability to balance focusing on people and the community, singling out the Halcon One Team approach.

“Despite financial pressures, we haven’t forgotten our duties to the community,” said Ms James. “We’ve maintained our open spaces, have garden town status and Taunton is, in proportion, the biggest growth area in the South West.”

Once she leaves, she plans to stay in the area, saying: “Somerset and Taunton is my home now. I want to think how I can give something back to the community.

“I have six adult children, including a daughter with learning difficulties, and a granddaughter. I’d like to spend more time with them and do stuff connected with the community and around people.”

Before Taunton, Ms James lived in Brighton and was a Tunbridge Wells Borough Council director.

She said: “Taunton’s beautiful, with short travel times to cities, the coast, Exmoor - a nice place to bring up a family.”