IT’S a new era for local democracy across Taunton and West Somerset as a new ‘executive team’ is put into place.

The committee and its leader, Federica Smith-Roberts, will officially be put in place at the first council meeting tonight (Thursday, May 23).

The Liberal Democrats took control of the new Somerset West and Taunton Council following the elections on May 2.

In defeating the Conservatives, a new team needs to be put in place to help the leader make decision and to put new plans and ideas in motion.

The new executive is made up of up 10 councillors, including the leader Cllr Smith-Roberts, and deputy leader, Benet Allen.

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Federica Smith-Roberts 

Federica Smith-Roberts was voted as leader in a secret ballot for the Lib Dems.

The experienced district councillor has now chosen a cohort of colleagues to help her execute the manifesto.

She said: "It has been a busy fortnight for me and the councillors on Somerset West and Taunton Council.

"I have now put in place a brilliant team around me who each have their own area of responsibility and will look to drive forward our manifesto and support residents and businesses throughout the area.

“We have been awaiting official ratification of the executive on May 22 but in the mean time we have been busy behind the scenes meeting and planning our projects.

"Get in touch if you have any questions or support."

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Benet Allen 

Her deputy, Benet Allen, represents the Periton and Woodcombe ward. He will also hold the responsibility for communications and culture.

He said: “You can sometimes find me behind the wheel of the Minehead town bus.

“I believe keeping our buses running is an essential part of the service provided by the council and I am pushing for a restored train service between Minehead and Taunton.

“I have got 20 years of experience of TV news to bring to the role of culture and communications on the new council.”

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Chris Booth 

One of the youngest councillors, Chris Booth, has been given the executive role for community.

At just 29, he already has three years under his belt representing the Halcon and Lane ward in Taunton.

He said: “I hope I can inspire younger people to get involved in local politics.

“In Halcon, I have joined in a lot of community building projects and I hope to apply this to the wider communities of the new council.

“I will be responsible for a variety of matters from the activity in the town centre and community events, to rough sleeping matters and police liaison.”

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Habib Farbahi

Habib Farbahi has been given the responsibility of economic development and asset management.

Cllr Farbahi is a businessman who represents Comeytrowe and Bishop’s Hull.

He said: “I have organised a major conference in Taunton where leading academics and experts explored the possibilities of making the town a beacon for new green technologies with an innovation centre, bringing higher paid jobs to the area.

“I intend to work as part of a team to ensure that problems and challenges become opportunities.

“For major decisions, the business community and the public play an integral part of the solution.

“While I was part of the opposition on the Conservative-led council, I was already working closely with the business community and the excellent team of council officers on ideas to regenerate Taunton.”

Cllr Farbahi says the new council will be looking at Firepool and Coal Orchard as a matter of priority.

He added: “The new council covers a much wider area than Taunton Deane, so we need to understand the challenges that our partners in West Somerset are facing.”

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Ross Henley 

Ross Henley, infamous in the local elections for winning the seat former council leader John Williams was vying for, will be in charge of corporate resources.

Cllr Henley, who represents Hatch and Blackdown, is a former leader of TDBC.

He aims to improve the customer service of the council, and encourage better interaction with the district residents.

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Richard Lees 

Richard Lees, for Victoria ward, has been chosen to champion sports, parks and leisure issues.

Cllr Lees, who has been a councillor since 1999, gained a certificate in education at Somerset College after he lost his sight, and has since been awarded an honorary doctorate of education by Plymouth University.

He said: “I have been working as an advocate for Swan Advocacy and I have used my voice for disabled people for more than 19 years.

“In 1992 I was awarded the Taunton Deane Citizenship Award and was mayor of Taunton in 2005.

“I have been the executive member for sports, parks and leisure before, and I hope to use my experience to protect and develop leisure spaces and opportunities for all residents.

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Peter Pilkington

A new portfolio has been created for climate change, which has been given to Old Cleeve and District councillor Peter Pilkington.

He said: “I have already worked towards the goal of a a carbon-neutral council by promoting the roll-out of an Electric vehicle charging network and has helped to secure £20,000 of funding for this purpose. This is just the start of a larger project to make local public transport accessible and frequent with electric buses.

“I will be responsible for ensuring all council policies and initiatives include a Climate Change Impact Assessment.

“My main challenges are likely to be integrating the new Climate Change objectives into the council's statutory obligations and encouraging everyone to see the urgency and benefits of our Climate Change policies.”

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Mike Rigby

Cllr Mike Rigby has been given the role of overseeing planning and transport.

Cllr Rigby is a county councillor and has worked in planning and environmental consultancy for many years.

He said: “Having seen Taunton lose its shine over the last ten years, I am pleased to be appointed an executive member and I will work as part of a tight team to deliver key projects including Firepool, the garden town, pedestrianisation and the Taunton Innovation Centre in order to boost the town’s fortunes.

“I will be working with my colleagues in climate change and the environment to deliver greener transport options for the county town.”

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Fran Smith 

Fran Smith has represented the Blackbrook and Holway ward since 2003.

She will represent housing issues on the council.

She said: “I have been involved in housing issues for many years, including campaigning against the selling off of the council housing stock, and promoting the building of more social houses in new developments.

“I was previously the shadow portfolio holder for housing.

“My main responsibilities will be ensuring housing is one of the main priorities for the council, working to increase the number of social houses being built, alongside affordable housing, while promoting good infrastructure of new developments, to make the area a great place to live.”

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Alan Wedderkopp

Alan Wedderkopp previously served on TDBC for 12 years as deputy leader.

He will be the new environment portfolio holder after proving his talents by securing solar panels on Taunton swimming pool.

He said: “I have a wide experience in life, including working in heavy industry worldwide, which has inspired many ideas.

“I was a soldier and spent two years on active service in Korea.

“I will be responsibly for many practical things that affect our physical environment and quality of life, including dog bins, grass cutting and much more.

“One initial challenge will be bringing forward improvements to the service provided at the crematorium.”

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