A COUNCIL leader is trying to head off a second attempt to force him out of office.

A team of business leaders and politicians are joining forces in a bid to oust Cllr John Williams and his leadership team at Taunton Deane Borough Council (TDBC).

A petition launched on Monday is calling for fresh blood at the helm of Deane House.

The group behind the initiative say they are frustrated at what they see as the town’s stagnation caused by a lack of vision at the top of the council.

They are calling for the leading Conservatives to stand aside ahead of April’s merger of TDBC and West Somerset Council to form the Somerset West and Taunton Council.

They believe removing the council leadership will help restore civic pride in “our great and historic town”.

The petition says: “Over the past 10 years or more, too many of us have watched in despair as Taunton has lost its way and stood motionless under the leadership of the present council.

“Meanwhile, towns like Bridgwater and Frome and nearby cities like Exeter have advanced and developed - their communities becoming more prosperous.

“And yet we all live in a town which offers so much hope and opportunity for the future. It just needs to be unlocked.”

It lists Taunton’s attributes as easy access; outstanding health and educational facilities; magical countryside; major attractions such as Somerset County Cricket Club, the Museum of Somerset and Hestercombe; the redevelopment of the world-class UK Hydrographic Office; and “the sheer talent, energy and creativity of the people of Taunton”.

But the petition adds: “Taunton’s dilemma is that this great energy and dynamic output fails to resonate down the corridors of council - not even at a time when our new status as a garden town should be the springboard for Taunton’s regeneration.

“This new status should be inspiring the council’s leadership to transform the town into a place of national significance.

“Many of us are working hard to build a better Taunton, a county town worthy of the title.

“But we are blocked by a leadership lacking in wit and ambition, the guts and go and the charisma to grasp a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to do something truly fabulous for the town.”

With the town centre poised for regeneration, the petition’s backers believe it offers a chance to transform Taunton into “a major regional destination for tourism and the arts”, including a “flexible convention/entertainment complex”, and “a major hub for growth industries and digital sciences, environmental impact and artificial intelligence”.

By yesterday, around 200 people had signed the petition, 48 hours after it went live online.

Businessman Scott Berry, one of 18 co-sponsors of the petition said Firepool, which has been empty since the livestock market relocated to North Petherton 11 years ago, embodied the problem.

He said: “Under John Williams, the council has stagnated.

“If you look at Firepool, it’s been empty for more than 10 years, but the ideas for it are just more of the same - shops and supermarkets, nothing that is going to revitalise the town centre.

“We need someone with a bit more vision to revitalise the town environment and halt the decline.”

READ MORE: Petition launched in bid to oust council leadership in Taunton

Cameron Willetts, director of Combers hair academy in The Courtyard, said: “With the town as it is, we need the youth to come forward.

“The town needs a kick, some fresh ideas.

“It’s frustrating seeing a beautiful town like this simply depleting and shops vanishing.

“As soon as we get someone younger in who will listen, it will open doors and ideas will flow more than they are now.

“We need a team of people with different ideas. I voted Conservative last time - but I won’t again.”

Cllr Libby Lisgo, Labour group leader on TDBC, said: “ I unequivocally support the need for change when we have local council elections in May.

“Taunton in particular deserves better. We need vision plus focussed action if our town is to improve and thrive.”

Ms Lisgo previously refused to sign a petition run by Independent Cllr Ian Morrell that failed to collect enough support to trigger a vote of no confidence in Cllr Williams.

Conservative Cllr Roger Habgood, who has been sidelined by Cllr Williams after criticising the leader’s plans for a taxpayer-funded hotel on Firepool, has also joined the debate.

Cllr Habgood, who some Tories would like to see as party leader, he said: “Leadership in the region and the town is important.

“Leaders shape places, set the tone and pull people together to bring about change.

“Is the leadership in Taunton pulling people together?

“Civic leadership changes will perhaps come about naturally through the normal election process in May. Or will they?

“Surely now is the time to have the honest debate about leadership in its widest sense in our town well ahead of the local elections?”

Independent Cllr Gwil Wren said: “Leadership needs regular renewal and refreshment both at an individual and institutional level.

“John has led the Conservative group for many years and...led TDBC for the last 11.

“Such a long tenure is not, in my view, particularly healthy as it can either mask the fact that the pool of talent is too shallow or that the incumbent is too dominant.

“This can also breed complacency and even atrophy which is the enemy of democratically elected organisations.”

In his defence, Cllr John Williams said: “It’s perplexing why this petition has been launched at this time. In May elections are taking place for the new Somerset West and Taunton Council and the electorate will decide the future make up of that council.

“The newly elected councillors will decide on the leader. This action seems motivated by personal, commercial and political reasons, not for the good of the new council.

“Far from a lack of vision, our administration has been working extremely hard in delivering key projects.”

He listed Firepool with a proposed multi-purpose convention centre and planned digital innovation centre; a boulevard from the station to the town centre; more than 200 homes on brownfield land; and support for refurbishing the Great Western Hotel and upgrading Taunton Station.

Among “numerous other projects” are Nexus 25 Business Park, J25 upgrade, Trenchard Way, pay on exit car parks, town centre improvements and a new pool at Blackbrook.

Cllr Williams added: “We can be proud of what our administration has delivered. We’ve steered the authority through some of the most testing times in its history.

“We experienced the steepest economic recession in living memory with radical cuts in our funding, around 60 per cent since 2012. We’ve still managed to protect virtually all frontline services.

“Despite the recession we’ve set aside £16.6m from New Homes Bonus for improving our infrastructure and major redevelopment plans. Others talk about it - we get on with it, planning and investing for the future.”