Councillor who served for 51 years made honorary alderman

Four veteran councillors who have given more than a century of service combined to Cannock Chase are to become honorary alderman and alderwomen.

Outgoing Cannock Chase Council chairman Alan Dudson with Audrey and Gordon Alcott
Outgoing Cannock Chase Council chairman Alan Dudson with Audrey and Gordon Alcott

The long-serving members, who have now left the authority, include former leader Gordon Alcott who was a district councillor for 51 years.

His tenure pre-dates the formation of Cannock Chase Council in the 1970s and he was first elected as a member of the old Cannock Urban District Council in 1970.

The 81-year-old stepped down from Cannock Chase Council at this month’s elections and was awarded the title of honorary alderman at an extraordinary council meeting on Wednesday.

Former chairman Zaphne Stretton and ex-cabinet member Diane Todd, who both lost their seats at the latest elections after serving as councillors for 26 years and 15 years respectively, will become honorary alderwomen alongside Patricia Ansell. She is also a former chairman and cabinet member and served as a district councillor for 12 years until 2011.

Current councillors paid tribute to the work of the four veterans at Wednesday’s meeting. Councillor Bryan Jones, the authority’s new deputy leader, said: “Public service is a fantastic thing to do – and a taxing thing to do at times. The amount of time it takes to become an alderman or alderwoman is significant and every one of us should recognise these efforts.

“Can I offer our congratulations to each and every one of you.”

Mr Alcott was also presented with an award to recognise his 51 years’ district council service at Wednesday’s meeting. He attended with wife Audrey and the couple have recently celebrated their diamond wedding anniversary.

Speaking after the presentation, he said he did not expect when he was first elected in 1970 to still be a councillor more than half a century later.

“It’s something that grows on you – there is always a job to do to improve the quality of life of residents of Cannock Chase and that is what I have done in 51 years”, he added.

“When I started off I lived in a terraced house. There were hundreds of these in the district at the time, with no inside loo and no inside kitchens. There were toilets in the garden and a brewhouse to three families.

“I wanted to get rid of those properties and build better houses. I did that during my first chairmanship from 1972 and there were new houses built in Chadsmoor, Heath Hayes, Bridgtown and Norton Canes so that people could stay in their own communities where they had lived all their lives.

“We never had a leisure centre or swimming pool – the nearest swimming pool was in Bloxwich and that was a fair way to travel. So that was another thing I wanted to do – get our own leisure centre and swimming pool in Cannock. I didn’t do it by myself, it was down to many other people.

“We brought back the railway after the Beeching closures and got it back to passenger transport. We wanted to get it electrified and we got that done.”

Other major projects in the district during Mr Alcott’s tenure included redevelopment of Cannock town centre and the construction of the Prince of Wales Theatre and the council’s own Civic Centre, as well as the new Designer Outlet West Midlands which opened last month.

During the meeting he highlighted the work of council officers over the years and said some had moved onto higher positions at other local authorities as well as Government roles.

“We have had the services of good officers and I think it’s a measure of the training we gave them that made them better officers”, he said. “I’m really pleased about that.

“I can always remember my first meeting at the urban council. Our first council offices were above the Bert Bailey shops in the town centre.

“We were on the third floor and it was always on a Wednesday night, starting at 7pm. The A34 went past it and you can imagine what the traffic was like as that was the only road from Walsall to Stafford.

“On a summer evening you couldn’t open the windows because of the fumes from the traffic and bell practice at Cannock St Luke’s Church. You can imagine trying to compete with the bell ringing – it wasn’t very pleasant to be in that building at all.”

Outgoing council chairman Alan Dudson, who lost his former council seat at this month’s elections made the presentation to Mr Alcott before he handed over the chairmanship to Doug Smith.

Mr Dudson said: “Gordon Alcott has attended in excess of 5,000 council meetings and must have been on every council committee there is. He was chairman of the council three times, in 1979-80, 1987-88 and 2010-11 and he was also leader of the council for a time in the early 1990s.

“He has been a cabinet member since 2011 and deputy leader since 2015, up until retirement in May. Without question his dedication to the authority and residents of Cannock Chase is exemplary.

“He will be greatly missed.”

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