Welwyn Hatfield’s new leader has warned there “will be challenges to overcome” as he takes up office.

Liberal Democrat councillor Paul Zukowskyj, who represents Welham Green and Hatfield South, has been elected leader of Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council after a vote on Monday, May 22.

He takes over from Welwyn West Conservative councillor Tony Kingsbury, who has led the Hertfordshire authority since 2018.

Cllr Zukowskyj is at helm of a Liberal Democrat and Labour joint administration, which was agreed after no one party managed to secure the 25 seats required for a majority.

Hollybush councillor and leader of the Labour Group Cllr Lynn Chesterman is deputy leader of the council.

Both councillors said political negotiations “have gone well”.

Cllr Zukowskyj told the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS): “They went extremely well.

“Both groups came here with the idea that we need to get things done.

“We both have a motivation to make this work and I feel really positive about the future.”

When asked if there were any sticking points between the parties, Cllr Chesterman said the Labour Group wants to “seriously consider” moving to a new election cycle – with all councillors elected every four years, instead of a “by thirds” election in three out of every four years.

Cllr Zukowskyj said: “We had some detailed discussions about moving to four-year elections.

“One of the things we are very keen to do is to make sure it does not have an impact on the residents’ engagement with local politics.

“It will be a fairly big change to how often people get councillors knocking on their doors, and how often they get to choose their councillors.

“We will do a root-and-branch review of the idea, taking into account not just the economics of it, but also what residents think.

“Yes, there has been a bit of compromise on both sides, but we will make this work.”

One priority for the new administration is to approve a new set of planning rules.

The last Welwyn Hatfield District Plan was adopted more than 18 years ago, in April 2005.

The previous administration had hoped to sign off the new policy, which sets out where new housing should go and what type of housing should be built, this summer.

“I think we have to wait and see what the planning inspector says about our current situation,” said Cllr Zukowskyj.

“I am a bit bemused as to why some of the steps in this process are taking as long as they are.

“If the inspector comes back and says the plan isn’t sound, we’re back to square one anyway.

“Abandoning it comes with risks.”

Cllr Zukowskyj will hold the “climate change” portfolio in the new borough cabinet.

He said: “When we say ‘environment’, we are talking about the air which people literally breathe outside their front door.

“It is something which crosses a lot of different briefs – parks, leisure centres, waste, planning, grass verges – so it makes sense for it to sit with the leader.

“We need to be a ‘can do’ council.

“For example, at our council owned developments, we should not just have 10 per cent of car parking spaces with electric vehicle charging points, we could make that anywhere up to 100 per cent to help people make that transition.

“There will be challenges to overcome, and changes won’t be made overnight, but we are very much in a position to step up to meet those challenges.”