COLCHESTER Council’s ruling coalition is set to continue despite claims from the Conservative opposition it is now “clinging on to power”.

The Conservatives gained two seats in last week’s election, taking the group to 25 seats, set against the coalition parties’ 26 seats.

In the aftermath of the election, Tory leader Darius Laws had signalled an intention to form a minority administration.

But yesterday leaders from the Lib Dems, Labour and the Highwoods Independents struck a deal which will keep the new Progressive Alliance in power for at least the next 12 months.

With former leader Paul Smith having lost his seat, fellow Lib Dem Mark Cory is set fill his shoes.

Labour leader Tim Young will continue as deputy leader.

The exact make up of the other six cabinet positions remains unclear but it is likely to be four Liberal Democrats, three Labour members and one Highwoods Independent.

As part of the deal, Mr Laws - known for his campaign work on making more of the borough’s history - will also be offered a position as chair of a newly-created tourism and heritage task and finish group.

Martin Goss, leader of the Liberal Democrats, promised a “reform of Colchester” with a number of “new star players” taking up cabinet posts.

He outlined nine key initiatives which have received unanimous support from the three groups:

  • to form Transport for Colchester in bid to bring all roads and transport issues within one group;
  • take responsibility of aspects of highways issues in Colchester;
  • start the process of pedestrianising the High Street, under the guidance of Transport for Colchester;
  • create a Colchester Infrastructure Masterplan;
  • set up a task and finish group for tourism and heritage;
  • set up a task and finish group looking at "alternative methods of service delivery";
  • progress fresh plans put forward for Vineyard Gate;
  • support the controversial Tollgate Village and put forward plans to connect it to the town centre;
  • look at how the council could better support the police.

Mr Goss added: “Crime was a big issue on the doorstep and we want to see what we could possibly do to help the police.”

The Lib Dem leader stopped short of promising to pay for extra officers but added: “It will be looking at how we can best support the police on our streets. We want to give them help because it is clear they need it.”

He also pledged to publish a programme for Government which will outline each of the alliance’s commitments so the public will be able to measure its success.

The alliance and its cabinet is set to be formally voted into power on May 23.

Labour leader Tim Young added: “When we looked at all our manifestos, our policy programmes are similar.

“And as long as we all turn up to the annual meeting, we should be good to go on bringing about this progressive alliance, which we believe is in the best interests of Colchester.”

When pushed on the alliance’s wafer thin majority, Mr Young cited the cabinet system employed by Colchester Council, adding: “As soon as the cabinet is appointed, that is where the power lies.

"The issue for us will be motions at full council, which could be tricky if there are any absentees from the alliance.”

The key vote for any administration will be the budget in February.

New leader Mark Cory said: “I want to make clear, Thursday’s election was not a vote for the Conservatives, it was a vote for the progressive parties and it is our duty to protect the people of Colchester from cuts from a Conservative central government and cuts from a Tory-run Essex County Council.”

Highwoods Independents leader Gerard Oxford said the group gave “serious consideration” to offers from the Lib Dem/Labour coalition and the Conservatives but said he could not support a proposed move back to weekly bin collections.

He added: “We really did give a lot of respect to what Darius was saying to us but the rubbish issue was the killer.

"We just couldn’t support that.”