Thurrock Council is planning a "strong" response to the Government's decision to seek a referendum for an elected mayor in the borough.

A council statement reads: "For more than six months there was silence from the government after Thurrock reported a resounding vote of confidence in the present leader-cabinet system, following a comprehensive survey."

"I can't deny I'm very surprised about this warning which comes out of the blue," said the council leader Andy Smith.

"Our ballot was organised by professional independent pollsters who sent out 103,000 ballot papers to households in the borough and it was supported by a mass poster, street leafleting and advertising campaign urging people to respond.

"The result was a resounding success in terms of turnout and the people gave a clear verdict. The first choice was the leader and cabinet system."

He added: "More than six months has elapsed since that result was communicated to the Government and now they come back to us saying they might want us to ignore the majority vote and hold a referendum.

"There wasn't the slightest indication up to now that the Government was unhappy with our finding."

He added: "We have to consider the cost to local residents of holding a referendum after such a comprehensive survey produced such a clear result.

"Members of all parties on the council voted freely to accept the majority preference. Those members have not yet had the opportunity to study the full text of the Minister's letter but over the next few days we will consider how to respond."

Published Thursday, March 21, 2002