SECURING a new pool for Carlisle and tackling the eyesore Central Plaza remain top priorities for Carlisle City Council, its new Conservative leader says.

John Mallinson said although his party had raised concerns about the Sands Centre redevelopment previously, it was never opposed to the vision.

Mr Mallinson was named leader of the council this week, following a knife-edge vote that saw him defeat Labour’s Colin Glover by just one vote.

It means the Conservatives lead the authority, but do not have majority control.

In his first in-depth interview, Mr Mallinson sought to reassure the public about several key initiatives, including the Sands and the Central Plaza.

He said a report on the new leisure complex was due to come to executive next month for a decision and, although he couldn’t pre-empt that, he had no plans to scrap the project.

“It is a priority that we have a new pool for Carlisle as soon as possible. The old one is worn out.

“The Conservative Group has not been opposed to a new pool. We did raise concerns in council, and rightly so, to force a more robust business case,” he said.

“That was our issue. We weren’t necessarily going against the concept or vision. We did need to make sure all angles were covered - concerns about building on a flood plain and to make sure the figures stack up. What we were saying was that we weren’t prepared to sign a blank cheque.”

Ahead of the election, Labour also said they were close to signing a deal with a developer to take on the eyesore building.

Mr Mallinson said he was awaiting a briefing on the latest developments, but finding a solution remains a priority for his party.

“This has been going on for more than 10 years. I’m aware that there has been work going on to try and resolve what has turned out to be a very difficult issue. It is something that is on the very top of my agenda.

“We don’t really think we can successfully rejuvenate that area of Carlisle with that eyesore in the middle of it,” he said.

“I understand that there is a developer very interested in it and they are doing due diligence. We hope to be able to come to an agreement in the shortest time possible so they can develop the site, and move it from a liability to an asset to the area.”

Mr Mallinson was speaking to The Cumberland News just a few days into his new role as city council leader.

It came after an unpredictable election, which left no party with overall control, and subsequent battle for the leadership.

Following the vote, which saw one of four independent councillors unexpectedly side with the Tories over Labour to seal his leadership, Mr Mallinson was initially surprised.

But he said he was not unprepared: “In the lead up to the election, we were always optimistic about taking control of the council but I think national issues got in the way and smothered the local campaign, for both of the main parties.

“I thought we might have got over the line but we didn’t quite get an overall majority, though we are the largest party and we intend to build on that.”

However Mr Mallinson was keen to stress that he would not be pushing ahead alone and would listen to all viewpoints, from all political spectrums.

“I did say that I want to be an inclusive leader of the council. The people of Carlisle decided they were not going to give anyone an outright majority, so we need to work together,” he explained.

“I want to know from all members about the issues and problems in their areas. Any councillor can come and talk to me.

“I know parts of Carlisle very well but there are parts of the city that I don’t know as well. Any member who wants to can take me there and show me their issues and aspirations.

“We haven’t got a book full of blank cheques but we will do what we can.”

One of the issues he said he listened on is climate change.

A recent motion, put forward by former Labour leader Mr Glover, saw the city council declare a climate emergency.

At the time the Conservatives abstained from the vote, but Mr Mallinson said that did not mean they were not going to act.

“We take climate change very seriously. It is arguably the biggest issue that we are going to face and we need to be clear that we cannot go on as we are.

“This council, under my leadership, will work very, very hard to mitigate the effects of carbon emissions and tackle plastic waste. We do not have all the answers yet but we must do or bit, or more than our bit,” he said.

“The first thing I will be asking for is an audit to see exactly where we are in Carlisle.

“I did make a promise that if we had a Conservative-led administration, we would have climate change front and centre as a portfolio responsibility. I have already done that.”

Mr Mallinson said it was an honour to become council leader, especially at such a crucial time for the city particularly with the Borderland regeneration project coming together.

“I’ve lived in Carlisle since 1992. It’s not the city of my birth but it is my adoptive city.

“There are a lot of exciting things in the pipeline for Carlisle - the garden village, the new Southern Link Road which will complete the circle around Carlisle and of course the Borderlands initiative, which we have incredibly high hopes for. I’m about to enter into discussions to bring me up to speed.

“I feel that this summer will be a very important time. We are working on [Borderlands] heads of terms and hope to have those finalised very soon.

“It’s the biggest thing to happen to Carlisle for many a long year.”

Jeff Bomford, the independent councillor who backed Mr Mallinson, said he did so because he wanted change. Asked how the Conservatives would do things differently, Mr Mallinson said it was about finances and priorities.

“I think we can manage the council in a better way. I don’t want that to come out as critical of the past, but I do believe we can see ways to smooth things out a little,” he explained.

Despite councils having faced major funding cuts in recent years from central government, Mr Mallinson did not blame his party nationally.

He said that the financial climate had meant tough decisions had needed to be taken, and as a result the council was now “a tight ship”. However he stressed that he was ready to make the case for Carlisle going forward.

Finally he offered reassurance and praise to council staff: “I’m acutely aware that this council’s greatest asset is its staff. It wouldn’t work without them.”