LINDA Cowling, the Pickering councillor who has taken over as leader of Ryedale District Council, says that while it will be challenging, she is not daunted by the prospect.

She takes the place of Coun Keith Knaggs, who has stepped down from the role, and has also become leader of the controlling Conservative group on the council.

A grandmother six times over, Coun Cowling is enthusiastic and ambitious about the prospects for Ryedale.

West Riding-born, she moved to Pickering when she married at just 17 and today runs a popular tea shop in Pickering’s Hungate with her daughter.

While the council has come under fire over such issues as planning developments for the Wentworth Street car park and Malton Livestock Market, blunt-speaking Coun Cowling said: “People forget what the council has achieved over the years.”

She highlighted its public services and how the council had made significant savings.

“The council has embraced change by such things as providing services online,” she said.

The provision of Malton Sports Centre and backing the £2.5 million Pickering flood defence scheme and the Brambling Fields road scheme, have been major success stories, she said.

On Wentworth Street car park, Coun Cowling said: “We have an absolute duty to maximise our assets for the good of the whole district.”

She wants to involve councillors in groups to tackle specific issues and council services.

“Initially it will be my own Conservative group but then widened to embrace all councillors in other parties as well. We have members with a wide range of knowledge, talent and expertise which I am keen to see used to the benefit of the council and Ryedale residents.”

The council had been “cleaning out its cupboards” to explore ways of saving money, and now has only 183 staff.

She sees Ryedale working more in partnership with other local authorities, agencies, towns and the dozens of parish and town councils in the district.

In the short term, she wants to look at the cost of services RDC provides, and the cost of its 30 members which, she says, is high.

She lists affordable housing as one of her priorities, as well as making Malton and Norton as successful as the three northern Ryedale market towns of Helmsley, Pickering and Kirkbymoorside.

On other issues she says:

A64: “If Ryedale was in the south of England the dualling of the A64 would have already been done, but unfortunately the figures don’t stack up for Ryedale”

- Viability: “Being small gives us a great chance to be good at what we do.”

- Employment: “Ryedale ranks highly among other local authority areas in the number of small businesses and self-employed people it has. We shall be putting about £1 million into job creation this year. I am also very keen on encouraging apprenticeships for young people.”

- Vion: “The management buy-out of Malton bacon factory company was very good and much-welcomed while Yorkshire Bakers will provide more new jobs.”

l Milton Rooms: “Their success would help the town centre of Malton.”