CAMBRIDGESHIRE County Council will have a new leader in a few weeks time. Councillor Keith Walters announced on Monday that he would be stepping down in May after 10 years in the job. He will also resign as leader of the controlling Conservative group on

Cllr Shona Johnstone

CAMBRIDGESHIRE County Council will have a new leader in a few weeks time.

Councillor Keith Walters announced on Monday that he would be stepping down in May after 10 years in the job. He will also resign as leader of the controlling Conservative group on the authority. His successor as party leader will become leader of the council.

Cllr Walters, 67, who has represented Sawtry and Ellington for the past 12 years, will remain a member of the council until the next full elections in 2009.

"I thought 10 years was long enough, and I wanted to go at a time of my own choosing," he told The Hunts Post.

"This is not a decision I have taken lightly but after 10 years in such a demanding and challenging role it is time to move over and let someone younger take up the mantle.

"I am immensely proud of what we have achieved over the past 10 years. Despite having one of the lowest Government funding settlements year on year, most of our services are performing extremely well and some are amongst the best in the country.

"The county council is in a strong position - the budget for the year ahead has been set reflecting public priorities and there is strong political and managerial leadership.

"I am grateful for all the help and support I have received especially from my cabinet colleagues, council officers and above all from my wife Pat.

"I originally retired in 1995 from another high pressure job - 35 years in the RAF - to spend more time with my family, but the time commitments necessary to lead the county council have made that difficult."

Cllr and Mrs Walters, who live in High Street, Sawtry, have a grown-up daughter living in Birmingham.

Who might succeed him on May 15 is far from clear, but it will not be the deputy leader since 1993 Councillor John Reynolds, who said yesterday he would not stand.

But it is some time since the council was led by a woman, and Cllr Shona Johnstone, who heads up children's services on the cabinet, confirmed that she would be a candidate and must be a front runner. Cllr Johnstone, 44, who steered the Cambridge-Huntingdon guided bus project through the political process when she had the transport portfolio, is a former Home Office civil servant.

If elected, she would be the county's first woman leader since the late 1980s when Baroness Blatch, who died in May 2005, held the office.

"It would be a privilege to do the job, but it's up to the group to make that decision," Cllr Johnstone said yesterday.

Councillor Mac McGuire, who also lives in Sawtry and chairs the Huntingdonshire traffic management committee, and Councillor John Powley, from Soham, are also believed to have thrown their hats into the ring.