SKIPTON councillor Robert Heseltine has decided against taking on the role of chairman of North Yorkshire County Council due to ‘personal reasons’.

Numerous elected members said the decision had come as a shock as when Cllr Heseltine, whose decision has broken a decades-long tradition of anyone elected as the council’s vice-chairman succeeding to the top role, was voted in as vice-chairman in May last year, he had received enthusiastic applause after serving 45 years as a councillor.

Cllr Heseltine, who is the leader of Skipton Town Council and also serves on the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority and on Craven District Council, said: “As one drifts into one’s twilight years one reassesses one’s horizons.”

Supporters of his said they had been dismayed that he would not be given the prestigious role, and said he had been “very generous” to have stepped aside after becoming concerned his appointment could serve as a distraction for the council.

Cllr Heseltine said his decision had not been related to his position on the county council.

Last year’s annual general meeting of the county council had heard fierce debate over whether appointing the long-serving councillor would cause the authority reputational damage.

The meeting was told his public service and behaviour had been “exemplary” since 2000, when after serving on various councils for 25 years, he admitted 12 charges of false accounting over expenses claims.

No mention of the Independent councillor’s decision was made at this week’s annual general meeting of the county council, which saw unanimous support for Harrogate councillor Cllr Jim Clark to be reappointed on the basis that his ambitions as chairman had been severely curtailed by the coronavirus pandemic.

Cllr Clark, who is to remain in the role until next May, also made no mention of Cllr Heseltine’s decision during a speech setting out his hopes for the coming year.

Cllr Clark said he would work to encourage residents to stand together in remembrance and thanksgiving, against hate and prejudice and together to build stronger communities.

He said: “I want to thank all the people I had the pleasure of meeting as chairman in the first part of my year as chairman, especially the volunteers and carers, and all those who have stepped up to help their neighbours since the start of this pandemic.

The meeting also saw Ripon councillor Stuart Martin, a long-serving town and district councillor, elected as vice-chairman of the authority.