THE next leader of South Oxfordshire District Council will be Jane Murphy.

She was selected by her Conservative colleagues at a private meeting on Thursday night and will be formally picked as John Cotton successor by the authority next week.

Formerly the deputy leader of the authority until last month, her election is a dramatic change of fortunes after she was sacked by Mr Cotton.

It is understood she is in favour of abolishing the county's district councils in favour of a unitary authority, which the council backed last year. Mr Cotton had initially been in favour of that idea but said last month that he said he had become less keen.

Mrs Murphy was scathing in her criticism of Mr Cotton's policy over the council's Local Plan when it was rejected by councillors last month.

She said the cabinet was looking to 'rush [it] through' and that the authority was being asked to take a ‘simply reckless and unnecessary risk’. She will now be expected to lead on whether the authority ditches the controversial plan to build homes at Chalgrove Airfield or if it picks an alternative site as a reserve if it is rejected in an independent assessment.

Until March she had been the council's member for finance. Her budget was voted through unanimously earlier this year.

A reshuffle of the council's cabinet is expected to be announced next week.

Mrs Murphy is likely to be elected regardless of any political opposition. The authority has 36 councillors and 33 are Conservatives.

She will be formally picked as leader by her fellow councillors at the Fountain Conference Centre in Crowmarsh Gifford, replacing Mr Cotton, on Thursday.

Mr Cotton resigned as leader of the Conservative group on March 14 after being threatened with a motion of no confidence by fellow councillors. He continues as leader until next week.

It had been thought Mr Cotton would stand again to retain the party and council's leadership but the rejection of the council's Local Plan was a massive blow to his authority. He announced his resignation as leader on March 29.