WYRE Forest District Council's chairman has expressed her shock and sadness at the decision of councillor John Campion to step down as leader of the authority.

Conservative Mr Campion sensationally announced this morning he was stepping down from the role and as leader of the district's Conservative group, surprising members of parties across Wyre Forest House.

An extraordinary meeting of the council will be held on Wednesday, April 2, to elect a new leader, with Conservative Marcus Hart stepping in as acting leader until then.

No reason has been given for the move by Mr Campion, who said only it had been an "immense privilege" to have served as leader, adding: "I will continue to represent my ward constituents and support the vital work the district council does to support the residents in Wyre Forest."

Mr Campion will stay a cabinet member at Worcestershire County Council and Kidderminster Mayor, telling The Shuttle other than standing down as leader, nothing else would change. When asked what it meant for the district council's ruling administration, he said: "The council moves forward with plans it has already agreed."

Wyre Forest Conservative Association declined to comment when contacted by The Shuttle.

Wyre Forest chairman Fran Oborski, who is also a Liberal councillor, said she was shocked at the news, adding: "I have always found him to be an excellent and consensual leader who has always had the best interests of the people of Wyre Forest at the heart of whatever he did.

"I am very sad he has chosen to step down now and would like to pay tribute to the work he has done in his dedicated service as leader, in particular, the progress made in supporting the district's economic regeneration. Other councillors and staff would join me in wishing him well for the future."

She added: "On a personal level, with my late husband [Mike Oborski] having been leader of the council I know what an incredible strain it puts on you as an individual. I think it is sad for him to be bowing out now. There are a lot of political and philosophical issues John and I would not agree on but he is not a hard-line right winger and is actually a very compassionate guy."

Opposition Independent Community and Health Concern leader Graham Ballinger said: "I think it leaves the administration in a total mess. He has always been a strong leader over many years and had considerable influence over the authority, whether that leadership has been with full support of the Conservative Party or just members of the cabinet is one of the problems with this type of local Government system."

Labour leader Jamie Shaw added: "My reaction is one of surprise and I do not know of any particular reason why he would have gone at this time.

"The Conservatives are still substantially the biggest group and they have had a defection which isn't really a defection with Julian Phillips who will still be a Conservative when it comes to voting. They will appoint a new group leader but in terms of there being an alternative administration, there is no alternative administration."

Mr Campion is the longest continuously serving leader of the council in its 40-year history. He was elected to the authority in 2004 and became its leader in May 2007.