DUDLEY Conservatives will survive despite the news that five long-serving top Tories are to step down at the next election, party leader Councillor Patrick Harley has promised.

Cllr Harley confirmed at Monday’s full council meeting that councillors John Woodall (Halesowen South), Liz Walker (Amblecote), Jill Nicholls (Belle Vale) and Colin Wilson (Pedmore and Stourbridge East) are to bow out of the borough’s political scene.

Pedmore and Stourbridge East councillor Ian Kettle said the five have between them given 120 years service, adding: “You don’t replace this kind of experience over night.”

But cllr Harley, vowed the party would recover.

He said: “It’s a lot of experience but we have to move forward and regenerate ourselves.”

He said all four borough Conservative associations have reported a rise in active memberships and a diverse array of candidates will be fighting seats at the local election.

He added: “Our new candidates are from the NHS, from shops and businesses and we have a university student, two Asian candidates and more female candidates than ever before in Dudley. We have licked our wounds and felt sorry for ourselves – now we’re back on the move.

“It will be a difficult election but it’s up to candidates to work hard.”

Tributes were paid across the council chamber to the five outgoing councillors – particularly former Mayor of Dudley, councillor John Woodall, who was too ill to attend.

The Halesowen South councillor started his public service as a road engineer for Dudley Council and served two terms as a councillor - first from 1987 to 1995 and then from 1998.

Hi health deteriorated after he fractured his hip during his Mayoral year from 2006-7 and he later caught MRSA.

Cllr Harley praised his dedication and said he’d be remembered for his “dry sense of humour”.

Amblecote councillor Liz Walker first served on the council from from 1978 to 1984. She was re-elected in 2006 and quickly became cabinet member for children’s services.

Cllr Harley described her as “a formidable lady” who had “driven up standards in children’s services".

Councillor Jill Nicholls, a councillor since 2003, steps down after being de-selected by the party which has instead chosen Tarsum Sidhu to stand in Belle Vale but cllr Harley praised her loyalty, adding: “She leaves the council chamber with dignity. It can happen to the best of us; no-one has a God given right to stay in a seat until the end of time.”

Pedmore and Stourbridge East councillor Colin Wilson suits politics after ten years as a councillor.

Cllr Harley praised the former council planning committee chairman as an “absolute gentleman” - “well-respected across the political divide”.

Former Mayor and Hayley Green councillor Ray Burston steps down after admitting he used his council computer to download adult content from the internet.

Cllr Harley said: “We know why Ray Burston has stepped down but he’s continued his council duties with the utmost diligence.”

Councillor David Vickers added: “It’s been wonderful to work with every single one of them.”