WITNEY’S mayor-elect wants to reopen the town’s Corn Exchange by the end of the year.

Jeanette Baker was elected on Wednesday by Witney Town Council to replace outgoing mayor Peter Dorward next month.

She will make the completion of work on the Grade II-listed building’s multi-million pound refurbishment her first priority, despite asbestos being found inside the hall.

It was closed suddenly in 2011 after a safety inspection uncovered serious problems.

Mrs Baker said: “I’m working very hard on the Corn Exchange and our aim is to get it maintained and open in some form by the end of this year.

“It will be a common heritage and arts centre.

“There’s a lot of decay in there and we just need to get it sorted.

“It’s not just because I’m going to be mayor but it would be a legacy for the current council.”

The grandmother-of-five, who is married to chartered surveyor Mark, has lived in Witney since the 1970s and had her own recruitment and human resources company in the High Street for 28 years.

She was elected to the town council three years ago and is also a Conservative member of West Oxfordshire District Council for Witney East ward after being elected last year.

Mrs Baker said: “It’s really exciting knowing I will be mayor.

“It will be challenging but I’m really looking forward to working with the community. I love the town.

“The development in Witney has been great and tasteful in the way that it’s done.

“There’s a great economy here and we must maintain that and develop Witney accordingly with the new housing being built.”

Other challenges Mrs Baker faces include creating a splash park paddling pool at The Leys, updating play areas and accusations about the council’s lack of transparency.

Last month, the town council was criticised after its public halls committee voted to exclude the media and public from its meeting where Langdale Hall and the Corn Exchange were discussed.

Mrs Baker said: “We’re trying to stop the firefighting in the town by being able to pre-empt issues and planning ahead.

“We’ve got a lovely town and a lot of good businesses.

“The councillors really care about Witney and we all have it at heart.”

Current mayor Mr Dorward said his year in office had been enjoyable and picked out performances from Witney’s Songscope children’s choir and an Oliver! musical production at Henry Box School as highlights.

He said: “I’ve focused particul-arly on youngsters and I’ve really enjoyed seeing so many of them perform. There should be a place for them to show off.

“Jeanette will make a fantastic new mayor. She’s an ex-businesswoman and a delightful person-ality.

“She has her own mind and isn’t afraid to speak out. She’s been a calming influence on the council at times and she will do a great job.”

Mrs Baker take over as mayor at the annual town council meeting on May 7.