A council leader is quitting after almost seven years in charge to move to Cyprus.

Keith Mercer said he would be stepping down as leader of Tory-run Worthing Borough Council on July 20 and as a councillor on September 30.

His wife, Heather, a fellow councillor, has announced that she will stand down on August 31 to take up a two year post as professor of research and development at the University of Nicosia in Cyprus.

The race is now on to find a new leader, with deputy leader Ann Barlow and veteran borough and county councillor Steve Waight thought to be favourites.

Coun Mercer became leader in October 2002 at a time when the council was embroiled in controversy centred on the departure of former chief executive Sheryl Grady.

He said: “I was able to bring stability to an extremely fraught council, and I believe that was a major achievement.”

Coun Mercer also spearheaded closer links with Adur District Council to save money by working together.

Had the merger of some services not taken place he believed Worthing would have been forced to close a theatre or even the Aquarena swimming pool.

But Coun Mercer was also in charge during the controversial introduction of new parking wardens to the town, which many people have branded a disaster.

He recently dubbed the operation a “dog's breakfast” and demanded a shake up.

Coun Mercer was disappointed that the development of Teville Gate had failed to get off the ground due to the recession and the death, in a car crash, of the developer's chief negotiator.

He was also “enormously frustrated” that the recession had slowed plans for a new £22 million pool because it was proving more difficult than expected to raise cash for the project from the sale of council land to builders.

James Doyle, the leader of the Liberal Democrat group on the council, said: “I am sorry to see Keith go. He was leader through some very interesting times.”

Coun Mercer served Marine ward on the borough council and Northbrook on the county council.

His county seat disappeared in a boundary shake up prior to June's elections.

Explaining why he didn't stand, Coun Mercer said he did not have time to serve on both the borough and county councils.

Heather Mercer, who represents Salvington ward, will be remembered as Worthing's Wood Mayor, relating to January 2007 when thousands of tonnes of timber from the Ice Prince washed ashore during her term of office.