FORMER council leader Chris Maines has announced he is to quit the borough.

The top Liberal Democrat, who was the leader of Bromley Council from 1998 to 2001, is moving to Blackheath where he intends to stand in next May's council elections.

His departure will bring to a close 20 years of service to Orpington, where he also unsuccessfully stood four times for parliament.

His opponent on those occasions, John Horam, paid tribute to the 47-year-old, saying he was a worthy opponent, especially in 2001 when he came within 270 votes of winning.

He said: "I'm sorry to see him leave Orpington and I wish him all the best."

Orpington-born Cllr Maines, who will continue to represent the town until the election, says it is time for a change from Tory-run Bromley.

If he manages to capture one of the three Blackheath wards from Labour, he will be elected to Lewisham Council, which he says is very different from Bromley.

Lewisham is one of only three London boroughs which has a directly-elected mayor and has more widespread social problems.

But Cllr Maines said: "I don't think it's a Labour stronghold, it's just waiting for a Liberal Democrat councillor.

"Bromley's very formal. We say prayers and bow to the mayor. Lewisham is not like this.

"And in Bromley, councillors work very hard to attend meetings. In Lewisham there is a huge absenteeism rate."

He says the issues of safer streets, anti-social behaviour and cleaner streets, will still be prominent.

His achievements as a councillor include changing rules to allow the public to speak at council committee meetings.

And the Lib Dems made plans and documents, once kept only in the Civic Centre, Stockwell Close, Bromley, available in outlying areas, such as Biggin Hill.

He said the Lib Dems "opened up the council" and also challenged the "Tory monopoly".