WATFORD has led the way as the first town outside London to say 'yes' to an elected mayor.

But it was revealed this morning that the borough will have to wait until May next year to decide who will get the job.

Results of a referendum announced on Thursday night revealed the proposal scraped through by the slimmest of majorities with 51.7 per cent (7,636) voting 'yes' and 48.3 per cent (7,140) voting 'no' to the idea of a directly elected mayor.

Over 14,800 people returned ballot papers, representing a disappointing turn-out of 24.5 per cent. Just 496 votes separated the two camps, a winning margin of 3.4 per cent.

The historic decision follows a string of 'no' votes in referendums carried out by councils in other parts of England.

Speaking after the count at Watford Town Hall Watford Council's chief executive Alan Clarke said: "The referendum result heralds the start of a revolution in local government in Britain."

But on Friday morning it was announced that the election for the new post, expected to take place in the autumn, will be delayed until May 2002, as the way the vote will be run has yet to be okayed by Parliament.

Anyone is entitled to stand for election for the non-political post although all major political parties in Watford are expected to field candidates.

The winner will be paid about £50,000 per year to head a cabinet, which will make executive and key policy decisions, reviewed by a scrutiny panel.

The council's decision to hold a referendum was based on the results of a public consultation in January this year, in which just 2,796 Watford residents took part.

Vote statistics

Number of ballot papers sent: 35,000

Electorate: 60,630

Votes YES: 7,636 - 51.7 per cent

Votes NO: 7,140 - 48.3 per cent

Reject ballots: 69

Majority for YES: 496 - 3.4 per cent