The March of the Independents
A fortnight ago voters across England went to the polls to elect local councillors responsible for determining what happens to our built environment for the next four years. Whilst most of the national commentary has focused on the impact of BREXIT on the three main political parties; out of the fog a picture is beginning to emerge of Independent candidates (not to be confused with The Independent Group in Parliament) on the march across the North West.
Over half of the forty councils holding elections this year in the North West saw gains for Independent candidates. We now have 75 more Independent councillors across the region than we did last month; and they are already making a real difference.
In Bolton the 8 Independent councillors joined forces with other parties to remove Labour from office in the town. In Cheshire East the unwillingness of the 14 Independent councillors to support the Conservatives has seen Labour take control for the first time. In Wirral the Independent councillors supported a bid by the Conservatives to take control, leaving Labour in charge of a minority administration.
The rise of ultra-localist candidates
Whilst much of the fallout from Polling Day has focused on BREXIT, the march of the Independents can be traced to much more mundane issues like accountability, transparency, potholes, planning and development. Nearly all of the Councils which have seen Independent gains have traditionally been controlled by one of the main political parties. Cheshire East has only seen a Conservative administration since it was created. Lancaster City Council has seen large periods of Labour control. Allerdale has been Labour-led for decades. Across the region there is a clear sense from voters that some of towns and villages have been left behind or ignored; hence the rise of ultra-localist candidates and a push for more collaborative forms of governance within local authorities.
Anti-Green Belt Campaigns
The impact of anti-Green Belt campaigns has seen successes for Independent and Green Party candidates across the North West, although perhaps less than anticipated. Controversy surrounding St Helens’ Local Plan saw gains for both the Greens and Independent candidates in Rainhill, Haydock and Bold – wards directly affected by Green Belt release. Wirral saw a shock gain by the Green Party to tip the Council into No Overall Control. Bury saw a Labour loss in Radcliffe to Green Belt campaigner James Mason. And Tameside saw its first Green Party councillor elected.
With council and metro mayoral elections set for 2020, the ability of ultra-localist and anti-green belt candidates to campaign effectively is likely to put further pressure on town halls to lower ambitions for housing and employment growth.
Against this background, the onus is on professionals working across the sector to make the positive case for development, champion good design, engage with communities and advocate for a better built environment.
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