Voters go to polls to decide planning landscape

 Lexington Communications It's election time again today with voters going to the polls in 25 North West councils and across the region as we choose who should represent us locally and in Europe, writes Kevin Whitmore.

With less than a year to go before the General Election, all political parties will be looking to see how they fare and judge what they need to do to win many of the region's marginal seats that will determine who is to become Prime Minister next year. Similarly, media commentators will pore over the results in an attempt to predict which party is doing well and which party leader should be looking over his shoulder.

Whilst the results of the European Elections will set the national media agenda, for many of us in the property industry, it is the results of this week's local elections that are significant. These will have real implications for investment and planning decisions across the North West as a result of the changing political landscape and varying attitudes towards development by the three main political parties.

So what should we expect?

The last time most of the seats up for election today were contested was in 2010, when turnout was high due to the General Election being held on the same day. With the Euro elections also taking place today the impact of UKIP on the local results could be significant – even if the party fails to gain actual council seats. The party is fielding candidates in 60% of North West seats and is likely to take votes off the Conservatives, potentially helping Labour to make gains in councils where the Tories have small majorities. UKIP is pushing to get its first councillors in Greater Manchester, fielding a large number of candidates in Bolton, Rochdale and Oldham, where one UKIP candidate has already got into trouble and had to resign after calling for mosques to be demolished. I'd be surprised if we saw a sea of purple colour the North West political landscape.

The Conservatives will claim that it has been a good night for them nationally if they keep total losses to under 150 seats. Here in the North West, Trafford is on a knife edge for the first time in a decade. The ruling Conservative Group is only two seats away from losing control to Labour. Retaining control will be a huge boost for the country's youngest Council Leader, Cllr Sean Anstee.

For Labour, the aim is to consolidate its grip on many North West local authorities and I expect the party to have increased majorities on many of the unitary authorities across Greater Manchester and Merseyside. Look out for the party increasing its grip on Chorley and taking control of West Lancashire from the Conservatives. At a personal level, Preston's Labour leader, Cllr Peter Rankin is defending a mere 52-vote majority to retain his seat.

The Liberal Democrats look set to struggle again this year. The party is standing in some but not all available wards in Liverpool and Wirral in a sign that at grass roots level, the party has been hit hard since the formation of the Coalition. A key target for the Liberal Democrats is the defence of Stockport, where the party is currently the largest but is facing a strong challenge from Labour. It will only take a handful of the 21 seats up for grabs to change hands to end 16 years of Liberal Democrat control.

Finally, the Green Party is hoping to capitalise on its anti-fracking stance and improve upon the 11 councillors it has across the region. Its best chance of success lies in Liverpool where the party is looking to add a third councillor to the two it already has in St Michaels ward.

Kevin Whitmore Lexington Kevin Whitmore is associate director at political consultancy Lexington Communications

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