Key issues for local elections

Thursday, April 5, 2007
9.59 AM

Labour appears to be heading for a hammering in next month's council elections. The implications, nationally and locally, are considered by Shaun Lowthorpe and Chris Fisher.

Labour appears to be heading for a hammering in next month's council elections. The implications, nationally and locally, are considered by Shaun Lowthorpe and Chris Fisher.

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While many may feel that May 3 is a referendum on the government, it is also the biggest chance to have your say on those who run and set the council tax for some of the services which make the biggest difference to you.

Hundreds of district, town, and parish councillors will be canvassing for your vote in the coming month.

From emptying the bins and recycling, to cutting the verges, to tackling yob behaviour - district councils are at the front line of much of everyday life. Today we look at the key issues likely to surface on the doorstep where you live.

BRECKLAND

With control of 42 of the 54 seats on Breckland Council at the moment, it seems highly unlikely that the balance of power will shift very far from the Tories' stranglehold.

Add in the factor of many well-known and respected local Conservative members standing again and predictions of huge losses nationally by Labour, and the status quo seems even more assured.

But the ruling administration needs to be aware of big public disquiet which is still simmering after the saga of former chief executive Becky Hellard and subsequent huge payout to her which could become an issue in the run-up to May 3.

Labour has put the subject high up on its manifesto and will also be highlighting the £11.5m investment by Breckland in the Barnham Broom golf and leisure club, “hidden taxes” and use of consultants in the council, which have become other big debating points.

Among the high profile current councillors who are standing down is the “father of the house” and current chairman Roy Rudling who has been a member for 28 years.

Others not seeking re-election are Thelma Paines and Ray Key - who have both fought Thetford's corner for many years - independent John Carrick as well as Conservative Earl Cathcart, who is a member of the House of Lords.

Interesting stories to emerge from the nominations are Sam Chapman-Allen - the youngest candidate at 20 - standing along with his mother and current Conservative councillor Marion Chapman-Allen in Thetford. In Weeting, existing independent councillor Sheila Childerhouse is being opposed by her nephew, Robert Childerhouse, who is a Conservative candidate.

Breckland's current political make-up is 42 Conservatives, eight Labour and four independents.

BROADLAND

For months, Broadland has felt like an authority under siege as neighbouring Norwich looked to seize some of its territory - a fact that had united the parties. Now the cross-party unity will fly out of the window as the focus shifts back to the district and how it is run with 47 seats in 27 wards up for grabs.

A Tory stronghold - the party has 31 seats compared to 11 for the Lib Dems and five independents - it would take a political shift of seismic proportions to change the colours to anything but blue.

Yet the Tories have a fight on their hands in seats such as Aylsham, where the Lib Dems hold two of the three seats. while sitting councillors in Hellesdon are keen to distance themselves from the infighting which has dogged the parish council.

The independents are hoping to build on their strong personal vote, as well as their record opposing issues such as the Norwich northern bypass.

Labour, which lost its presence on the council last time around, will be looking to see if it can regain a foothold with former councillors Barbara Lashley and Peter Harwood among those standing.

ST EDMUNDSBURY

It is all to play for at St Edmundsbury Borough Council where the Tories will be looking to retain control.

The Bury St Edmunds based council is currently made up of 28 Conservative councillors, nine Labour, four independents, two Liberal Democrats, and one Green member.

Council leader John Griffiths, who is re-standing for Ixworth ward, will be hoping to make more gains after seizing control away from Labour eight years ago.

FOREST HEATH

A new political party will be attempting to wrestle some control away from the Conservatives at Forest Heath District Council.

All 27 seats are up for grabs for the Suffolk council, which is currently made up of 23 Conservative councillors, two independents, one Liberal Democrat, and one from the West Suffolk Independent Alliance Party.

This time round, the newly formed Forest Heath Independent Alliance Party will be standing for three district council wards, but Geoffrey Jaggard's Conservative party is widely expected to retain control.

In Brandon East, existing Conservative councillors, Eddie Stewart, Susan Vincent, and Forest Heath chairman Stephen Edwards, are standing for re-election, but will face competition from town mayor Reg Silvester, who is representing the UK Independence Party, and independent Cyril Brown.

In Brandon West, Bill Bishop is seeking re-election, with fellow Conservative Tony Simmons and independent Tony Wojtasz also candidates.

MID SUFFOLK

The Tories will be hoping to keep control of Mid Suffolk District Council next month, having won it with a 10-seat majority from a Labour-Lib Dem coalition in 2003.

But in four seats they will be competing against a new party, Suffolk Together, which is contesting Barking and Somersham, Bramford and Blakenham, Claydon and Barham, and Needham Market.

The party brings together candidates united against the Snoasis development, a large indoor sports centre proposed for Great Blakenham, which is within Mid Suffolk District Council's boundaries.

NORTH NORFOLK

North Norfolk has become the Liberal Democrat capital of Norfolk in recent years.

Last time the party doubled its number of seats to grab control of the district council as MP Norman Lamb strengthened his grip on the once Tory-dominated area.

But even though they have 30 seats to the Conservatives' 13, it will only take the loss of just five, combined with the traditional alliance of Conservatives with independents, to re-tilt the balance of power.

The Lib Dems are contesting all 48 seats, with the aim of at least holding on to what they have got. But they also have ambitions to stretch their majority by doubling their current single-seat tallies in twin-seat wards, and leader Simon Partridge said he was “quietly confident”.

It is all change at Fakenham, with all four current councillors stepping down for personal reasons, including agent Simon Wright who will be concentrating his efforts on ousting Charles Clarke from his Norwich constituency at the general election.

Conservatives are fighting 45 seats. They see the key issues as the level of council tax, along with tackling government on health and coast protection matters.

Labour, which lost all seven of its seats last time, has tabled 14 candidates, and is targeting five seats, including Sheringham North, where they will be campaigning on affordable shopping amid a big Tesco supermarket plan debate, and Sea Palling where former council chairman David Russell is bidding to get back on after leading a local campaign to retain flood sirens.

Some seats are also expected to be targeted by the Green and UK Independence parties.

Notable absences this time are led by larger-than-life Cyril Durrant, who is stepping down after 50 years as an independent councillor, including three spells as chairman.

NORWICH

The city council goes to the polls on May 3 with the jury still out on whether this will be the last election of the existing council.

But Norwich's bid to become a go-it-alone unitary council, which will be decided in the summer, is unlikely to carry much weight with voters on the doorstep this time round.

Traditionally, national politics seems to play little part in determining the result, though there is a lurking fear among Labour activists that a Blair-Brown backlash could hit turnout.

Watch out for crime and anti-social behaviour, recycling rates, and tidy neighbourhoods as the themes of the campaign which sees a third of the council up for grabs.

Thirteen seats are being contested. Labour, which currently runs a minority administration, is defending six, the Lib Dems and the Greens three each, and the Conservatives one.

Council leader Steve Morphew is defending his marginal Mile Cross seat, and his fall would be a massive coup for the Lib Dems - who already hold one of the three ward seats.

His immediate predecessor Ian Couzens is stepping down after 13 years as a councillor - including a term as the leader of the council's first Lib Dem administration. His party is fighting hard in Lakenham, hoping that former city and county councillor Gordon Dean is the man to take the seat from the administration.

Yet the party is itself under attack from the Greens, who are hoping to take Town Close. And a Green victory in Thorpe Hamlet would represent a very good night for the party and boost its hopes of becoming the second largest group.

No one is sure how the Tories will fare. Catton Grove councillor Eve Collishaw is facing a Labour challenge from Martin Booth, former Labour group leader at Norfolk County Council.

WAVENEY

A wide range of local issues are set to dominate campaigning as opposition parties on Waveney District Council attempt to challenge a comfortable Tory majority.

The Conservatives hold 30 of the 48 seats on the council, but leader Mark Bee said he was targeting further gains when voters go to the polls on May 3.

A third of the seats are up for grabs and Mr Bee said he was confident the authority's recent pledge to peg council tax increases to inflation over the next three years would strike a chord with voters.

Mr Bee said his party would also concentrate on continuing the regeneration of Lowestoft and the wider district, while pushing on with plans to create an enabling authority, where some services are outsourced.

Labour currently holds 12 seats on the council and leader Sally Spore said she hoped local voters would see the value of having a stronger and more effective opposition at Waveney.

“We want to re-establish a council that responds to what people want, which is what we did before,” said Mrs Spore.

Ensuring proper investment in CCTV cameras, using government legislation to tackle crime and disorder, fining litterbugs, providing better housing services for the vulnerable and more activities for the young were also highlighted as major issues.

Liberal Democrat leader David Young, who heads a three-strong team on the council, said he had other gains in sight and pointed to the controversial decision to axe Suffolk's middle schools as a key issue. There are also three independent councillors sitting on the council and two of their seats will be up for election on May 3.

WEST NORFOLK

All 62 seats on West Norfolk council are up for grabs, though it seems almost unthinkable that the ruling Conserv-atives will be unseated this time around.

They control 37 seats, to Labour's 13, the Lib Dems' 7, three independents and two currently vacant.

John Dobson's Tories were elected on the back of pledges to sort out the authority's financial affairs and keep down taxes. Both were achieved - partly through calling in consultants and the redundancies and restructuring which inevitably followed.

With billions in inward investment now heading West Norfolk's way, there is a definite feel-good factor in the area.

A new college campus with 500 more places for degree students, the Nar Ouse Regeneration Area and ongoing marina scheme will all help move Lynn closer to the regional centre status it needs to unlock further tiers of funding from Europe.

This was very much a cause celebre for council leader John Dobson, who last week revealed he would not be standing for re-election because he is fighting cancer. Mr Dobson's replacement will almost certainly be his deputy Nick Daubney, the council's portfolio holder for regeneration.

GREAT YARMOUTH

The Tories in Yarmouth are confident of building on their majority in an election that will offer some intriguing battles.

In Fleggburgh, veteran Conservative and Filby postmaster David Thompson will come face to face with Labour's Barbara Wright -the wife of Yarmouth MP Tony Wright.

While in West Flegg, another Tory heartland ward, Mary Coleman and Hilary Wainwright - the wives of Tory leader Barry Coleman and Labour leader Trevor Wainwright, go head to head in a contest given added spice by the retirement of renegade Tory and former mayor John Hudson.

Labour currently lie six adrift of the Conservatives (16 to 22) and could find it a tough fight to make up ground in face of the national picture where the Tories are forging ahead.

Yarmouth has traditionally been a fight between Labour and the Conservatives but the Lib-Dems, UKIP, Greens and National Front are all fielding one or more candidates.

SOUTH NORFOLK

The elections in South Norfolk next month do not just promise to be the most interesting in the county - they promise to be among the most interesting in the country.

In power, with a majority of eight seats, are the Liberal Democrats, a group that has held control since 1995 but are coming into these elections in a very different shape to 2003.

Councillors bowing out include Richard Carden, the man who led the Lib Dems to victory four years ago, and current cabinet members Eppie Zandvoort and Philip Waltham.

The Tory opposition are losing Vera Alexander, who has been a councillor since 1976, and father-and-son team David and Andrew Pond, the latter having unsuccessfully stood for the county council leadership last week.

But losing an octogenarian candidate plays right into the hands of a newly virile Tory party, which has been regenerated under youthful leader John Fuller - a man very much in David Cameron's mould.

He launched his campaign yesterday with a broadcast on popular video website Youtube.com - featuring campaign pledges from Tory candidates set to a thumping Madonna song. But looking closely at the two parties' manifestos shows far more similarities than differences.