LOCAL ELECTIONS: Will the Conservatives keep control of West Suffolk after creation of new council?
Much like the changes happening in the east of the county, the new West Suffolk Council will elect its first cohort to replace two previous councils.
St Edmundsbury and Forest Heath councils have now gone after more than 40 years steering public services in the west, and the new West Suffolk Council is taking over.
The Conservatives have traditionally enjoyed a large majority at both of those previous authorities, and with eight of the 64 seats being uncontested, the Tories head into May 2019 having already secured a strong start.
Currently, just 18 seats of the 72 belong to other parties – one UK Independence Party, one Green, two Labour, five West Suffolk Independents Group and nine Independents who are either not part of a group, part of the Charter Group or part of the Haverhill Indys Group.
There is no indication at this stage to suggest voters have dramatically changed their political persuasion, meaning a change in Tory control is unlikely, but gains at a few key seats for the remaining parties could represent a good election outcome this May.
Indeed, apathy with Brexit on a national scale could mean voter turnout is low, but equally could also represent the biggest stray away from party politics – particularly given the high-profile formation of the Independent Group at Westminster. That’s an opportunity Independent councillors could take advantage of come May 2.
On a district council level, housing and waste are among the key areas of service.
Planned development of up to 1,500 homes between Bury St Edmunds and Great Barton represents one of the biggest housing developments on the map, while the 400-home application eyed for Newmarket will be a big talking point around the town.
Also in Newmarket, the cinema and restaurant plans took a step closer shortly before the elections were declared, meaning the health of high streets in Bury and Newmarket could be among the biggest talking points for voters.
In the rural communities, highways concerns and housing tend to be among the biggest areas of concern, and while highways is a county council matter district council candidates have no doubt heard about the state of the county’s roads during their canvassing.
Will it become a ‘borough’ council?
One of the procedural matters the formation of the new council has entailed is the question of whether to pursue ‘borough’ status.
Borough councils are those which have been given a royal charter, and are allowed to have a mayor.
It is largely an honorary title, with no additional powers granted but can aid fundraising for the mayor’s chosen charities.
St Edmundsbury was given borough status in April 1974, while Forest Heath had been a district council.
That prompted questions over whether the new merged West Suffolk Council would pursue borough status.
In November 2018, the shadow council – a meeting of all councillors preparing for the changeover to the new West Suffolk Council – agreed that it should be for the new council to decide once elected.
There’s a strong feeling within some parts of the council that with the Borough of Bury St Edmunds having been in existence between the early 1600s and 1974, and the Borough of St Edmundsbury since then until the start of April this year, having borough within the council’s name represents an important part of the county’s history.
However, with other council business more of a priority, it is unlikely to be debated again until late in 2019 or early 2020.
Analysis: Eight uncontested seats
The candidate lists published at the start of the month revealed there were eight seats for the new council that will be uncontested.
Voters in the Barningham, Barrow, Exning, Ixworth, Manor, Pakenham & Troston, Stanton and Withersfield wards will not take part in the elections, as a single candidate has only been put forward (Conservative in the case of each fo these wards) and are automatically elected in May.
That is as a result of other parties not putting forward candidates for those seats, which could be for a variety of reasons.
For some, there may be a feeling that there is no sense contesting a seat which will always likely be won by the Conservatives, and instead putting resources into seats they can reasonably win.
In other instances, there may even be issues as to whether anyone is even willing to stand in a certain ward for a party – a situation largely out of all parties’ control.
Regardless, some voters in those wards could reasonably question whether they are getting a fair shot at the polls.
Perhaps more crucially, the parties need to work hard in the elections going forward that large numbers of single-candidate wards do not become prevalent, or questions will be asked as to whether the new council model works at all.
Analysis: The leadership fight
It may be less of an issue for voters, but one of the key questions internally will be the question of who becomes leader of the new ‘super-district’.
At East Suffolk Council, the two existing leaders are expected to put their names in the hat, and it is not unreasonable to expect the same to happen in West Suffolk.
Forest Heath leader James Waters and St Edmundsbury leader John Griffiths are both standing once again – with Mr Griffiths’ Ixworth seat one of those uncontested – and are likely to be strong candidates for the leadership, should the Conservatives hold the majority.
But it is understood there could also be some other senior Conservative councillors willing to join the fray.
Either way, the contest for the council’s leadership behind closed doors is likely to be decided by how many supporters within the party they can generate. No doubt that battle has already begun.
Abbeygate (two seats): Nicola Iannelli-Popham (Lab), Lisa Ingwall King (G), Chris Lale (LD), Joanna Rayner (C)* Andrew Speed (C)*.
Bardwell: Julian Flood (UKIP), Andrew Smith (C)*.
Barningham: Carol Bull (C)* (Uncontested).
Barrow: Ian Houlder (C)* (Uncontested).
Brandon Central: Susan Dean (Lab), Frank Hart (C), Victor Lukaniuk (Ind)*, Susan Smith (Ind).
Brandon East: Peter Callaghan (Ind), Andy Erlam (Lab), Peter Ridgwell (Ind)*, Reg Silvester (C)*, Phil Wittam (Ind).
Brandon West: Christine Mason (C)*, David Palmer (Ind)*, Eddie Stewart (Ind)
Chedburgh and Chevington: Mike Chester (C)*, Gary Dillon (Lab).
Clare, Hundon and Kedington (three seats): Stuart Letten (UKIP), Jim Meikle (Ind), Robin Pilley (C)*, Karen Richardson (C)*, Marion Rushbrook (C).
Eastgate: Patsy Warby (Ind)*, Cliff Waterman (Lab), Frankie Wright (C).
Exning: Simon Cole (C)* (Uncontested).
Haverhill Central: Roger Andre (Lab), Aaron Luccarini (Ind), Susan Roach (C).
Haverhill East (two seats): John Burns (Ind)*, Tatiana Chernyavskaya (C), Pat Hanlon (Lab), Bryan Hawes (C), Lora Miller-Jones (Lab).
Haverhill North (two seats): Donald Allwright (G), Ian Hirst (UKIP), Joe Mason (C), Elaine McManus (C)*, Damien Page (Lab).
Haverhill South (two seats): Jason Crooks (Ind)* Denis Lynch (C), Ken Rolph (LD), David Smith (Lab), Liz Smith (Lab), Heike Sowa (C).
Haverhill South East: Tony Brown (Ind)*, Liam Collins (C), Alan Stinchcombe (Lab).
Haverhill West (two seats): Stuart Dillon (Lab), Paula Fox (Ind)*, Margaret Marks (C)* David Roach (C)* Becca Smith (Lab).
Horringer: Terry Clements (C)*, Robin Davies (Lab).
Iceni (two seats): Michael Bradshaw (Ind), Dawn Dicker (Ind), Douglas Hall (C), Gaelle Kemp (Lab), Jordon Millward (C), Simon Morse (G), Claire Unwin (Lab).
Ixworth: John Griffiths (C)* (Uncontested).
Kentford and Moulton: Hilary Appleton (Lab), Roger Dicker (Ind)*, Tom Kerby (C).
Lakenheath (two seats): Stephen Frost (C), David Gathercole (Ind) , Colin Noble (C)*.
Manor: Brian Harvey (C)* (Uncontested).
Mildenhall Great Heath: Dickie Alecock (Ind), Russell Leaman (C)
Mildenhall Kingsway & Market: David Bowman (C)*, Patrick Finn (Lab), Ian Shipp (Ind).
Mildenhall Queensway: Ruth Bowman (C)*, Andrew Neal (Ind).
Minden (two seats): Edward Allen (LD), Robert Everitt (C)*, Donna Higgins (Lab), Helen Korfanty (LD), Richard O’Driscoll (Lab), Clive Springett (C)*.
Moreton Hall (three seats): Trevor Beckwith (Ind)*, Cyrille Bouche (Lab), Peter Thompson (C)*, Frank Warby (Ind)*, Tony Whittingham (C) .
Newmarket East (two seats): Andrew Appleby (Ind)*, John Derry (LD), Andrew Gillett (LD), Rachel Hood (C), Robert Nobbs (C)*, Chris O’Neill (Ind), Susan Perry (Lab), Robert Yarrow (Lab).
Newmarket North (two seats): Ruth Allen (Ind)*, Michael Anderson (Ind)*, Oliver Bowen (Lab), Stephen Edwards (C)*, Robin Millar (C)*, Duncan Russell (Lab).
Newmarket West (two seats): Andy Drummond (C)*, Yasemin Fitzgerald (Lab), Dave Hudson (UKIP), Michael Jefferys (Lab), James Lay (C).
Pakenham & Troston: Simon Brown (C)* (Uncontested).
Risby: Susan Glossop (C)* Sheila Rowell (Lab).
Rougham: Quentin Cornish (Lab), Sara Mildmay-White (C)*.
Southgate (two seats): Patrick Chung (C)*, Ian Cullen (Lab), Ann Williamson (C).
St Olaves (two seats): Max Clarke (Lab)*, Paul Hopfensperger (Ind)*, Karen Soons (C).
Stanton: Jim Thorndyke (C)* (Uncontested).
The Fornhams & Great Barton (two seats): Sarah Broughton (C)*, Rebecca Hopfensperger (C)*, Darren Turner (Lab).
The Rows (two seats): John Smith (Ind), Lance Stanbury (C)*, Don Waldron (Ind), James Waters (C)* .
Tollgate (two seats): Diane Hind (Lab)*, John Levantis (C), David Nettleton (Ind)*.
Westgate (two seats): John Augustine (C), Richard Rout (C)* Marilyn Sayer (Lab).
Whepstead & Wickhambrook: Mary Evans (C)*, Mike McConnell (Lab) .
Withersfield: Peter Stevens (C)* (Uncontested).
Key: C – Conservative, Lab – Labour, LD – Liberal Democrats, Ind – Independent, UKIP – UK Independence Party, G – Green Party.
The asterisk denotes a sitting councillor in that authority or its predecessor.