Calderdale Council elections - what might influence the battle for the town hall?
Calderdale’s voters will go to the polls next week after a year like none other.
On May 6, people will elect their ward representatives in elections which were due to be held in May 2020 but were cancelled as the country entered the first lockdown of the coronavirus pandemic that engulfed the year.
Two extra seats are also being contested, the additional seats arising in Greetland and Stainland ward due to the death of Liberal Democrat Coun Marilyn Greenwood and in Brighouse due to Coun Scott Benton, who is now Conservative MP for Blackpool South, resigning his seat.
Labour goes into the election as the ruling group, its 28 councillors giving the party a three-seat majority over all other councillors including the opposition Conservatives, who have 12 seats, the Liberal Democrats, who have held seven, and four independent councillors.
The winning line for any group to have an overall majority is 26 councillors.
Labour are defending eight seats this year, in Calder, Illingworth and Mixenden, Luddenden Foot, Ovenden, Park, Sowerby Bridge, Todmorden and Town, and the bottom line for the party to continue running the council alone is that they need to retain at least six of those, or make compensatory gains for any losses.
The Conservatives are defending Northowram and Shelf, Hipperholme and Lightcliffe, Rastrick, Brighouse, Ryburn and Skircoat, while the Liberal Democrats are defending seats in Elland, Warley and two in Greetland and Stainland.
If either of these parties managed to hold their seats and make enough gains at Labour’s expense, the council would revert to no overall control.
Of the independent candidates, Coun Colin Peel, a former Conservative who initially left the party to represent Change UK, is defending his Brighouse seat without any party affiliation.
It is a year in which the council has, in addition to its usual work, had a major role in ensuring rules and guidelines which have been introduced to combat the pandemic, with public health also playing a major role.
But there have been major developments in council policy and it will be interesting to see if these play out in next week’s poll, and whether national politics comes into play – some candidates’ leaflets have played on the latter, others very much on local aspects.
Major decisions have been taken by Labour’s cabinet, including on infrastructure, with projects being developed including corridor programmes and further stages of the major A629 scheme, addressing climate emergency and developing schemes to invigorate public transport including new bus and rail stations for Halifax and a new rail station at Elland, among policies the party believes benefit Calderdale.
But some have been controversial, including the closure of some public buildings including smaller libraries and heritage buildings such as Clay House at Greetland – community or interest groups are being offered the opportunity to take on the running of these – under the Future Council plans.
Labour argues it did not want to do this but has been compelled to do so to balance the budget after a decade of funding cuts from central Government (with the Conservatives arguing this followed a national deficit left by the outgoing Labour Government in 2010 and Liberal Democrats urging Cabinet to step up exploration of commercial operations, for example a council lottery scheme, to fill spending gaps).
But there is no doubt, as shown by petitions on such issues, including some area specific, for example, decisions taken to close the Threeways centre at Ovenden and, in current form, Mixenden Activity Centre, Halifax.
They have proved talking and action points and it remains to be seen if these have impact at the ballot box.
Also, year 2020 saw stage two of hearings into Calderdale’s draft Local Plan, with more hearings set for June – in some parts of Calderdale, particularly Brighouse, Rastrick, Hipperholme, Northowram and Shelf and Greetland and Stainland, where the plan includes potential sites for hundreds or even thousands of new homes.
The Government requires every authority to have a Local Plan, which earmarks where new homes might be built into the 2030s and the soundness of any of these plans is decided by a Government-appointed Planning Inspector who runs the hearings.
Labour has argued that their plan allows for potential economic growth in the future but this model is challenged by some other parties and groups, with residents concerned about issues ranging from infrastructure to loss of green areas.