The LibDems emerged from Thursday’s elections with the most seats. …..but they are short of an overall majority.
The onus will be on their Leader Keith Aspden to negotiate a programme which will guide the City through, what are likely to be, 4 challenging years.
He would be wise to pause for thought. The immediate aftermath
of a successful election – and the hyperbole that surrounds it – doesn’t always
provide the best environment for considered decision making.
There is, however, an element of urgency. Towards the end of
the last coalition administration growing tensions were evident. They weren’t restricted
to the, rapidly disintegrating, Tory group members. Decisions were put on the back
burner while some long held LibDem polices were jettisoned.
That needs to change quickly.
If a coalition arrangement is to continue, then the only two
groups which could together commend a majority in the Council chamber are the LibDems
and the Green Party.
The latter are not
famous for their tight discipline and consistency. But it could work if a policy
programme could be agreed. If they are to negotiate, then the Greens must not
overplay their hand. They remain a small party with limited electoral appeal. They
need to identify a small number of policy areas where tangible change – and improvement
– is deliverable. It will mean some realism about what is possible given the financial
constraints placed on the Council.
There are two areas where there may be common ground between
the two parties.
The first relates to the way in which the Council does its business.
The “Strong Leader” executive model may
work efficiently where there is a party with an overall majority. It is markedly
less successful where the Council is “balanced”. It reached its nadir when, two
years ago, the then Tory Council Leader summarily sacked two (LibDem) members of
the Executive. It later turned out that the justification for doing so was
A return to the committee system may be a potential area of
agreement. The system allows for all members of the Council to participate
directly in the decision-making process. No party, after all, has a monopoly on wisdom
The Committee system might also help to address the second
major failing of the Council – a lack of transparency. The Greens said in their
manifesto that there should be a presumption in favour of disclosure (of
They were right.
At the moment the Council hides behind an opaque wall of silence.
Freedom of Information requests flourish. The costs of answering them are
greater than would have been the expense of voluntarily publishing information routinely.
With openness people would come to trust the Council more.
There are other more specific policies which would signal that
change had taken place.
Public service standards in the poorer wards continue to decline. Life expectancy is lower there and obesity levels – and lack of attractive active leisure facilities – are higher.
The LibDems could
address their growing “Middle England” image by prioritising a programme
focusing on improving public services in the poorer neighbourhoods
The voting patterns on Thursday revealed that the electoral turnout was as much as 15 points down in neglected wards when compared to the leafy suburbs and villages.
That can’t be good for democracy and may explain why some extreme politicians have seen success over recent years. Extremism feeds on disillusion and neglect.
Action now may be the best way for the politicians of the centre
to consolidate their influence on the reins of power in the future.
Of course, it takes two to tango and there may not be a majority for discursive decision making on the new Council.
If so, the LibDems may try to establish a minority administration.
If they do, they would be wise to spread power around the Council chamber as far as they are able. Scrutiny committees should be chaired by opposition Councillors, as should the influential Audit committee.
There are experienced independent Councillors who could contribute by taking senior roles in the planning process.
Whatever happens an early statement of intent will be expected
by the residents of York.
The Strensall ward is home to 8,334 residents. Average incomes are higher than the City average. 80% of residents own their home. 13% rent privately and 6% are social tenants. There are no Council homes in the area. 1.4% are out of work. Crime levels are below average. 84.2% of residents are satisfied with their local area as a place to live (York average 88.6%). 21.1% believe that they can influence decisions in their local area (City average 26.2). Source
Rural West was held by the Liberal Democrats in the last decade. The Tories have gradually increased their share of the vote since then and in 2015 secured both seats.
Retiring Councillor Helen Douglas is standing down, Helen Douglas has had a short but colourful career in local government having started off representing Clifton for Labour before making the long walk across the Council chamber to join the Tories. She is replaced as a candidate by an equally controversial choice in Sian Wiseman who represented the ward following the 2011 elections. However, she was another who left the Conservative Group preferring to sit as an Independent following a controversy involving her, family owned, development land which might have been affected by an emerging Local Plan. After sitting out the last 4 years she returns to the the Tory fold.. Sian Wiseman is well known locally but whether local electors have forgotten and forgiven her dalliance remains to be seen. The other retiring Tory Councillor Paul Doughty is seeking re-election. He also lives in the ward.
The main challenge will come from well know local LibDem candidate Tony Fisher. He is a former Councillor for the area and polled strongly when contesting the ward in 2015. He is a trenchant supporter of the Green Belt and is likely to garner a few extra votes this time round.
1 LibDem 1 Tory
Rural West Ward
The Rural West ward is home to 7,963 residents. Average incomes are higher than the City average. 86% of residents own their home. 7% rent privately and 5% are social tenants. There are 154 Council homes in the area. 1.4% are out of work. Crime levels are below average. 86.3% of residents are satisfied with their local area as a place to live (York average 88.6%). 16.7% believe that they can influence decisions in their local area (City average 26.2). Source
Ward boundary changes mean that voting trends need to be viewed with caution.
Rural West was held by the Liberal Democrats in the last decade. The Tories have gradually increased their share of the vote since then and in 2015 secured both seats. One is held by the retiring Council Leader Ian Gillies, who is standing down after 12 years. He is replaced by an even older candidate in Robin Garland who was a feature of the local, political scene until about 30 years ago. The other seat is held by arch Brexiteer Chris Steward who lives some distance away in the Micklegate ward.
An Independent did win one seat in the ward briefly over 12 years ago. There are no Independent candidates standing this year.
The challengers will be the LibDems. Their main hope will rest with Ann Hook who lives locally. The second LibDem candidates (James Barker) holds the unfortunate distinction of being the only one of the party’s candidates who declined to say on his nomination form whether he lived in the ward..
If the predicted meltdown in Tory support actually happens, then the beneficiary is likely to be a LibDem candidate,
The Osbaldwick and Derwent ward is home to 8,114 residents. Average incomes are higher than the City average. 83% of residents own their home. 9% rent privately and 6% are social tenants. There are 79 Council homes in the area. 1.3% are out of work. Crime levels are significantly below average. 90.91% of residents are satisfied with their local area as a place to live (York average 88.6%). 9.09% believe that they can influence decisions in their local area (City average 26.2). Source
Ward boundary changes mean that voting trends need to be viewed with caution. In the early part of the last decade redoubtable LibDem Campaigner Janet Greenwood held the Dunnington Ward while Jonathan Morley represented Osbaldwick. Jonathan Morley has now moved on to be the LibDem candidate in Heworth.
At the last election the ward was split between a Conservative – who lived in the Dunnington part of the ward – and Osbaldwick Independent Mark Walters, who had the smallest majority in any ward at that time.
The Conservative Jennie Brooks is standing down to be replaced on the ballot paper by Martin Rowley (who doesn’t live in the ward) and one John Zimnoch. The latter apparently made some injudicious comments on social media a few years ago which appeared to condone drink driving. His chances of election seem slim
The ward on its present boundaries has never elected candidates who don’t live in the ward.
The LibDems, who had consistently put forward Dunnington based candidates in the past, have this time inexplicably nominated someone who lives on the other side of the river Ouse. Their second candidate (Ian Eiloart) does however live in Osbaldwick.
Independent Mark Walters makes a return. He has been a principal opponent of development in the area fighting a losing battle against the Rowntree Derwenthorpe estate. His views are right wing and populist but he has been effective in asking questions which the political establishment would rather not answer. He has a good chance of re-election.
Who will join him is anyone’s guess but the Tories will expect to retain their seat.
1 Independent 1 Tory.
The Rawcliffe ward is home to 11,946 residents. Average incomes are higher than the City average. 80% of residents own their home. 10% rent privately and 8% are social tenants. There are 164 Council homes in the area. 1.7% are out of work. Crime levels are about average. 88.9% of residents are satisfied with their local area as a place to live (York average 88.6%). 25.9% believe that they can influence decisions in their local area (City average 26.2). Source
Ward boundary changes mean that voting trends need to be viewed with caution.
The Rawcliffe area was strongly LibDem for many years with first – two time Lord Mayor – Irene Waudby and later her son, Mark, representing the ward.
Labour surprisingly won the seats in 2011 only to be replaced by three Tories in 2015.
The LibDems will be looking to complete their comeback in the area and have managed to nominate a Waudby as a candidate. It is however Sam – wife of Mark – who is one of their flag bearers. Rather surprisingly Mark is contesting the neighbouring Clifton ward in which they both now live. The LibDems have, however, managed to nominate two other candidates who do live in Rawcliffe and this may prove to be decisive, when electors cast their ballots.
Of the 3 existing Conservative Councillors, two are seeking re-election in the ward. Peter Dew, who currently holds the transport policy portfolio for the coalition, also lives in the ward. His “Lendal Bridge” moment relates to a lamentable lack of effective action to repair roads in the City.
He is joined once again by Stuart Rawlings who does not live in the ward. He is understood to have ambitions to be the next Tory Council Group Leader.
The third Tory Councillor Sam Lisle will try his luck in the distant Westfield Ward on 2nd May
Labour support declined substantially in 2015. Somewhat surprisingly, they have imported as a candidate the controversial Dave Merrett, from Micklegate. We doubt that Dave Merrett will ever recover politically from his stubborn support for levying fines on motorists using Lendal Bridge and Coppergate when he was the transport chief.
The Micklegate ward is home to 12,927 residents. Average incomes are higher than the City average. 51% of residents own their home. 34% rent privately and 13% are social tenants. There are 544 Council homes in the area. 1.4% are out of work. Crime levels are well above average. 90.3% of residents are satisfied with their local area as a place to live. (York average 88.6%). 36.7% believe that they can influence decisions in their local area (City average 26.2%). Source
Likely to be one of the most interesting contests this year.. In 2015 this was the only ward to split 3 ways. 1 Labour, 1 Independent and 1 Green Party Councillor were elected. Retiring Labour Councillor Dave Merrett plunged to 7th place in the poll with many people pointing to his decision to restrict access to Lendal bridge as an explanation for his drop in popularity.
Independent Councillor Jonny Hayes and the other surprise victor Lars Kramm (Green), are both quitting after one term of office. Both did bring a breath of fresh air to an otherwise predictable and tribal Council chamber. Lars Kramm is trying his luck in Copmanthorpe where is now lives.
There will no Independent candidate in the Micklegate Ward this time.
The Greens are fielding Rosie Baker who unsuccessfully contested a by election held in 2017. The victor then, Jonny Crawshaw, returns. He is understood to have ambitions to lead the Councils Labour Group. He is joined by Sandi Redpath who is another party worker who is already on M. P. Rachel Maskell’s payroll.
The fragmented result last time suggests that Micklegate has a sophisticated (or confused) electorate. The ward may once again produce an unexpected result.
2 Labour seats, 1 Green seat.
Huntington and New Earswick
The Huntington ward is home to 12,689 residents. Average incomes are lower than the City average. 70% of residents own their home. 7% rent privately and 20% are social tenants. There are 104 Council homes in the area. 2.7% are out of work. Crime levels are slightly above average. 92.9% of residents are satisfied with their local area as a place to live. (York average 88.6%). 25.0% believe that they can influence decisions in their local area (City average 26.2%). Source
This ward has consistently returned Liberal Democrat Councillors since local government reorganisation in 1995. One of the current representatives, Keith Orrell, is the City’s Lord Mayor. Another is veteran Councillor Carol Runciman who has Executive responsibility for Social Care.
The Tories are fielding unknowns. They either don’t live in the area or declined to reveal their address on the nomination form. This was another ward in which the Tories failed to nominate any candidates in 2011.
This ward has seen a major redevelopment at the Community Stadium site and some concerns remain about parking and traffic in the Monks Cross area.
All in all though, it is difficult to see anything other than another LibDem win in Huntington
The Fulford ward, which merged with Heslington in 2015, is home to 3,770 residents. Average incomes are higher than the City average. 65% of residents own their home. 22% rent privately and 10% are social tenants. There are 118 Council homes in the area. 1.4% are out of work. Crime levels are slightly above average. 90.9% of residents are satisfied with their local area as a place to live (York average 88.6%). Source
This area has been a LibDem stronghold for decades. The current Councillor, Keith Aspden, is the Deputy Leader of the York Council.
He secured 55% of the vote at the last elections.
There is a strong University influence in parts of the ward.
The main concerns of residents relate to planned development in the area. Work has recently stared on a major new housing scheme at Germany Beck. As wheel as environmental implications residents have voice fears about flooding and traffic levels.
Family and Friends might best describe the candidate selection policies of he other parties. Former Lady Mayoress – to Green Councillor Dave Taylor – Susie Taylor contests her first local poll. The mother of a former Tory Parliamentary candidate carries the torch for the Tories.
Keith Aspden has come through an unfair and protracted attempt by Council officers and some members to smear him with bogus allegations about breaking the Councillors code of conduct. Hopefully he will be stronger from the experience. He can expect to be re-elected.
1 LibDem seat
The Guildhall ward is home to 16,650 residents. Average incomes are lower than the City average. 37% of residents own their home. 38% are private renters and 22% are social tenants. There are 788 Council homes in the area. 1.3% are out of work. Crime levels are well above average. (the ward includes the central shopping/pub area) 86.2% of residents are satisfied with their local area as a place to live (York average 88.6%). 35.7% believe that they can influence decisions in their local area (City average 26.2). Source
A complicated voting trend history with the Greens gradually overhauling Labour to take one of the 3 seats at the last local elections in 2015. A retiring Labour Councillor Brian Watson, who was deselected by his party, contested the ward as an Independent gathering a modest 416 votes. (He is trying his luck in Acomb in the 2019 poll)
The demographics are changing with expensive City centre property prices leading to the gentrification of some areas. This, and the higher General Election turnout, may account for the modest Tory revival in 2015
All parties seem to struggle to find candidates who live in the ward. The Greens and LibDems haven’t found any locals to contest this ward. The Tories have done better. Labour have selected Fiona Fitzpatrick to join their team. She lives in the ward but stood down from her Hull Road seat in 2015.
The Clifton based, and current Labour Council Group Leader, Janet Looker only came third in the popular vote in 2015, when the Greens “First Choice” candidate Denise Craghill topped the poll. Whether the Greens can get their “Second Choice” candidate elected as well this time, will be one of the more interesting results on 2nd May
There is an articulate electorate in area who may demand more from their representatives in the future.
The Dringhouses ward is home to 11,639 residents. Average incomes are lower than the City average. 80% of residents own their home. There are 360 Council homes in the area 1.6% are out of work. Crime levels are below average. 86.5% of residents are satisfied with their local area as a place to live (York average 88.6%). 40% believe that they can influence decisions in their local area (City average 26.2). Source
The Dringhouses Ward has traditionally been a LibDem stronghold. The only break in their domination came in 2011 when Labour took two of the seats. Normal service was resumed in 2015 when the LibDems scored a clean sweep with a substantial swing. Ann Reid, who retires this year, secured record breaking support, for a local election, when polling 3104 votes.
The poll is remarkable this year as 7 of the 14 candidates declined to give their address on their nomination forms. One has subsequently confirmed that he lives in the ward. However that means that there are only 3 candidates who have confirm a local home. A rare UKIP candidate makes an appearance and another disillusioned Tory is seeking election as an Independent. .
Development of green spaces is a major issue in the ward and already the Labour candidates seem to have blundered by highlighting the threat to Askham Bog. It was the last Labour controlled Council who, in 2013, first included Moor Lane in their “Big City” Local Plan development proposals. Fortunately that threat has now receded as a revised Local Plan which preserves the Green Belt has been agreed by the coalition.
With Tory support haemorrhaging, it is difficult to see any other result than another LibDem clean sweep in in this ward.
3 LibDem seats
The Fishergate ward is home to 10,123 residents. Average incomes are lower than the City average. 48% of residents own their home. 39% are private renters and 10% are social tenants. There are 148 Council homes in the area. 2.3% are out of work. Crime levels are slightly above average. 94.7% of residents are satisfied with their local area as a place to live (York average 88.6%). 35% believe that they can influence decisions in their local area (City average 26.2). Source
Fishergate is now the Green Party’s York stronghold They have held the seats there for over 16 years.
The Tories did poll well in the area 25 years ago but have been in decline in the ward in recent years, reaching the point in 2011 where they didn’t even put forward any candidates.
Labour support has been stable but well behind the Greens
There are a lot of young student voters in the ward as highlighted by the high proportion of privately rented property.
The Green Councillors have struggled not to become part of the political establishment but recently they took the City’s Lord Mayoralty for the first time and have led campaigns to have ResPark charges reduced!
Labour have nominated a retiring Councillor, and recent Lord Mayor (Barbara Boyce), as a candidate albeit one who represented the Heworth Ward . She and the other non Green candidates look set to be “also ran’s”.
Clifton is home to 10,007 residents. Average incomes are lower than the City average. 51% of residents own their home. 744 people are Council tenants. 1.7% are out of work. Crime levels are above average. 85.7% of residents are satisfied with their local area as a place to live (York average 86.8%). 31.6% believe that they can influence decisions in their local area (City average 25.7). Source
The 2015 elections were held on the same day as a General Election. Hence the turnout was almost double the number usually voting at a Council poll. Voting patterns did not mirror the General Election result particularly in the York Central Constituency where Labour had a big parliamentary vote but, following a poor performance when in control of the Council, found ballot box support collapsing. A reduced turnout is expected on 2nd May.
Labour have won the Clifton ward for a number of elections. It is as long ago as the 1980s that the Tories last seriously challenged in the area.
In 2015 two former Labour Councillors (David Scott and Ken King) stood in the ward as Independents. They had quit the Labour group in response to a number of calamitous decisions taken by the then party leadership. There was a considerable fall in Labour support although they held on to both seats. Neither of the former Councillors are standing this time.
Both the current Labour Councillors work for MP Rachel Maskell. One chooses not say if she lives in the area.
None of the opposition parties have established themselves as the natural alternative to Labour so it looks like there will be no change.
2 Labour seats
The Copmanthorpe ward is home to 4115 residents. It was split from the Rural West Ward as recently as 2015. Average incomes are higher than the City average. 87% of residents own their home. 1.4% are out of work. Crime levels are below average. 92.8% of residents are satisfied with their local area as a place to live (York average 86.8%). 28.6% believe that they can influence decisions in their local area (City average 25.7). Source
The 2015 elections were held on the same day as a General Election. Hence the turnout was almost double the number usually voting at a Council election. Voting patterns did not mirror the General Election result but, following a poor performance when in control of the Council, Labour found ballot box support collapsing. A lower turnout is expected on 2nd May.
This is another seat where a former Tory Councillor is standing as an Independent. David Carr was actually the Leader of the Council when, following an ill judged attempt to smear two of his LibDem coalition partners with what turned out to be bogus allegations, he was forced by his colleagues to quit.
As a well known Parish Councillor David Carr may fancy his chances of success.
He is opposed by a Tory who has been “parachuted” into the area from another part of York.
The LibDems have a well known local candidate (Richard Brown) who came second in 2015. It is unclear how effective Richard Browns campaign has been but if the Tory vote splits then he might be the beneficiary.
Another former Councillor, the Green party’s Lars Kramm who currently sits for Micklegate, is also contesting the election. He has recently moved into Copmanthorpe Ward..
This is a difficult result t to predict but if the expected Tory vote meltdown occurs then the LibDems could be the winners
It is said that there are 200,000 transport experts in York. Unfortunately none of them seem to have got near the party policy manifestos this year
Transport is always a controversial area. It is important that parties put forward clear policies. This didn’t happen in 2011 when Labour omitted to mention that they intended to sell off City centre car parks (they tried to sell off Union Terrace car park within weeks of taking office), introduce a universal 20 mph speed limit at a cost of £600,000 (which actually saw both vehicle speeds and accident levels on some roads increase) or draconian access restrictions on Lendal bridge. They also halved the amount spent on road resurfacing.
The Coalition has fared a little better with road repair expenditure increasing (albeit, so far, with little obvious effect). Passenger approval ratings on most bus services have improved. The number of bus passenger trips has increased from 16.2 million to 16.8 million.
There have been mistakes. The decision to scrap the ResPark discount for low emission vehicles, and make it available only to drivers of electric models, was ill-judged. There are no electric vehicles charging points on York streets ( those in car parks are unreliable). “On street” and “on line” systems also fail to display the number of free car park spaces (a facility which was available 10 years ago). The Council resolutely refuses to publish bus service reliability stats (despite the facility being available since “next bus” technology was rolled out a few years ago).
None of the parties say what their policy is on the number of, and charges for, central area parking spaces. They also fail to offer any policies on taxis in general and whether UBER should operate in the City.
All parties offer more investment in resurfacing footpaths and roads. Labour quote £1 million pa. Given that the resurfacing of Stonegate this year will cost £1/2 million, the scale of the problem will be apparent. The LibDems promise to “reconstruct” all adopted highways. Reconstruction involves providing a new base as well as a wearing layer. It is much more expensive then either surface dressing or providing a bitmac overlay. The promise looks optimistic to say the least.
Similarly the Greens hopes for a discrete “off road” cycle network “as exists in some places on the continent” seems to ignore the constraints of an historic city layout… ..and the relative lack of success of the Baedeker raids!)
Although the manifestos avoid the usual mistakes (promising a central bus station, river buses, linear cable cars etc), there will be a feeling that none of the parties is yet ready to embrace the rapidly changing transport technologies which are becoming available.